From Addiction to Prison by J. Font

Almost half of the B.O.P.s’ inmate population is incarcerated due to drug offenses. (Task Force staff analysis of B.O.P. FY 2014 data). In 1984, Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act. This was one weapon in the government’s “War on Drugs”. In 1986, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (ADAA) was passed. This act ushered in a new era of mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenders.

The proscribed long prison terms for drug crimes. But it failed to see the offender’s role in the offense. The law created a one size fits all effect, focusing solely on drug type and quantity. Because of the ADAA, many individuals receive harsh sentences based on arbitrary views of the case, not the conduct of the offender. As a result, even if the judge believes the offender needs help, rather than a severe sentence, his hands are tied. A judge is obligated by statute to apply harsh sentences, even for one who needs help.

Most drug offenders are low level, and commit offense due to their addictions. Our current system is purely punitive. Rather than treat the problem, our system focuses on punishment only. The framers of our laws believe such punishment is a deterrent, ensures accountability, and protects the public.

How can a system built solely for punishment protect the public when all it does is warehouse people within restricted environments surrounded by people suffering the same afflictions? Under such conditions, a person’s afflictions are compounded by the stress of a hostile environment.

So, what is the B.O.P. doing for those who need treatment rather than just punitive punishment? the simple answer: Not much.We asked two federal prisoners, T.J. and Wally, about their addictions, the effects it’s had on their lives, and what the system has done to help them.

G.C. – Why are you incarcerated?

T.J.  – Felon in possession of a firearm.

G.C. – What is your prison term?

T.J.  – I’m serving 15 years. My sentence was enhanced under the armed career criminal act.

G.C. – What is your addiction?

T.J.  – Alcohol.

G.C. – When did you start using or drinking?

T.J.  – Age 15

G.C. – How has addiction effected your life?

T.J.  – It’s distorted my thinking and behavior in many different ways; not just with the law, but with my family and friends.

G.C. – How has your addiction contributed to your current incarceration?

T.J.  – Had I not been under the influence of alcohol, I probably wouldn’t be incarcerated.

G.C. – Why not?

T.J.  – I wouldn’t have been were I was. I was at a gas station. Well, I was drinking at a party at motel a block away from the gas station. I don’t remember leaving the motel. I don’t even remember arriving at the gas station.

G.C. – What did you do at the gas station?

T.J.  – I pulled a gun on the store clerk. I threatened him with the gun because he threatened to call the cops.

G.C. – Why did he threaten to call the cops?

T.J.  – BEcause I was drunk.

G.C. – Why did his threat to call the cops upset you?

T.J.  – I snapped when he threatened to call the cops because I’ve had bad experiences with the police. So, when he mentioned cops, I blacked out.

G.C. – What did you do?

T.J.  – I pulled the gun on the clerk and pulled the trigger. Thing was, I never cocked back the slide to load the chamber. So, thankfully, when I pulled the trigger, it never went off.

G.C. – That’s pretty  intense.

T.J.  – Yeah. But I don’t remember most of it. What I do remember is still kind of foggy. When it happened I was completely blacked out. It wasn’t until after my mind cleared from the alcohol that some of my actions started coming back to me.

G.C. – How did you get the gun?

T.J.  – Funny thing is, I got the gun from the party I was at. A friend was drunk, just like I was, and he pulled the gun on someone else. I was able to talk him down and get the gun from him, only for me to end up going nuts at the gas station.

G.C. – What has the system done to help you with your addiction?

T.J.  – I don’t think the system has done anything to help. In my current case, the judge made orders concerning treatment and medication. But the B.O.P. won’t comply. I was on medication for two years, but because of a mix up on the part of the Medical Department, my meds. stopped. Hell, even in the beginning my attorney said I needed a psych. evaluation before I could go to trial or even accept a plea. The evaluation revealed that I have psychological problems inherited from my family. My mother is a paranoid schizophrenic. She takes medication, but she still suffers.  I picked it up from her.

G.C. – Why not seek treatment before?

T.J.  – I was incarcerated before. When I got out the last time I did try to get help. But the state of Michigan has some law where women and children can get medical assistance, but men have a much harder time getting it. I tried, but couldn’t get the medical insurance I needed to get the treatment for my alcohol problem. I spoke to my parole officer, but he did crap to help.

G.C. – What are your hopes for the future?

T.J.  – I hope that when I am released from the B.O.P., I won’t have the same problems getting the assistance I’ll need for my treatment. In the past I couldn’t get that assistance, and my parole officer didn’t help me find treatment. I hope things can be different this time, that I can find me a job and get the assistance I need. I worry that if I can’t get insurance, I’ll just medicate myself with alcohol again. And that won’t do anyone any good.

*****

G.C. – Why are you incarcerated?

Wally  – Bank robbery.

G.C. – What is your prison term?

Wally  – I was sentenced to 13 years.

G.C. – What was your drug of choice?

Wally  – My drug of choice was cocaine.

G.C. – When did you start using cocaine?

Wally  – I was about 18 or 19.

G.C. – How has your addiction effected your life?

Wally  – It’s kind of weird because I was kind of a criminal before I was an addict. I was a drinker. I guess I started drinking at 11 years old. So my behavior was reckless and crazy. But I wasn’t thieving or anything. But when I started using coke, after some time, I stopped caring about anything but getting high.

G.C. – Haw has your addiction contributed to your current incarceration?

Wally  – I was coming down off coke. I wanted more. So I robbed a bank.

G.C. – Did you use a gun?

Wally  – No weapon. I used a note.

G.C. – Why did you get so much time?

Wally  – I started robbing shit because when I would come down off my high, I’d have no money, but need to get high again. So I started robbing shit. Been caught before. They gave me 13 years as a career offender based on my criminal past.

G.C. – What has the system done to help with your addiction?

Wally  – During my last incarceration I did a drug and alcohol program. It dealt with criminal thinking, anger management and Adult Offender Drug Abuse (AODA). That was a four month program.

G.C. – Did it work?

Wally  – The program works if you work it. When I was released I was required to get a sponsor. But I failed to get that sponsor. A sponsor is like a conscious; someone to talk to and help deter  you from using. But I didn’t find a sponsor because I felt deep down inside that I just wanted to get high, And I didn’t want to be held accountable for that. i do believe the program could have worked, but when I got out, I just got lazy and started the dumb shit. Thought I could get away with it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. In the end, I guess it comes down to your thinking.And we should do the right thing even when no one’s looking. And that’s where I failed.

G.C. – What happens now to help with your addiction?

Wally  – The B.O.P. has the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), but I don’t qualify because I have a detainer hold on me for a state conviction.

G.C. – What are your hopes for the future?

Wally  – I’m clean now. I h hope that I never feel the need to use any mind controlling substances to dull my feelings and emotions.

*****

In 2016, the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections submitted to Congress recommendations on how to address and treat drug addictions as an alternative to incarceration. They suggested federal drug courts to assess an offender’s’s need for treatment. Long prison terms compound the problem. They do nothing to address it.

But will Congress listen?

 

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