Jeannie Reilly was a heroin addict and prostitute who worked the streets of New York Citys Lower East Side. In 1994, she made a resolution: she would get off drugs, get off the streets, and pull her life together, so that one day she might reunite with the son she had abandoned as a baby.
Producer David Isay used to live and work on a block that Reilly frequented, and the two became friends. After Reilly was released from jail for the last time, she began recording a series of audio letters to her son. Reilly was HIV-positive at the time, and she started the project because she did not know if she’d ever have the opportunity to speak to her son in person.
Jeannie died of pneumonia on September 11, 1997, having spent the last three years of her life clean. She never saw her son again before she died. This is her audio letter to him.
Recorded in New York City. Premiered December 31, 1997, on All Things Considered.
This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.