Addiction Culture: Private Prisons & Creating the Addict

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Today I read a disappointing clip in the local paper’s list of arrests reporting a person I remember from school being arrested for heroin. In another section was a huge write up about a local drug bust. Most everyone denounces the former person while applauding the latter, and I suppose there’s some reason, but before we clap too loudly about the sweeping drug arrests, let’s get real.

Living in reality, we must realize the fact that we can arrest a million drug dealers, but it solves nothing. We can lock them away, throwing away the key along with their freedoms, but it doesn’t matter. So long as there is demand you can just know for certain there will be a supply. The war on drugs is, and always was, a façade. It is impossible to implement and win simply because we aren’t addressing the real issue of addiction.

Our country has a drug problem, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more of a people problem. We need to figure out how to help addicts fix their lives so there is no more demand—and jail isn’t the answer. All jailing addicts does is feed an ever growing privatized jail and prison system with an insatiable greed that will only be whetted with more inmates.  Making our system of incarceration profitable made justice in its truest sense impossible. These people rarely get a fair shake, and nearly never have the opportunity to address their addiction issues that are generally wrapped up in comorbidity. They’re these huge multifaceted problems so interlaced only dealing with one cures nothing. Meanwhile, suppliers look at addicts as the customers who keep their pseudo-pharmacies alive. This doesn’t even address the addiction culture we create by medicating young children. Yet, here we are locking people away, creating felons who have difficulties securing employment and housing post incarceration, and will probably reoffend because they can’t deal with their addictions.

No. This country doesn’t need more jails and prisons—especially not private, for-profit institutions. We don’t need to hate and blame addicts for our ills. Our country needs to decide why we hate each other and our own lives so much. We need to realize that of the 355 mass shootings this year, only 4 were committed by those who had a blood feud against Americans. The rest were by Americans who hated other Americans—domestic terrorism. What we need to address is a need to understand why we hate each other so much. We need to know why we hate life so much we’d rather self-medicate than enjoy each day. Maybe it’s the disease of capitalistic greed creeping into our brains. Maybe it’s the fact we’re overworked and underpaid. Maybe it’s income disparity. Or, just maybe, it’s the fact we never deal with problems as they come, but instead blame everyone but ourselves. No matter, criminalizing addiction is like blaming the smoker for his cancer. Yes, in part, it was a choice, but it’s still a disease in need of a cure nonetheless.

 

(Image Source: http://www.freeenterprisewarriors.com/free-warrior-blog/jims-blog/dealingwithaddiction/)

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My noncelebrity/nonexpert ranty rants:

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  • On Rachel Dolezal:

It is not my place, nor is it my expertise, to micro analyze the inner workings of why this woman identifies as a different ethnicity. “Passing” is not new concept, but to be honest, I haven’t hashed this one around long enough with enough people to decide if Ms. Dolezal’s decision to tell the world she believes herself to be a woman of color is horribly offensive, or just something we all need to calm our collective tits about.

What I do know is that I’m white—chalky, pasty W.A.S.P white. 75% of my lineage comes from across the pond. The other 25% is Native American. (The percentages are off. I’m talking long lines of ancestry, not immediate. So, no, I’m not ¼ Native American.) Thing is, I don’t have an issue with my ethnicity. I’m not proud. I’m not ashamed. The way I figure it, it’s all just happenstance. Some genetic dice were rolled, and here I am. I identify with what my eyes see in the mirror. No blue/black-gold/white dress debate going on for me. I’m lucky in that respect because I don’t have to struggle with my identity.

My white skin has also afforded me many privileges. I’m not routinely detained by police. I don’t have to worry about my sons being brutalized by police. No one questions my choices to have children, or how I was accepted to university. One of the other privileges is my being able to observe and listen to ethnic voices who tell me what life is like for them, so I can see outside the W.A.S.P nest in which I was born.

Having said that, I never felt the need to appropriate a culture, serve as president of one of their largest institutions, and even sue for racial discrimination. If I want to know what it feels like to be a woman of color, I ask one. I have that conversation because I can also accept that anecdotal data is just as valuable to me as if I’d lived it myself. Why? Because I know that I can trust those voices. I don’t question their credibility simply because their skin tone is different from mine.

I’m not calling Ms. Dolezal to task for that, but I will say, if this is what she’s doing, appropriating a culture for her own benefit and 15 minutes of fame, then shame on her. She deserves all the repercussions she will suffer, because you don’t need to fraudulently claim an ethnicity to help others understand that ethnicity. All you have to do is stand beside them, and let their voices be heard.

