Lillian Smith's youngest son is doing time -- more than 12 years without parole for selling a quantity of crack cocaine that you could hold in the palm of your hand.
Barry Smith, 19, born and raised in the northeast corner of Alexandria, was convicted of conspiring to sell crack and possession with intent to distribute five grams or more -- even though he had no crack on him when he was arrested.
What he did have, said his mother, was a drug habit and friends willing to turn their back on him.
"I don't excuse what Barry did," said Lillian Smith, describing her son as a former "crackhead." Barry deserved to do some prison time, she said, but not 12 years as if he were a lifelong criminal -- not for selling a few grams here and there so he could afford some for his own drug habit.
Barry Smith is one of hundreds of young black men who have been arrested on drug charges in recent years in Alexandria. Like most of the others, he was not an outsider come to corrupt and capitalize on local youths. He was just one of the local kids hanging out.
"Barry wasn't a problem child until the drug scene hit . . . . Then this nightmare came to my door," Lillian Smith said in a recent interview in her Arlandria apartment.
The 40-year-old hair stylist said her son fell in with a crowd looking for thrills and a little spending money. "You want to be accepted by your friends, and seeing all the money -- what you could buy -- he couldn't resist it," Smith said.
She saw the difference immediately. Once active and alert, Barry became restless and unfocused. "He got so he wasn't my son," she said.
Smith called the police, trying to get them to clean up the street corners where Barry was spending more and more hours. Barry's two brothers asked his friends not to give him more drugs.
After Barry received two state convictions on minor drug charges, his mother sought help, briefly placing him in local treatment centers. But it was not long before Barry and eight others were indicted in U.S. District Court for playing minor roles in the crack ring headed locally by former T.C. Williams High School football star Tracy Fells.
Barry refused to cooperate with federal prosecutors and was convicted by a jury after brief deliberation.
Lillian Smith thinks her son has the will and the strength to weather prison and hopes to get him back someday. "He's going to make it in life because I'm not going to give up on him," she said. "If he falls, pick him up. I don't care how many times. You get tired, yes, but don't turn your back."