This is the saddest story I've ever heard.
Yvonne and Joe Jackson's son Cole had a rare immunodeficiency disease that would kill him within months. Treatment would cost $250,000, and the Jacksons pulled out all the stops to raise the money.
When they fell short, doctors suggested another possibility: They put Cole in a hospice that would allow him to die peacefully.
"You don't tell a parent that you're going to keep their child as comfortable as possible just because they don't have the money. So you're saying that if I've got tons of money, my child can live, but if I don't have any money, my child needs to die? That shouldn't have been - that shouldn't have even been the question," Yvonne told NPR.
Joe had a solution: he would simply make the extra money - somehow. He didn't tell Yvonne what he had in mind. What happened next meant that he would lose his family and save Cole's life by sacrificing his own:
For two years, Joe was transporting methamphetamine. He would get a grand for every pound of meth he carried from California to Texas. A typical load was up to $11,000 worth of meth. Enough to pay for Cole's medical expenses. Joe turned himself in. The federal court in Fort Worth found him guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. At trial, the defense presented letters and evidence to show that the reason Joe did what he did was because it was his last resort. It was the only way to pay for his son's transplant. But the judge, notorious for his harsh sentences, didn't bat an eye. He sentenced Joe to life.
Joe talked to NPR from jail and gave a moving description of why he did what he did:
When that boy right there was dying and we tried every way in the world asking all of you people for help, every federal agency there was, you wouldn't help us. And I don't figure you're going to help me now. And that's exactly what I told the judge in my statement at sentencing. I done knew what I was fixing to get and it was over. My only regret was that he couldn't give me a death sentence. At least if I would've died or they would've put me to death my family could've got over it and got on with their lives. I hate it that my wife has sat out there by herself all these years.
Cole was predicted not to live past age 3, but he is now 24 and in good health, thanks to his father's sacrifice.
Joe is eligible for a pardon from President Obama for non-violent drug offenders.