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My friend Frank was smart, funny, handsome, successful, and addicted to cocaine.
Santa Fe is a small town where everyone knows everyone, and everyone knew Frank. When I ran into Frank in a restaurant or at a reggae club, as happened nearly every week in our small town, he’d run up to me and embrace me, as if we hadn’t seen each other in years. This exuberance was powerful and genuine –Frank genuinely loved life and he genuinely loved his friends.
I was one of Frank’s “sober friends.” Frank told me numerous times how much he respected me, and how much he enjoyed the times we had together without drugs. Even though Frank was a few years older than me, at times he seemed like a little boy, lost in a world where his hopes and dreams had yet to be realized. Frank wanted to move to Hawaii, he wanted to surf and swim, he wanted to spend time with his kids, far, far away from Santa Fe and far from his drug addiction.
In early 2008, Frank was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. He was released from jail after only a few days and his charges dropped, which confused me due to the penalties typically associated with this crime. I began to hear rumors that Frank had become an informant, and I was very concerned for his safety. “Don’t worry,” Frank told me. “I have it all taken care of. I know good people who are helping me out.” I tried to remain hopeful. Frank had friends from all walks of life, from club kids to law enforcement officers to Oscar-winning stars who vacationed in Santa Fe. Maybe Frank simply had a real friend who would help.
I saw Frank for the last time on July 4, 2008. We shared a burger at our favorite local haunt, and drank beers on the patio as fireworks exploded in the sky. We made tentative plans to get together again soon, plans that would never happen. We shared a long goodbye hug like we always did.
I still remember the morning I learned Frank was missing. I called my friends who loved Frank and we came together and we cried, because we knew something had gone terribly wrong. We tried to be hopeful – maybe Frank had gone somewhere to get away for a few days. Maybe he had finally gone to Hawaii, and hadn’t bothered to tell anyone. Maybe he just needed some alone time. But deep down inside, we already knew something terrible had happened. We knew Frank was gone and we were just waiting to hear the details.
The details will haunt me for the rest of my life. Frank’s body was found in a shallow grave in a remote area of the Santa Fe National Forest. He had been kidnapped, beaten, thrown unconscious into the back of a pickup truck and driven to an isolated spot in the mountains, where he was ordered to kneel, facing away from his kidnappers. There, in the dark woods, Frank was shot twice execution-style in the back of the head by a drug dealer who thought he was a “rat.”
“Frank’s body was found in a shallow grave in a remote area of the Santa Fe National Forest. He had been kidnapped, beaten, thrown unconscious into the back of a pickup truck and driven to an isolated spot in the mountains, where he was ordered to kneel, facing away from his kidnappers. There, in the dark woods, Frank was shot twice execution-style in the back of the head by a drug dealer who thought he was a ‘rat.'”
I remember watching the television news reports, men in white hazard suits with gloves and masks, carrying a stretcher draped in a white sheet – a stretcher carrying Frank’s body. My friend Frank, who was always so clean and dressed so nicely and wore expensive cologne. I remember thinking those men were wearing masks because Frank’s body smelled, because it had been rotting in those woods, cast away like a piece of garbage.
Worlds away from that summer, sitting in the Ladybud office last week, I told my friend and Executive Editor of Ladybud Diane Fornbacher about Frank and we cried together. We cried for Frank and we cried for Rachel Hoffman, and for too many other victims of our country’s unwinnable War on Drugs. When I got home later that night, I looked online for a news article about Frank to send Diane. I felt a desperate need to show her who he was, for her to see his picture. But when I googled Frank’s name, links to the articles from the summer of 2008 were all broken – 404 error, page not found, buried, lost, gone. It had only happened a few short years ago, but already, the public memories of Frank are being erased.
I did find a video online of Frank’s heartbroken mother, begging the judge to sentence his killers to life in prison. Frank, she said, had made some bad decisions in his life, but he was working on turning it around.
How many more people like Frank will die because of poor decisions they have made, decisions they could never have imagined would turn out to be deadly, decisions that thousands of young men and women make every day as they struggle to find themselves in our increasingly complex world?
On May 7 at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, Diane and I will be leading a vigil for Rachel Hoffman on the anniversary of her death. We will also honor the other casualties of the War on Drugs, which I consider a War on Humanity. I will be honoring Frank; I will be carrying his picture. I will read his name. I will remember him. I will cry.