  • Police Brutality:

Don’t get me wrong. This is a real issue worth much discussion. Our discourse isn’t very deep about this subject, most because we’ve been taught to respect police, and the suspect is always wrong. We are finding these old standards to be false increasingly with time. However, what I’ve also seen an explosion of are lots of false claims of police mistreatment. With increasing frequency, I’ve seen some schmuck decrying being brutalized by the police, when this person was the one antagonizing and escalating the situation.

As a citizen, it is your duty to abide the law. If you find that law to be insufficient, there are ways to change that. Breaking that law, and then causing problems for law enforcement when you’re arrested is not the way to do that. And mind you, I’m not talking some civil disobedience, here. That’s a different story. Instead, I’m talking about people breaking commonly accepted laws, only to be indignant when they are arrested.

Many times these vigilantes will poke the bunny, so to speak, by refusing to show an ID, disclose their identity, or even inciting officers by becoming belligerent and physically aggressive. They, then, expect officers to show them courtesy. Nope. Sorry. Not the way it works. You’ll later see their video, which only shows an edited portion, on some social media outlet.

Look, I know there are bad cops. Cops are human. Of course there will be bad ones. Honestly though, there are more good than bad, and these jokers, who just want a little face time from the media, make their lives difficult.

You want media coverage? Do something good. Help an old lady, or save a cat. Do something positive, for gawd’s sake, and leave the cops alone to take care of real issues.

  • Being Altruistic

I want the world to be full of rainbows and fluffy clouds. I want every human being to experience the goodness of life instead of the shit paved roads so many have to walk. I also want people to learn the definition of this word: Accountability.

Ask anyone who knows me personally, and they will tell you I am a giving person. I help where I can. Don’t be mistaken, though. My kindness and understanding have limits.

It’s not hard for me to understand that substance abuse and addiction are terrible, but the people caught up in that life are still human. I get this. I know these are the children, siblings, parents, and loved ones of someone. I would help anyone who really wanted to turn their lives around. What is also clear to me is while addiction is a disease, at some point it was chosen. It is not cancer. At some point, someone picked up a substance, and for whatever reason, consumed it. I’m not here to place blame or state the obvious, but I think it needs to be said that addiction is 100% preventable.

I say this because while I will help someone who wants to be clean, I will not…NOT…let anyone drag me or my family along with them on the fucking dirty spiral that is addiction. So, if this person is not accountable and making very distinct steps towards being clean, I’m done. Stab-me-with-a-fork, Put-me-on-a-platter DONE!  There is no way I will sacrifice myself, my life, my family to help someone who doesn’t care enough to be accountable for their own actions and help themselves a little.

Some might call that selfishness. I call it self-preservation.

(Image Source: http://theaviso.org/2012/03/13/blog-controversial-opinion-piece-shows-editorial-process-at-work/)

Welcome to Modernity, Austin, IN.

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How long have we been battling HIV/AIDs? Since the mid-1980s or so, we’ve actually had a name for the disease that still goes without a cure. Many places in the world have been fighting not only the direct effects of the disease, but the indirect effects as well for decades. In places like Africa, misinformation about HIV/AIDs has even led to folklore such as the belief that sex with a virgin would cure or somehow prevent the disease, leading to the rape of many innocent young people. While the United States has not experienced this effect, we have our own brand of bad information.

Recently, the tiny town of Austin, Indiana made national news because of an HIV outbreak. The outbreak, according to officials, is largely caused by IV drug use of the prescription pain killer Opana, and of course, heroin and methamphetamine. While one might wonder how what should be a quiet, tiny town becomes the hotbed of drug addiction, and makes National news as the “epicenter” of an HIV outbreak, it really isn’t that much of a shock to those of us who are native to this area. This little town has been a center of drugs and violence for decades.

With little industry, few resources, and no growth in sight, the town has basically been a dead zone for years. Austin has always been a place plagued with trouble. It’s just now that stronger, more lethal drugs have become prevalent and people are overdosing and becoming ill, heads are turning in that direction. That’s not a shocking trend. Overlooking areas such as Austin is not unique—many small towns never make the radar until something shocking happens. What is troubling is the horrible misinformation about both the cause and the solution to the problem.

Watching my local news reports on the goings on in Austin, one story sticks out in my mind. A woman stood on her porch describing how she and her children had borne witness to drug deals and prostitution on her street. She spoke of caring a gun, now, to protect her home and children. While this probably isn’t a crazy idea, it is a bit misguided to think that she could combat this problem with a firearm. Could she protect her home from intruders? Sure. Protect her children from strangers? Sure. Stop drug deals and prostitution? Probably not—maybe…maybe she could get lucky and stop what is going on directly in front of her home, but there is no way that gun ownership will lessen drug addiction and the prostitution that often accompanies it. What really troubles me, though, is during the conversation about people who have contracted HIV, gun ownership rears its head as part of the solution. I mean, the woman never said she’d kill or harm HIV patients, but the news report seemed ill timed when the focus is on stopping the spread of HIV/AIDs and not on stopping crime.

