Cornelia Whitner's Letter to the Governor of South Carolina

November 10, 1999

Dear Governor Hodges,

I am writing to introduce myself. My name is Cornelia Whitner. I am at State Park Correction Center. In 1992 I was sentenced to 8 years in prison for smoking crack cocaine while pregnant, so I was charged with unlawful child neglect. I was very sick from being addicted to crack cocaine. After I delivered my son Tevin, I was arrested. Even though my son was healthy and it was not a law in the state of South Carolina, I was thrown in prison. I feel like I was made an example of because I am poor and black.

I am the only woman presently serving time here at State Park for smoking crack while pregnant even after the law has been passed. At the time of my arrest I told Judge Frank Eppes that I had a very bad addiction to crack cocaine, and I asked him to help me get treatment but instead I got 8 years in prison. It was devastating to me and has been ever since. And after serving 19 months I won my appeal and was released in 1993, I thought that it was all over, but 6 years later they came back and arrested me again for the same charge that was not a law in the first place. I think that is what really hurts me so bad. And I am back to finish up the remaining time of the 8 years. 

So here I sit in prison again wondering when this nightmare is going to end so that I can move on with my life. My lawyers filed a Habeas Corpus over a year ago and it is really stressing to me just waiting on the decision. I hope that I hear something soon. I have 3 beautiful healthy boys ages: 19, 9, and 7 that are with my family. The child that I smoked crack cocaine with has been with my Aunt ever since birth 7 years ago. He will be 8 years old February 2, 2000. I would love to be his birthday present, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen because I don’t max-out until 2001. And I don’t know when the court is going to let me know their decision. I have not seen my boys since I’ve been here in 2 years, I love my children very much and they are all I got that’s mine, and will be mine forever no matter who they are with. And I am miserable all the time because I miss my children and my family. My family can’t afford to bring my boys because they have to work very hard to keep a roof over their heads and my boys’. All of this is because I was addicted to crack cocaine, I was very sick with my addiction 7 years ago and I am still paying for it and I don’t feel like it’s fair.

I have changed a lot since my incarceration I have got saved and I have a close and personal relationship with God being away from my boys and not knowing what’s going on with them, especially my 19 year old son is worrying me to death. I worry constantly, nonstop. I try not to worry and stress myself out, but it doesn’t work not to mention worrying about the court’s decision. I sometimes ask God will he give me the strength and patience to make it in here another year, that’s all I want is to go home to my boys, before they grow up. And I miss all of their very important parts of their lives like I’ve already missed a lot of my life and theirs by being in prison. 

Being in prison this time has been very hard on me. I get no visits, money, mail, or phone calls and that really hurts me. I know that I did wrong by smoking crack while pregnant but I was sick with the worst addiction anyone could ever have. And once I am out of here I am going to give my testimony to the women and teenagers that could be headed down the same road I have traveled. Once I am out I will be attending A.A., N.A., and church as much as possible when I am not working. I know that it’s not going to be easy to get my life back in order, but with the determination I have and with God in my life I know that things are going to get better for me and my children.

Everyday and night I pray, not ceasing asking the Lord to please let me go home to my boys, because I have learned from my mistakes and I feel like I have suffered enough. So if there is anyway you could be of any help to me I would truly appreciate it. I feel like it is a shame the way I am being treated because I had an addiction a sickness that I could not control at a that time.

I have enclosed my drug treatment certificate along with a recommendation that I took to the Parole Board May, 1998 and they turn me down and let another woman make it that had the same charge and same lawyers that I have. I just feel like I am being wrongfully punished. And it’s not fair to me or my children. However, I do have a lot more to say, but I don’t want to write a book. I just want you to see how bad I have been treated because I was sick with a crack cocaine addiction. It wasn’t like I refused treatment, I could not even get help from the sentencing judge and I did ask and what’s worse is that it was not a law in 1992 when all of this destroyed my life, so I want to say that I do feel very bad being locked away from my boys and family. But all I can do is continue to pray and keep my faith in God because God can make miracles happen.

If there’s anything you can do to help me please! Please! Help me.

Thank you very much!

Cornelia Whitner

May God bless you!!!

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