Smile Politely

Addiction in the time of prohibition, part two

This is the second in a two part series focusing on the multiple arrests of Antwan Foster. Part one can be found here.

The Family Left Behind

Antwan Foster has two daughters ages 1 and 2, and a 14-year old son from a previous relationship. Antwan’s mother wrote Judge Difanis, “It’s been hard to watch him struggling with trying to be a good dad, and deal with a drug problem at the same time.”

Foster has 5 siblings. He went to Central High School until he dropped out in the 10th grade and spent two years at the CARE program. In and out of jail so often left him little chance to secure a job. His last job in Champaign County was a summer job working for Landmark Apartments in 2010.  He still does not have a GED.

His 14 year-old son wrote Judge Difanis before the sentencing hearing,

“I love my dad very much and he loves me. It hurts me to see my dad behind bars. I know out here in the world is where he needs to be with his family. Before my dad was arrested, we spent a lot of time together, he would help me to make better choices when I seemed to make mistakes. He would talk to me and tell stories. We would just spend family time together. Those are things that I would miss if my dad went away for a long time.”

On the day his father was sentenced to prison, Foster’s son got into a fight at school. Since then, he has been to the Youth Detention Facility and The Pavillion that has a teen unit for mental health treatment. Antwan’s mother pleaded with Judge Difanis to understand,

“Antwan was trying very hard to keep him from making the wrong decisions, and he was making progress until his [Antwan’s] arrest. He desperately needs to be in his son’s life.”

Foster is worried about his son.

“Now that I’m gone, my son has been to jail, in fights in and out of school, ran away and is out of control. He would do none of that behavior if I was close, or not so far from release.”

Foster’s first partner, to whom he owes $8,596.74 in child support for their 14 year-old son (plus the $1,192.79 of interest,) wrote Judge Difanis,

“Even though Antwan has made many mistakes, I cannot take away the fact he loves his son dearly. If Antwan were to go away for an extended period of time, I fear that our son will miss out on experiences he can only get from him. I have personally spoken with Antwan and he has told me that he has changed, and wants to be a part of his son’s life now more than ever, and I believe that if he was given the opportunity, he will be a better father to his children.”

Foster’s fiancee took the stand at Foster’s sentencing hearing and revealed that family and drugs were separate events in Foster’s life. She testified,

“I have known him for five years. He has always been a great father. He was working and then I was working and he was taking care of the kids. I was diagnosed with meningitis and had no one but him. He stood by me and took care of me. When I first knew him, there were no signs of substance abuse, but then he would be gone for a few days and he looked different when he came back and he would be sorry. He was a completely different person on drugs and off of them.”

After Foster was taken into custody in January of 2012 for his last residential burglary, Foster sat in jail despairing at the thought of never seeing his baby daughter and another daughter due to be born that year. When his mother bonded him out in May, Foster took off to live with his fiancee and their newborn in New Lenox, Illinois. He went straight and quit the drugs out of regard for his new family. They had another daughter, and Foster found employment at a temp agency earning $9.25 an-hour, working 5 days a week, 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for Michael’s Distributing Center. By all appearances, during the two years Foster had fled the county, Foster became a responsible family man. Foster told Judge Difanis before the judge passed sentenced: “I want the State, You the judge, and the community to know people grow up and mature in many different ways, as well as [different] time-frames.”

While his family helped him to rehabilitate, they couldn’t rehab that warrant hanging over his head from Champaign County. Champaign Police discovered where Foster’s fiancee lived and notified the Lockport Police to keep a watch for Foster at the home. On his day off from work, police found Foster and took him into custody. Instantly, Foster went from working family man to inmate.

In the moment of clarity that incarceration can bring, Foster wrote often about what his family had become for him:

“Before I was free to roam. Too much idle time on my hands. Now I don’t want to be alone because I love to be home with the love and comfort of my kids, as well as my kids’ mother. I am now purpose-driven, instead of poison living! Giving myself when needed. And I hope to always be needed in the eyes of the lives of my young Prince, and two Princesses. Those are my gifts as well as priorities. I love the fact that although things are at an all-time low- my predicament down and out…I am loved.”