Other misguided conversations on social media called those who had contracted the disease “disgusting” and “scary,” making it seem as if one could catch the virus from a neighbor’s sneeze. It actually took the CDC to clear up some antiquated ideas about the spread of HIV/AIDs. Hearing what people still thought might happen reminded me of 1986-1987 when I first learned about the disease. We were frightened then because we didn’t understand how this all worked. We asked questions like “can we get it from sharing a glass of water?” I really thought, though, that the uncertainty and incorrect assumptions we all made nearly 30 years ago were long gone. Granted, we haven’t been fighting this monster on the scale they have in larger municipalities, but we have had residents with HIV/AIDs for years. Why did we all of a sudden think sharing a neighborhood was akin to sharing a needle?

I do understand that addicts dropping needles all over the place is a danger, as is the danger for medical professionals, but rather than talking about taking up arms to protect oneself, why aren’t we having involved conversations about clean needle exchanges and free condoms? Those subjects are nearly taboo in an area where fundamentalist conservatives have a stronghold.

The CDC did make its way into Austin when the number of those testing positive for HIV hit double digits. By the time it had hit triple digits, a temporary clean needle exchange had been established, as well as free testing. The keyword is “temporary”. For only 30 days, addicts can come in free of fear of incarceration to exchange their needles for clean ones, thereby helping to halt the spread of the disease. What happens after 30 days, though? Where do these people turn?

Surely, we understand that very few, if any, of these people will be drug free and clean in 30 days. Since the needle exchange is working—people are absolutely coming in for clean needles just as they do in larger cities with the exchanges—why aren’t we going to continue? Drug addiction isn’t going away. Guns won’t scare it away. Sorry. That demon is not afraid of death. This idea that giving away clean needles and condoms somehow “supports,” “condones,” or even “encourages” drug use and promiscuity is absurd.

I’ve read the remarks of people who have said we need to show people this behavior is not to be “admired”. The idea that people become drug users/addicts because they think its “admirable” is asinine. Truthfully, it’s the socioeconomic climate the residents of Austin must fight that breeds addiction, and prostitution just follows along as a cottage industry built by their broken lives. I would never assume any of these people wanted to be an addict when they grew up. To believe that is to totally misunderstand addiction. Addiction is something people turn to when there’s nowhere else to turn. It covers their pain. It’s the self-medication that is both the cure and the disease. Loose morals and lack of religion didn’t create this situation. Hopelessness, helplessness, and a feeling of living in an inescapable hell built what we’re dealing with for most. For some, this is a multigenerational problem that both parents and grandparents couldn’t escape. But no one cared 40 years ago, 30 years ago, or even 5 years ago. The violence and drug and sex trade are nothing new to Austin, Indiana. HIV is—or at least people knowing they have HIV is.

Putting a gun in someone’s hands will not kill this problem. Killing the bad information, killing the idea that if we close our eyes it will all go away, and killing the conservative stance that clean needle exchanges and free condoms somehow hurt society will fix this problem. Maybe it won’t stop people from using drugs or working in the sex trade to earn a few dollars, but it might very well stop the rampant spread of HIV. Locals who are too invested in personal religious tropes to invest in the public heath might want to rethink their primary investments before they end up bankrupt.

No. HIV is nothing new. Austin, Indiana, unfortunately, is just a small town that was hurled into modernity to meet up with what the rest of the world has known for decades: You cannot stop addiction, but you can prevent HIV!

(Image source: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/01/indiana-hiv-outbreak-health-workers-funding)

Addiction Treatment: Incarcerating the Mentally Ill

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I’m not exactly sure what people think goes on behind the doors of their local jailhouses, but it certainly isn’t counseling. Jails in the US have become institutions for profit. The less money they spend on those incarcerated persons, they happier they are. The more frequently they can keep those folks coming back, the more opportunities they have to make a profit. All locking up addicts and the mentally ill really does is to create a cyclical environment in which the addicts/mentally ill offend, are incarcerated, are released, reoffend, are re-incarcerated, and round and round we go.

