By  Jasmine Tyler for Open Society Foundations. Prisoners have written me letters all of my life. Growing up, they came from my dad. Today, they come from somebody else’s family member or friend, someone who is in jail because they committed a non-violent drug-related crime to support an addiction.

Starting in the 1980s, my dad and many other black men like him were swept into a system that criminalized drug addiction. Instead of receiving help, they served time. Instead of accompanying my dad to the D.C. methadone clinic, we visited him in prison. As an injection drug user, he contracted HIV and, then, AIDS. He died nine years ago.

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