The Republican presidential candidate, his voice soft and at times quavering, shared his half-sister's experience, a story the Texas senator has recounted before. But at an addiction policy forum here gave the Iowa caucuses winner a venue to discuss his family's trauma.
As Cruz described at Emmanuel Baptist Church, his older half-sister Miriam -- one of two children from his father Rafael's first marriage -- never forgave her parents for their divorce. She grew up angry, stealing her half-brother's money so she could go buy alcohol and drugs. Eventually, she became a single mom and grew addicted to painkillers, leading her on a path to prison.
"These tragedies are happening in human lives all over this country -- it's the human journey," Cruz said. "It's fraught with peril and sometimes people make decisions bound and determined to destroy themselves. As a family you wonder: What could I have done more? Was there a way to change the path she was on? Those are questions you never fully answer."
Candidates from both parties have been repeatedly asked by New Hampshire voters this primary cycle about how they'd tackle the issue of heroin and addiction, which are particularly hard hitting in this state.
Cruz said he gave it his best try and attempted to convince Miriam, in a crack house, to consider the needs of her son, then in sixth grade. Cruz said he ended up taking a $20,000 cash-on-advance loan in order to send him to Valley Forge Military Academy and give his nephew, Joe, some needed structure, which Cruz said it did.
But his attempt to save his sister didn't work.
"I remember pulling Miriam out of there and we took her to a Denny's -- sat down with her for four, five hours, trying to pull her back. But she wouldn't listen," Cruz said. "She kept going on and on. She was angry. She said, 'Daddy missed my swim meet when I was in high school.'"
"And I remember telling her, 'Miriam, you've got a son, Joey. He needs you'," Cruz continued.
Miriam passed away at age 49, according to Cruz's campaign memoir, "A Time for Truth."
Cruz also again offered the story of his father's path to Christianity, an experience that he tells almost every audience and that Cruz said Thursday led his father to now be alcohol-free for 40 years. And in a rare display for the Republican, Cruz read from notes at times, dropping figures about the drug crisis in the Granite State.
The main solution, Cruz said, does not come from the federal government but support charities and churches who can help lead the troubled to "personal transformations."
"Everyone of us who has dealt with these demons -- or who has dealt with loved one grappling with these demons -- every one of knows these are personal journeys," Cruz said. "Faith and a relationship with God can be a powerful, powerful element in turning that around."
Cruz's remarks were not free of political overtones -- his second proposal to combat overdose was to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, a hallmark of his stump speech. And he returned to some of his most provocative red meat rhetoric on Thursday, jokingly referring to those who came to the U.S. illegally as "undocumented Democrats" and blasting actor Sean Penn for his recent, controversial interview with Mexican drug trafficker El Chapo.
"Sean Penn seems to think he is a sexy and attractive character," Cruz said. "What a cute and chic thing to celebrate someone who murders and destroys lives for a living."