Let’s face it, we do little here to address mental illness and addiction. I think we might have some utopian dream that inside the walls of our jails, inmates attend counseling, work out their problems, and are then fit for society once again. If this were true, we wouldn’t have a word called “recidivism”. Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that the “programming” attended by inmates in our county jails is usually a church service, some low-level schooling, or listening to another addict who has volunteered to speak to them. Hardly ever is there anything in the way of professional counseling. In fact, most of the time, the only “counseling” addicts/mentally ill persons receive is career criminal training. Many offenders go into jail with a B.A in Marijuana and come out with a PhD in Meth or Heroin. I seriously know one man who learned to be a meth cook while he was in jail—something he’d never dreamed of doing before.

Why would someone come out of jail only to commit more crime? Felons are mostly unemployable. So the guy with the aspiration to come out of jail and start over clean and clear are squashed. If a person can’t get a job to support their families or themselves, what are they supposed to do? They reoffend, and the system often sets them up to fail from the start.

I don’t know anyone who would pick prison over house arrest, but they probably should. For the average person, house arrest is an expensive venture that can lead to a longer incarceration than if they’d simply served their sentence. With the original sentence, often the offender will get a 1 day equals 2 credit. So, a 4year sentence is 2 years. When they’re assigned house arrest, they might serve only 2 years in the comfort of their homes, but the cost is outrageous, the rules are stringent, and in no way does this keep an addict or mentally ill person safe from their own bad decisions. If at any time the offender falls behind in payments, they’re subject to revocation. If at any time a home search or random drug test finds them in possession or to have used drugs, they’re subject to revocation. In case these public service workers haven’t figured this out, left to their own devices, newly recovering addicts will use. SHOCKER, I know. People who are fighting addiction and mental illness need constant counseling and guidance—something the courts do not afford most people on the long term. How, then, do we keep mentally ill and addicted people out of prison?

We need to remove the profitable aspect from incarceration. Greed is part of the human condition. By allowing some very greedy persons to decide they should profit from not only hardened criminals, but from the mentally ill and addicted, we perpetuate rather than cure those problems. We cannot allow the powers that be to line their pockets with the blood of our loved ones and friends.

Furthermore, we need to pull the mentally ill and addicted back from the margins and into our arms. No. We cannot let people rob us blind, ruin our lives, or harm us, but we have to let them know they, too, have a place outside the walls of a prison in our society. They must know they are valued, loved human beings. We must give them all the help they will allow us to give, and mind you, I’m aware we have to protect ourselves from the harm they might bring to us, but we still must be tolerant and accepting. Our ailing population of mentally ill and addicted people is not the enemy. They do not deserved to be pushed to the fringe and forgotten. We must remember that those who need us most are probably those we understand the least. Let the human condition show more than our greed. Let us also show that beautiful part of humanity that is our open arms. We can continue to  live in a delusional world where we tell ourselves “we’re doing all we can,” or we can work to change the way we view people who are not criminals, but rather are  sick.

(Side note: School systems think they address addiction with random drug testing, but listen up parents: When your child fails that drug test and is pulled into the principal’s office, they give up their constitutional rights. Anything they say will be used against them. They do not have the right to be questioned with mom or dad present, nor do they have the right to legal counsel. They will be coerced into signing a confession for “school use”, and then the school officials will contact the police. The signed confession will then land in the hands of the police, and be used as evidence in the criminal arrest of your child. DO NOT for one second believe this is going to be a counseling session for your child. Once your child has become a criminal, they cycle has begun. Do not allow this to happen. Advise your children to admit and sign nothing!)

Drug Testing for Food Assistance: But Who’s Testing The Man?

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Recently, many states have begun drug testing state assistance recipients and applicants. So many people are pro-drug testing of that particular group of people, but I take much exception to this new trend.

The pro argument seems to be based in the theory that people who work must submit to testing to earn money, so then people asking for assistance should be forced to submit in order to receive benefits from the money working folks pay into the system. I get it. Working folks feel slighted because A) Part of their tax dollars go to folks they’ve been taught to believe don’t work, and B) they are forced to submit to a test that crawls up into their private lives. I’ve heard many a person say “You shouldn’t worry if you haven’t been doing things to worry about.” The truth is, they’re wrong on both accounts.

Americans by and large do not understand poor people unless they are poor people. It’s easy to stand in judgment and use the example of a family elder who worked their fingers raw and lived without assistance. The staggering reality is that life is infinitely more difficult than in decades past, and this might come as a shock, but even working folks need assistance.

People really do want to work, most people anyway. Many of those applying and receiving state benefits do have a job, but when a person meets tough times, they still need to eat or have medical care. The road to government is assistance is not just paved with laziness or drug addiction. For some, it might very well be, but for others that road is paved with illness, death of a spouse or loved one, losing a home, job loss, and too many other tragic events to list. Moreover, not that many people who are in the system are using drugs. In fact, many states have found those numbers who do test positive to be miniscule. Take for instance, Tennessee.
In this article, we are told that of the recipients and applicants in Tennessee, Florida, Utah, and Maine, very few actually tested positive for drugs. In Tennessee, that number was less than 1%. Testing for drugs, therefore, is unfounded and an utter waste of tax payer dollars.

