Saturday, July 8, 2017

Facing Addiction - A Pilot Program

There are millions of people affected by a substance use disorder everyday. Thousands die from opioid use. Lives are turned upside down and inside out. Parents lose their children extinguishing their flame for hope. Children lose their parents sending them into the same vicious cycle of drug abuse and criminal recidivism. There are those that want out of that cycle and seek help but are met with a series of postponements that have all too often led to their demise.

What are we suppose to do as a community? The option are limited and reactionary. There are various 12 - Step programs, there are treatment centers, treatment courts, detox centers and all of these have been around for a significant amount of time. However, they are first and foremost reactions to a significant growing problem. If the problem is growing there has to be another solution. Enter the Facing Addiction Pilot Program

 We don't know the answer either, but we're going to find out. As a self-proclaimed American Criminal
who has myself struggled with this very issue losing my son in the process, I know first hand what a toll it takes on individuals as well as families. This pilot program is set out to uncover the root causes of this substance use disorder and nip it in the bud. At the forefront of this concept is the reality that so many people believe there is no hope for a drug addict. That they are lost souls that will never do any good for society or their community and therefore should be locked away until they die. There is a video going around that expresses the idea that having a substance use disorder is a choice of the weak. This comes from ignorance and a faulty perception of recovery. We want to flip the script and change the perception of what a person in long term recovery can become.

As of right now we are in phase 1 of a multi-phase progressive program. This is the phase where we build networks,
garner support from the community and spread the word. We don't know what the end result will be, but when you get law enforcement, criminals, and the community all behind the same issue to tackle a problem...You can bet something great will happen.

To give you an idea of how significant of a factor this can be, a law was passed and is currently waiting to be signed that allows for law enforcement to be called if someone overdoses without fear. In essence the law allows for a bystander to call 911 to get help for an overdose. When the police arrive NOTHING they see, find, or confiscate will be able to be used to prosecute anyone. This came after several people have had their children die from an overdose because the bystanders were afraid to call for help out of fear of prosecution. This law shows that legislators are on the right track.
This law was advocated by the National Facing Addiction Organization, the same organization that has launched this pilot program.

If you're interested in how you can help and be a part of something bigger than yourself, check out the FB page, It has become the official/unofficial hub of information for the Springfield, Missouri pilot community project. Whether you have life experience dealing with drugs or alcohol, know someone who struggles with it, or work in an industry/field that deals with people who have a substance use disorder and you suffer from a significant case of compassion wishing you could help but don't know how or where to turn, we can use your voice. We have those currently in long term recovery, lawyers, law enforcement and counselors working together to find a solution to this national epidemic. Help us, help the community.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
—Mark Twain 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Broken Legal System and a Ray of Sunshine

Our legal system is broken. There is no doubt about that by anyone. The reality that over 90% of the convictions are a result of plea deals is not the result of "good police work" or the prosecutor "doing a great job". It's the reality that there is a pervasive culture and general understanding that it doesn't matter whether you've committed the crime or not, the system is set up to find you guilty, and pleas make it that much easier because when the average person is faced with 2 of 3 choices, they will usually choose the lesser of the two, and completely disregard the third because it isn't flaunted in front of them like the other two.
As an example, an individual facing an assault charge is faced with three options, but their lawyer explains two of them. [1] - "the prosecutor is offering to reduce the charge from a class B felony which carries 5-15 years in prison to a Class C felony which carries 1-7 years in prison, or [2] we can take it to trial and if you lose you can get the max of 15 years for the class B felony". The option not usually provided so clearly is that you can also take it to trial win the case and not receive any years in prison. This fear mongering is what causes innocent people who don't understand the law to plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit. Despite the reality of our legal system, which doesn't seem to be getting any better...there is a ray of sunshine in the darkness of such a destructive system that rips families apart and creates career criminals who lose all hope and are the most disenfranchised group of people on the planet. That ray of sunshine is called Drug Court.

Drug Court is an alternative to traditional incarceration for crimes that involve drugs in some way. Drugs are a significant cause of criminal activity. Drug Courts across the county have become an excellent alternative to support individuals with drug addictions. To learn a little more about drug court you can read my post here. I'm an advocate for Drug Court, especially considering the culture of plea deals and fear that run rampant in our justice system. The reason is simple, if you have a drug problem, you have a drug problem, whether you committed the crime or not does not change your reality. Through the Drug Court program the system provides an opportunity to stop the destruction of the family unit as well as the creation of criminals.

I have been involved with the justice system for almost 20 years, since I was a teenager. [If you're curious about a bit of my criminal history you can read about it here.] I've witnessed first hand how the system has dismantled families, turned good people into vicious animals who went from loving, caring individuals to heartless beast on a suicide mission. I've been fortunate enough to remain sane and hopeful, although I have lost myself a time or two. In fact, I can thank the Drug Court program for keeping me around a bit longer. It wasn't all that long ago that I had been in the midst of the drug culture, I was drawing up various amounts of meth into a syringe, finding a vein, and releasing the rush of wonder into my system as a way to escape a reality that I had created for myself. The Drug Court team that I was surrounded with could only have helped me with a mind-set of compassion and hope. I provided them with a few separate opportunities to continue the inevitable cycle of drug addiction that lands folks like me in prison, and leaves behind a family that grieves as though you are dead, drains them emotionally, and destroys your mind into a perception that you will never be anything but a criminal.

