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    Wife says Strawberry needs help, compassion -- not prison

    Charisse Strawberry says she was shocked by her husband's recent relapse into addiction and that she hopes "he helps himself.''

    By DAVID KARP

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


    photo
    [AP photo]
    Charisse Strawberry, wife of former New York Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry, gestures during a news conference Tuesday morning.
    TAMPA -- At home with her three children, Charisse Strawberry could do little but pray.

    She had learned that her husband, former New York Yankee Darryl Strawberry, had disappeared from a court-ordered drug treatment center.

    "I was really shocked," she said.

    But she knew she could not frantically search all over town to find him. He would have to cure himself.

    "There is nothing I can do but to support him and hope that he helps himself," she said.

    Mrs. Strawberry talked about her husband's recent relapse into addiction at a news conference Tuesday in hopes that her story would draw attention to the disease of drug and alcohol addiction.

    "Please understand," Mrs. Strawberry said, as cameras clicked and reporters scribbled in their note pads, "that Darryl is not a bad person trying to be good. He is a sick person trying to get well."

    What happened to Strawberry happens to little-known families every day, she said. "My story is not really different from thousands of other stories."

    Except that Strawberry's story is different. At the county courthouse Tuesday, a stranger came to up Strawberry's lawyer to wish the baseball slugger well. At Strawberry's house after his disappearance, television trucks camped out. Tuesday's news conference on the top floor of the Hyatt Westshore hotel drew reporters from across the country.

    Mrs. Strawberry, 34, sat at a table, a diamond necklace around her neck and a glittering ring on her finger. She looked so glamorous that a reporter told her she was "stunning."

    She has visited her husband at St. Joseph's Hospital, where friends brought him 10 days ago after a weekend cocaine binge. She reported that he was doing okay.

    "It's a day-to-day process," she said.

    Before his relapse, he seemed to be recovering well. He had stayed away from drugs for five months and had begun to confront his past.

    "I don't think Darryl really knows what happened at this point," Mrs. Strawberry said.

    Chemotherapy treatment for his colon cancer has made Strawberry very ill, but tests in February showed that his cancer had not spread, she said. That did not mean, however, that Strawberry's cancer was cured.

    Addicts such as Strawberry, who also faces depression, need family support and long-term treatment, not prison time, she said.

    "What is jail or prison going to do for someone?" she said.

    Prosecutors want Strawberry, 39, sent to prison for violating court supervision for the fourth time. Circuit Judge Florence Foster will sentence him later this month.

    Like others, Mrs. Strawberry couldn't understand why her husband kept drinking and taking drugs.

    "I used to say, "Why can't he just stop?' "

    But now, she said, she understands. She enrolled in a program to help her deal with her husband's addiction and educated herself about the disease. She also helped found the Tampa affiliate of the non-profit National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and will serve as its paid president, speaking about the disease and raising funds.

    "A part of the healing will be to help others," she said.

    Her suffering has been particularly hard because of Strawberry's fame. She couldn't keep Strawberry's problems a secret from their children. Kids at school would do cruel things, she said.

    She watched as Strawberry was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in 1999 and endured the news that he started his cocaine binge last month with a female friend.

    "If there is a female involved, she is probably just as sick as him," she said.

    But she continues to support Strawberry, whom she married in 1993.

    "I have more compassion for Darryl than I have had in a long time," she said.

    - Contact David Karp at 813-226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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