The disinformation in which testing is based is really troubling. During the Reagan era, former president Ronald Reagan invented the image of the “welfare queen”. She was the woman with more babies and baby daddys than anyone could keep up with. She was driving her Cadillac while spending the tax payers’ hard earned cash in the form of food stamps. She probably bought crack cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes with most of her funds, according to the stereotype. The one factor we often keep hidden behind a veil is that when this stereotype was created, this woman was probably also African American. This stereotype was used to not only shame those in need of public assistance, but also to disenfranchise and shame people of color, specifically women of color. Moreover, everything about this stereotype was a delusional fantasy. This woman does not exist in the world I know regardless of her ethnicity.

That’s another problem with the drug testing trend, we shame poor people—even the working poor, although we don’t understand what it means to be poor. We make some strange assumptions, but we don’t really understand.

See, being poor means when you’re sick, you probably stay sick because even if you’re able to afford one trip to the doctor, there’s no way to afford the subsequent testing or medication. What person can afford to pay out of pocket for an MRI, CAT SCAN, X-Ray, blood work, or expensive prescription besides the very rich? Who can pay for follow up visits at more than $100 dollars per visit? Very few. So, while you feel your symptoms worsen, the aches and pains spread through your body, your blood pressure remains high, your vision dims, and your energy escapes your body, all you can hope is that you just miraculously improve. You can’t even hope to die because you know your family can’t afford your funeral.

When you’re poor, it means dreading checking the mail because it’s time for the utility bills to come again. You were careful and suffered through the milder days without heat or air, but you know it’s still going to take most of your pay to keep the electricity and gas on. It also means choosing whether or not you want cable or internet, if you can even afford either one, because those are luxuries.

New clothes are a luxury, too, and as a poor person, you become an expert at thrift store shopping. $100 shoes? That’s never going to happen. $300 jeans? Hell no. That’s a month’s worth of groceries. That’s all okay, though. You just buy what you can afford. Not that you never wish, but you would never make a splurge like that. If you did, you’d be homeless.

Poor people can’t afford to make bad decisions, and in fact, most of them don’t. Many poor people are too busy educating themselves, working, and trying to better their lives to become involved with drugs and alcohol. Of course, there are those who are addicts, but those are people with a disease. Some say it’s self-chosen, but I disagree with that, too. Sure, they chose to use the drug, but there was a psychological issue that drove them to that point. And I want to make this point loud and clear—No one chooses to remain a drug addict. Their psychological and physical states may lead them to act in a way that seems converse to that statement, but they are not really making a conscious choice. It’s the addiction talking—not the addict, which is the other problem with this state testing. What forms of help are being offered to those found to be using drugs?

Do we just cut them off assistance and tell them to come back when they’re clean? How does a poor person just go get clean without assistance? To me, all this system does is create a system of discrimination. If states are willing to offer real help, then testing is fine, but if the intent is to throw addicts away like they don’t matter, then it’s exclusionary and wrong. Moreover, the other qualm—the “I have to be tested at work” argument, is also little ridiculous.

People aren’t drug tested at work because of some bad stereotype or discriminatory act, they’re tested because they might cause harm to a co-worker. Someone who’s been using meth, has been awake for a week straight, and just happens to be operating a piece of machinery next to me is a danger to me. I’m sorry, folks, that testing just makes sense.

There is also another testing I’d actually like to see: White Collar testing. Yes, those of you on Wall Street, working as legislators, senators, congressman, let’s start testing you, because the one thing so few address is that drug use and addiction does not discriminate. Rich folks are addicts, too, meaning that those making decisions that just so happen to effect all of us and our money could be shooting up as we speak. Don’t for one second think money and power make one exempt from drugs and alcohol.

I once heard the saying “Never fear Rome, the snake lies coiled in Naples.” How true is that? We are looking so hard to blame those whom the stereotype was built around that we rarely glance to those who might cause us more harm than we ever imagined possible. The Man built the monster to keep the heat safely away from him.

In a way, I’m glad some states implemented drug testing because I’m hopeful it breaks down the misinformed notion that people who are receiving government assistance are bad people. I do hope we can look forward from this moment in time to more worthwhile causes—like questioning the actions of those we’ve covered our faces to for so many years. Poor people aren’t the problem here, folks, and neither are addicts. Our problem lies with those we trust too much, and it’s past time to end that.