Drug Court has shown me within the time that I've been involved that they want to end the cycle of recidivism and interrupt the drug culture while bringing families together. They have their ways of doing things and what they want is in line with what the participants want. The conflicts arise when the participants want to get what they want in ways that have consistently failed them, instead of working with Court.

Most people step into the program with an adversarial mind-set, Me versus Them. This tends to cause them to lie out of fear that this program is a trick. Overcoming this obstacle can be ridiculously difficult. Consider this, you just plead out to distribution of controlled substance, Class B felony which carries 5-15 years in prison but you were allowed to participate in the Drug Court program which is a approximately 18 months. If you graduate you avoid prison and in some cases have the felony charge removed from your record. However, if you do NOT complete the program and get into trouble, you go to prison for the amount of time you agreed to between 5-15 years. NOW, imagine you just ran into an old friend you haven't seen in a while and before you know it, before you've even had a chance to be taught new tools to cope, before you've had a chance to see what the program has to offer, you've already fucked up and hit the blunt. You go home and the realization has set in that when you go to do a UA (piss test), you're going to be dirty. Your mind reminds you that this is a reason for you to fail the program and now you're convinced that you're going to go to prison if you're caught because that me versus them mind-set has you convinced that all they want to do is lock you up. When the time comes for you to stand in front of the judge and they ask you, "How are things going? Are you clean?" Everything in your mind, body, and soul screams at you, "LIE!!! Save your freedom!!" and your heart beats a little faster, palms begin to sweat and a drop of perspiration rolls down your side from your underarm that feels like everyone can see. Then you open your mouth, and 9 times out of 10 a lie will form and be released into the ears of the waiting judge. This is Phase 1.

Little do you know that most of the people in that court room know you're lying. The judge, the
prosecutor, your P.O., your counselor, the participants behind you. To add to the mind-fog, after a few minutes of chit-chat and a few chances to tell the truth you're let go. In your head you know they know. So why did they let you go? Confusion runs rampant and you're unsure of what the hell just happened. This repeats itself, time and time again. Then a fork in your thinking begins to emerge, provided you have been doing the bare minimum of going to treatment, seeing your counselor and P.O., and showing up to court. Perhaps they don't want me to go to prison. Perhaps, I can do this program. Perhaps, I can say no to drugs. Perhaps, I can be honest. You've witnessed other participants stand in front of the judge and elaborate on how they went out and got high and the judge let them go with an appreciation of their honesty. You are beginning to understand that there is a way out of the horrible cycle of drug addiction. That first step is being honest. This shows your team that you have overcome that adversarial mind-set. As long as you perceive them as enemies, they can't help you. Why would you accept help from an enemy? Overcoming this hurdle is the biggest step you will take on this journey. The sooner the better, and everything else will fall into place if you can just reach this point. This point is where you begin to trust that what they have in store for you will lead you to where you want to be.

This trust had come in handy for myself recently. I now have a daughter and was put in a situation where a decision was presented that could have allowed for a terrible turn of events that destroyed my family and everything that had been built. Vaccinating my daughter. My wife and I made the court aware that we were researching whether or not to vaccinate our daughter, should we decide not vaccinate then my wife's housing situation would be in jeopardy, which had already been expressed as a potential threat. The court couldn't allow us to live together due to a special condition of our probation (co-defendants). We maintained what we were doing, completed our research, and decided not to vaccinate. The results of my wife's housing was as expected and coming to an end. The world sat squarely on the shoulder's of the judge. We brought everything to the judge. Should the judge maintain the special conditions, my wife becomes homeless, Children's Division steps in and we have a new adversary to contend with, all the trust that has been built crumbles, and the amount of  issues we have become virtually insurmountable. It didn't take long before the judge assessed the situation and determined that it would be in everyone's best interest to allow her to move in with me. All of us knew the conditions with which we were entering were not ideal, must improve, and has issues but, the alternative would more than likely be step in the opposite direction and send one back into adversarial mode. Destroying the family unit, having our daughter taken away, which is a prime event that could cause an addict to lose hope and shoot them back into the ever waiting arms of  active addiction.

This decision is an example of the reality that the program is not designed to destroy you, but to support you and help guide you through this journey of new found sobriety. Things are different on this side of the mind. You're not the only one who has good intentions. There are folks out there who want to see you do well. You don't have to remain a victim of the system. There are other alternative justice courts available. Homeless Court, Mental Health Court, DUI Court and even if you're not necessarily guilty for the crime you're in court for, a plea for help might not be that bad of an option.