Judy Woodruff: When Jasson Howell Sr. received a mandatory 10-year federal prison sentence for heroin distribution, he shared that punishment with his family.

Two of his four children went to live with his parents, Kim and Dale Howell. The couple has worked tirelessly to raise their grandchildren, while staying connected to their son.

Brief But Spectacular’s Steve Goldbloom visited them in Portage, Wisconsin, in late 2019.

Dale Howell: My son was always adventurous. Jasson was a hard worker. He got with a group of guys that were, for recreation, snorting pain pills on the weekends. Pretty soon, heroin was cheaper, and that became his drug of choice.

It was constantly not enough money to pay for rent anymore, not enough money to keep the water on. It was hard enough to see it being our son and his wife, but the children were the hardest of all.

Some of the people that he was with went into shooting up heroin. Jasson picked it up for a group of people. One of the kids shot up their girlfriend. She O.D.ed, see didn’t die, but she did O.D. And he served — he got sentenced to a mandatory federal prison sentence of 10 years.

When Jasson did get incarcerated, our oldest grandson was left alone oftentimes to take care of his younger siblings, which was probably — probably the hardest time of my life. Their mother had overdosed and was being taken to the hospital.

Kimberly Howell: We were planning on getting all four the children. And when the courts decided to split them up between grandparents, that was a really hard situation.

Marcus Howell: When I learned my dad was going away, it was hard for all of us. The most challenging part, I’d say, was just learning how long he was going to be gone.

Kimberly Howell: We see Jasson about three times a year. It’s about an eight-and-a-half-hour journey there.

Dale Howell: It’s a horrible thing to experience. And it wouldn’t be so bad if it was just Kim and I. But, usually, we have got four little ones’ hands and taking them in as well. And they shouldn’t have to experience that either.

Marcus Howell: The hardest part about seeing her dad is just knowing he can’t come home with us that day.

Jasson Howell Jr.: The best part about seeing my dad is remembering, like, all the good times that we have and that there’s a lot more good times to come.

Kimberly Howell: The most difficult thing is not being able to take my son home when we go and visit. He’s my firstborn, and he’s always been my buddy.

Dale Howell: He’s taken different classes in there. He’s taken parenting classes.

Kimberly Howell: I have seen a huge change in him.

Dale Howell: He is learning through this rehab program in there to open up, to have to be accountable. He’s had to reach out and say things to his children that he probably wouldn’t have on his own, make apologies.

Marcus Howell: My grandparents, they have raised us for a while, and I feel they have taken over the role as parents, at least for now.

Dale Howell: I used to feel like, oh, we got our grandkids. Don’t feel that way anymore. We get to live with them.

They have taught us so much. That addiction that has affected them, I still see it, and I wonder what they could have been or what they would have been or maybe what to only get to be because of what they have gone through.

Kimberly Howell: Whenever the phone rings, I look to see if it says restricted on it, because then I know it’s him.

Computer Voice: This call is from.

Jasson Howell Sr.: Jasson Howell.

Computer Voice: An inmate at a federal prison.

Jasson Howell Sr.: Hello?

Kimberly Howell: Hi, buddy.

Jasson Howell Sr.: Glad I made the call, because I tried — I tried making it.


Kimberly Howell: I know you did, honey. I know you did. So how did work go?

Jasson Howell Sr.: Work was OK. We had a little holiday meal today, so it was a little better than normal.

Jasson Howell Jr.: Hello?

Jasson Howell Sr.: What’s up buddy?

Jasson Howell Jr.: Nothing much.

I’m looking forward to spending time with my dad and just, like, messing around and goofing around.

Kimberly Howell: OK, here’s Marcus.

The most exciting thing is, when my son gets out, he will be able to see his oldest, Marcus, graduate.

Jasson Howell Sr.: It is snowing out there at all, or no?

Marcus Howell: It was this morning. It’s slowed down for a little bit.

I just want to be able to do things with him and see him and not have any restrictions to that.

Kimberly Howell: We have shared the sentence with our son. It’s been a long journey.

Dale Howell: The joy that comes to our hearts knowing he’s going to get out, it’s also a mixed bag, because that drug is tough one.

You hear about people relapsing all the time. We hope that he will have this licked forever, but also, in the back of our mind, Kim and I both still kind of worry, do we have it? Do we get to stop worrying now? Are things going to be OK now? Is he telling the truth now?

And I guess time will tell.

My name is Dale Howell.

Kimberly Howell: My name is Kimberly Howell.

Dale Howell: And this has been our Brief But Spectacular take…

Kimberly Howell: … on our family.

Jasson Howell Sr.: Well, I hope you guys have a good day, buddy. I just wanted to make sure I can call and touch base with you guys. I love you a lot.

Marcus Howell: I love you, too.

Kimberly Howell: We love you, too, buddy. Have a great day, OK?

Computer voice: This call is from a federal prison.

Kimberly Howell: Have a…

Jasson Howell Sr.: All right, I’ll talk to you later.

Kimberly Howell: OK, honey. Bye-bye.

Jasson Howell Sr..: OK. Bye.

Kimberly Howell: Bye.

Judy Woodruff: What a story.

And we have an update on this piece. Dozens of inmates and staff members at the federal correctional institution in Milan, Michigan, where Jasson Howell is serving time, have been infected with COVID-19.

There have been at least five deaths. Howell is expected to be released this November, after completing a drug abuse program. However, due to the virus, he can no longer take the required classes.