Dear Ann Landers:

I am on death row in Texas for a drug deal gone bad. I have been a longtime reader of your column, and hope you will print my letter for your young readers. It may not be too late for many of them.

I cannot find the words to explain the feeling of emptiness I get from the smothering confines of this steel cage I call home. I have been in and out of prison since I was 18 years old, but my problems started long before that. When I entered junior high school, I began smoking dope, cutting classes and hanging out with the wrong crowd. I drifted along, not making any plans for my future. I thought, "Let other people worry about things like that, I'll just have fun." I didn't realize it at the time, but I was headed down a road I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams.

For those who are reading this letter, if you are hanging out with a bad crowd, doing drugs, thinking you will get it together eventually--BEWARE. You are going down the wrong road. Get off that road NOW and find the strength to change. I was once just a kid in a little trouble, and now, I am on death row. It is too late for me to go back and change the decisions that sent me down the wrong path. I only hope it isn't too late for you.

--Steven in Huntsville, Tex.

Thank you for a letter that could change lives. You have performed a wonderful service by writing to me. And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to use your letter as an opportunity to speak my piece.

I have long opposed the death penalty no matter how heinous the crime. According to the Chicago Tribune, 125 homicide convictions have been reversed in Illinois over the past 20 years due to misconduct by prosecutors. Nationally, 381 homicide convictions have been overturned since 1963. And this does not include prisoners who were executed but may have been innocent. How does the state make amends for such a miscarriage of justice? In my opinion, no excuse is good enough.

Dear Ann Landers:

A recent study I read reports that talking on a cell phone while driving is about as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol content sufficient to get convicted of drunk driving. Actually, the talker on a cell phone is MORE dangerous, because he probably drives while chatting more often than a drunk drives while intoxicated.

Age, driving experience and cell phone experience are not relevant. Hands-free phones have not proved to be any safer than hand-held phones. The problem is the diversion of the driver's attention. Why doesn't the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which runs ads urging drivers to use seat belts and warning them not to drink and drive, run a series of ads about the dangers of cell phones? Why aren't cell phone users charged higher automobile insurance rates? This issue is not about public safety. It's about common sense.

--P.T. in Oceanside, Calif.

You've written an interesting letter. I'll go you one better and suggest that it be declared illegal to use a cell phone while operating a vehicle. It should be mandated by law that the driver pull off the road and park on the shoulder to make a phone call.

The Journal of the American Medical Association printed a 1997 study showing that talking on a cell phone while driving quadrupled the risk of an accident. Brooklyn, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, recently passed an ordinance prohibiting drivers from using hand-held phones while driving (except in cases of emergency), and police have begun issuing tickets. I say hooray for them. I hope others will follow suit.

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