Thursday, September 15, 2016

Brutal Reality Check

I have a major vested interest in this topic, so I'm going to be careful in how I present it. But it dominated my day--it's dominated a few days here, to be truthful--and it really angered a lot of people that up until recently had no idea of how the "justice system" really works in this state, so I'm going to address it. Gently.
To make a long story short, two women that are on parole in our county have recently slipped back into serious opiate addiction. One of them is Somebody, and the other is another woman that I know, not real well but well enough to talk to semi-regularly. Both had champions within the organization I volunteer with, and through yeoman efforts, beds were found for them in the local inpatient treatment facility. And within a few hours of each other today, both were denied those places by their parole officers.
In the case of the first one, she was actually was in some trouble. She had already been sent to the crisis center and then the halfway house because of her problem (the crisis center is not a detox, which pretty much makes it a big ball of worthless when 3/4 of the people that are admitted there are suffering from opiate addiction). She was sent back to the crisis center from the halfway house because she was still in the throes of withdrawal, and left the crisis center without permission from the officer because of her withdrawals. She had spent a good week or so using heavily before getting this bed, and was admitted to the inpatient this morning. Her parole officer, a large, obnoxious West Indian woman (think visually of one of the three enormous women that used to be on What's Happening that speaks with a Jamaican accent) with a notable lack of tact and compassion by even the standards of bullying law enforcement officers, flipped out, and sent the police to the rehab to arrest the woman and take her jail.
While she is detoxing still, mind you. Confronted with this fact, it was reported by a reliable source that the officer sneered that the woman had chances to detox in the crisis center, that she should have stayed there and "toughed it out." This shows a stunning ignorance of the physical process of detoxification, one that is really unjustifiable in this day and age. But more importantly, it shows the attitude that many officers in law enforcement--and parole officers are most certainly considered law enforcement--have toward people convicted of crimes and of addicts in general.
That they are sub-human and not deserving of even tiny drips of compassion, for any reason. Legally, the attitude is not out of line. Morally, it is dung, an indication of a gangrenous soul. I have had to deal with this creature before, and I will be brief and to the point. She is a test of my faith in a loving, caring God, and it's all I can do to muster up hope that if she ever finds herself in a situation where she needs to be cut a break from other people, she finds people that do not act like she does.
Having said all that...the parolee technically was in violation of several parts of the parole agreement she signed which was the reason she was free in the first place. Legally, what the officer did was within her job parameters, and so no consequences are going to come her way, no matter how loudly people scream and no matter how heartless and bullying she appears to be to neutral observers. I will return to this in a moment.
The second, as I mentioned, is Somebody. I will always have deep feelings for her, and so this one hurts me, badly. She was given the opportunity to also be admitted to the inpatient rehab today; she had an interview with the director in the early afternoon. She reported to her own parole officer, as she does every Wednesday, an officer that before today had a reputation as being somewhat benign in nature. It was strongly suggested to her, but not required, that she report first thing in the morning, and did not, for a number of reasons, one of which was trying to secure this bed. She was planning on reporting after the interview was over; the Parole office is open until five on Wednesdays, so there would have been plenty of time. And to cut to the chase, when she called the officer at 11:45 to tell him of the interview and her plans, he forced her to report immediately upon threat of violation. Once there, he told her not to bother showing up for the interview, because his belief was that she needed a placement in a long-term residential facility. He was extremely condescending, asking in a mocking tone of voice "Do you think a 14-day rehab is actually going to help you?
The facility which he is sending her to is familiar to me, because MOTY spent much of 1999 there. It has no detox or indeed any medical services for the women that are in residence.
And it further transpired that no referral has yet been made to this facility; she is weeks away from being admitted there. And again, the officer seemed either dangerously ignorant or callously uncaring that she is going to have to detox, if she even does, cold turkey, without medical assistance.
These women are not saints. They are on parole for a reason, and being addicted to opiates is something that was a result of decisions they made to use drugs while on parole. But I am fully aware of the trauma that Somebody is trying to assuage with her drug use, and I suspect that the other has a similar story, too. They are not evil, and they are not morally leprous or compromised. They are human beings that have paid a bigger price for poor choices than you and I ever will, in many different ways. They are human beings, with a serious medical concern; the fact that their addiction is to an illegal substance can be addressed later in the process. The fact is that the dependence and the withdrawal the dependence engenders are life-threatening, and need to be regarded as such.
And they do not need or deserve ridicule, and snide judgments that serve as "reasons" to deny them what is regarded by all decent people as necessary medical care. And unlike you or me, they have no options to seek alternative opinions. As a friend of mine said a few years ago when on Drug Court, "they own you." And they do; they are under the thumb  of their officers of the law as much or more than a plantation slave of Louisiana in 1858.
And the point of the background here is that after this happened, the woman that played the largest part in securing the beds for them posted on her website her outrage at what had happened. She has a large following, and there have been dozens of comment in the hours since the post was put up. And not for the first time, I thought about what the true long-term significance of the opiate epidemic is going to be.
"All-American" white people are finally discovering what people of color and other minorities have known forever. The legal system does not care about actual justice. The legal system does not care if, in the immortal words of Charles Dickens, that "the law is an ass." And the legal system is a magnet for the type of people who can indulge in their bullying, misanthropic and misogynistic, and often just plain sadistic tendencies without fear of being called to account in any way. And the parole system seems to gather up the real dregs, the worst of the worst. And why not? It's not a dangerous profession, like actual police work often is. There is not the tense and wary sense of tending a fireplace near stacked dynamite, like being a correctional officer in a jail. No, parole officers aren't dealing with the unknown, and they are not dealing with people with nothing to lose--in fact, they are dealing with people, exclusively, who have the most basic human right to lose--their freedom.
And it does not attract the idealistic and the well-adjusted. It attracts those that get off on wielding power over those that cannot fight back. It attracts those that crave the ability to exercise their will without having to justify why to any point of accountability. It attracts those that find the ability to determine the quality of life of other people supremely intoxicating.
It is the childhood bully's dream job.
And now, along with the ongoing discovery of many about how broken our chemical dependency treatment system is, many are finding out just how awful the "justice" system is. They are viscerally recoiling from what they see and hear. I am glad to see it, because the only way real change is going to occur is if there is enough pressure coming from the (formerly) silent majority to make the status quo unacceptable. And so, if there was an encouraging result today, it was the knowledge that close to a hundred people had some more of their remaining illusions shattered by finding out just how vapid and venal those manning the parole system are capable of being.

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