In his statement before Judge Difanis, Foster said,

“This is the longest I’ve been away from my Baby Girls, and I need my 14 year-old son as much as he needs me. Your Honor, I will not disappoint you. I do know that if I’m taken away from my kids, your Honor, it will have an outstanding effect on them and impact on our lives, (my fiancee as well.) I say ‘our’ because I am no longer selfish. I base my life as a whole: me and my family and that’s my motivation because of those sweet kisses ‘Good Morning’, laughter throughout the day, and puppy eyes because they don’t want to go to bed. It’s my determination to love and provide and always be there (always.)”

Here Comes The Judge

In the strange world of courtroom theater where it’s expected a “wise” judge will decide what’s best for society, it’s here where souls are evaluated. Judge Tom Difanis has been sending people away and breaking up families since 1976 so he’s heard the “what-about-the-children?”-argument plenty times before.

Because of Foster’s 4 previous felony convictions, his plea to the residential burglaries from 2012 were treated as Class X felonies, non-probational offenses. The minimum Foster could have received was 6 years if the judge had allowed the two counts to run concurrently.

In seeking 20 years of incarceration, prosecutor Troy Lozar emphasized Foster’s record while acknowledging Foster has been on a decade-long pursuit of drugs. Lozar stressed that since Foster has spent time in prison, Foster has committed car theft and then residential burglary.  Because of Foster’s remarkable criminal record from ages 19 to 32, Lozar argued for Difanis to see Foster as a “severe risk to society.” Lozar reminded Difanis about Foster’s failure to show up in court two years ago. Lozar concluded all six cases against Foster involve drugs and that drugs are the responsible agent for his crimes. No where in Lozar’s argument did he say Foster was violent.

Judge DiFanis noted a harsh sentence was needed because Foster stood before him with his 14th conviction, and Difanis said that calls for a deterrent factor. Difanis often uses this worn out platitude whenever he is about to do something awful in the face of good reasons not to. After 40 years of fighting the drug war, Difanis is well aware no addict ever refused another hit because somebody or themselves goes to jail. The drug war counts on it for job security. 

Difanis conceded that Foster’s criminal behaviors in 2011 and 2012 were motivated by drugs and the need to buy drugs.  While it is not statutory mitigation, Difanis was impressed Foster had come forward to plead guilty on his own and took advantage of educational programs at the jail. Difanis also admitted Foster is not dangerous.  
Difanis inferred from Foster’s ability to avoid the attention of the police for two years, must mean Foster kept himself away from criminal behavior to a large extent. Difanis balanced Foster’s family-man-defense against Foster still owing over $17,000 in child support.

Shocked by the length of his sentence, Foster attempted to withdraw his guilty plea (defendants have 30 days to do so,) but his lawyer didn’t think it had a chance. If Foster had withdrawn his guilty plea, the state is allowed to re-charge Foster with the original residential burglaries, including the dismissed felonies. Judges usually allow prosecutors to control the ball in a plea bargain situation, and 15 years was the lowest prosecutor Troy Lozar was willing to go. In Champaign County, making the lawyers work to prove guilt means a harsher sentence. Were Foster to go to trial over his residential burglaries, Foster would likely lose. The state claims they have DNA evidence that ties him to the theft. That he violated his bail bond is obvious. Difanis could make an example out of Foster as to what happens to defendants who renege on a plea deal. The sheer volume of cases Champaign County processes requires the plea bargain system run smoothly for 95% of the approximately 4000 criminal cases per year.

With his identity so under attack in the courtroom, Foster’s writings attempt to reclaim his humanity.

“I flow with pain trying to strain to understand the words, ’15 years in the D.O.C.’ for the crime in which I was charged even while including my background. But I’m nobody obviously, or am I? [Am I] not the loving son of an angel sent from God[?] I’ve done my bad, but I’ve chosen to grow from them. [Am I] not the loving Dad to 3 wonderful children who I love and will dedicate my life to so that they never have to be without me? Plus, I love them sincerely. [Am I] not the loving future husband to a beautiful woman who’s not perfect herself but makes me love her even more [?] She’s still deserving of happiness and I want to be that source….[am I] not the loving person who will work in order to have because of the desire to give, provide, share and do for whomever is in need? Can’t that be right? Now granted, I’ve always been this way!! But it may have been a bit hard to see through the cloud of dust and smoke in which I created during my spiral downhill. I was lost, but now I’m found.”

Foster believes he was the victim of poor legal representation. In discussing his defense attorney, Baku Patel, Foster characterized his performance this way: “Oh please. He took my mom’s money and did not try to his potential knowing she is not well off. I could have gotten 15 years with a public defender.”

Foster criticized the entitlement judges and prosecutors possess and their negative view of people.

“We all stand in exactly the same place! What makes you better than me? Or the next person? Besides the fact that you see ‘my’ problem better than you see ‘your’ own. It may be human nature, but that doesn’t make it right, especially when you’re in control and have a life on the line that also has lasting effect on other lives. The reality of a situation is that although during the course of however many years, progress can be made, in the type of action and activities in one’s life.”

Foster thought the judge and prosecutor were outright cruel, but at the same time, somehow he forgives them too. “How dare they live, laugh and seek to destroy someone while weak? To see and hear the support that’s real. Yet still [it’s] reveal[ed] you care not how they feel. To urge a judge to inflict true pain by a sentence as if he has something to gain. God bless him. I feel no ill will at all. God is good all the time, right there when I fall,” he said.

Foster said he was devastated by his sentence,

“It hurt me so bad, I almost cried because, although I hold no grudge to the unwarranted actions taken by the judge, and misrepresentation of my lawyer, and apparent hatred based on his prosecution by the state’s attorney, I was done clearly foul and fall into that category hands down.”

Foster summarized his case this way,

“My biggest concern and question is what drove the state’s attorney and judge’s decision to feel I should be given so much time, because my past prison terms were in non-program prisons where all I could do was time and wait on a release.” 

Life Goes On

Foster has learned to forgive himself, “…you don’t have to be chained forever to a terrible, destructive way of life! I have forgiven myself for the wrong I have done, because I cannot go forward if I can’t let go of the past, past actions, past associations, past thinking. Mostly, my thought process has been drastically changed. I can’t change the past. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. But today I am blessed! I am humble,” he wrote.

Foster’s mother has written the Governor to ask that her son’s sentence be commuted to a drug treatment center. If Foster cannot find a legal remedy to reduce his sentence, he won’t be eligible for parole until January 2022, when he will be 40 years-old. The Vera Institute estimates it costs taxpayers $38,268 a-year to house an inmate in an Illinois prison. To house Foster for a minimum of seven years, it will cost taxpayers $267,876, all because Foster stole a television and an Xbox game to score some crack. The first half of his life will have been spent in and out of jail and prison. When he gets released, his son will be 22 years-old, his daughters will be 9 and 10. He will have no place to live unless his mother or fiancee take him in. There will be no job waiting for him.  What will be waiting for Foster is that outstanding criminal justice debt of $8,865.98, plus the $9,789.53 of child support owed to his first partner, and an additional $7,501.30 he owes in child support to his fiancee.

Incredibly, Foster remains optimistic,

“All that’s changed is the goal. The way I think, talk, feel, and ultimately what I’ll do in life. My pain stays the same before the horror of the past 5 months…stay blessed, be thankful, love my mother, my son, my fiancee and girls, walk light, live right, and work to earn the world. Stay positive and bear good fruit. Not even misrepresentation will turn me back, down that dark road of loneliness, sadness, and disappointment. Mark my words, I’m praying for a blessing. I also believe I’ll receive it because in the right hand, the true dedication and determination, light will shine on my case,… [to] “anyone” with sense and power for the people, along with compassion for real equality when it comes to righteousness for justice to be served. I get my day back in court for reality in my level as an ex-criminal. Yes, ex-criminal. I’m done and was done before sentencing. And will get a proper chance to get back to be able to make my mother proud, love on my children, properly marry the woman in my life and become and show that I am a “MAN”- not what you label me to be from reading a sheet of paper built on incidents from my young and dumb growing-up days. It’s not fair! Not to mention the pettiness of it all. Not trying to justify it, or minimize it because it was already minor. I’m sorry to all, I will make it up. Help me get there to show because actions speak louder than words…in the end, I will win. Everyday my mind grows stronger and I’m a day closer to my family and a productive life that will allow me to show the doubtful that they were wrong, have been wrong. But I will prevail. I just hope that something will transpire in the system and/or the judge will gain a heart when needed because all do not deserve prison. It is no longer a corrections-capable system.
-Antwan F. “

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