The other night, I got the type of call that reminds me that we are all part of the struggle against addiction. It went something like this: “Primo, I need help.”
No hello, no how you doin’. But, then again, my cousin is like that. I’ve been at his side several times while he’s fought a battle against his nemesis, alcohol. I’ve wiped his forehead while he’s withdrawing, I’ve taken him to the ER to tend to a busted kneecap that occurred after a rough DT episode. He was calling me to his side again. And once again, I’d be there. ”Ok,” I said. ”What do you need? How can I help?”
“I’m in trouble. My PO wants to bust me back. I went on a mission and missed my UA. He’s pissed and wants to revoke me.”
“For what?” Drinking?” I said. No matter how many times I come across the Probation Officer (PO)-busts-someone-back-for-using scenario, it always surprises me. I’ve found that several probation officers are in love with own power. While I understand that they have to deal with some of the biggest pain in the asses around, I still think that the system is busted. My cousin is neither violent nor dangerous. In fact, he’s an innocent dude who simply happened to fall into the same addiction with which several of our Uncles and that our grandfather struggled. Jail, and especially prison, are no place for him. Every time he’s gone in, he comes out more dead. The system shouldn’t be giving POs the power to determine someone’s life or death fate, especially if that someone is in the system simply for using drugs and alcohol. My cousin got busted for having a joint on him, while he was driving. Later, when he got busted for DWI, he was handed a 180-day jail term with five (5) years supervised probation for having been a repeat offender. He’s struggled ever since. He often either pisses dirty or misses his UAs all-together. POs can be hard-asses, but in my opinion, they should be saving their strength for murderers and rapists. My cousin has done more time for abusing alcohol than a man in Santa Fe who got nine months for killing his brother. Doesn’t seem fair. ”What the Hell does your PO expect from you?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to go back. If he revokes me, I go back for three hard, Primo. I think I’m going on the run.”
Perhaps the better thing for me to have said to my cousin was, “no, turn yourself in and ask for mercy.” But I didn’t. What I said to him was, “Come over. You and I will sit down and think about all the options available. Then, we’ll approach your PO together and I’ll try to reason with him about your situation. You need medical help. I think I can get you in to see a doc about acamprosate and in-patient treatment. That’s what you need, Primo. But, whatever we come up with, we’ll present it to him together.”
“Orale, I’ll be there soon,” he said and hung up the phone.
We drafted our plan and why alcohol abuse is a medical condition and not a crime. I hoped his PO understood and accepted our plan. In my opinion, we all have to become aware that addiction is treated like a harsh crime within the criminal justice system. The Feds have strict mandatory sentences, even for a first-timer. I pray that enough voices join together to change the laws: Treatment, not punishment, is a less-costly and more effective way to handle minor substance abuse crimes. But even if people are blind to what’s going on, the blindness doesn’t change the fact that we are all in this thing together.
The next day, when we walked into the probation office, the first thing I noticed was the thick glass separating the receptionist from the waiting area. The glass was laced with what appeared to be steel string, criss-crossing into half-inch squares. I figured the steel’s purpose was to hold the glass together in case of massive impact. It startled me into looking around the waiting area in an attempt to see if anyone present was capable of such an attack. I knew my primo wasn’t.
Our appointment was set for ten AM, but that time came and went. I’ve always been familiar with Art of War tactics and I believed that the PO was engaging in just those techniques to keep us off balance. But when the PO entered through the door and called my primo’s name, I could see that he probably was just too dumb to tell time. His eyes revealed a bland mind. He moved much like tar: slow and filling whatever empty space it could. His clothes were wrinkled and he could barely pronounce my primo’s name.
We took our respective seats, but before I could say one word, the PO said, “I’m violating you. The police are on their way.”
“Just like that? Look–” I stood up. Big mistake.
“I can have you arrested, too. Is that what you want?”
I took my seat and shook my head. I looked at my primo. His eyes went dark. The hope he carried when we arrived was long gone. His shoulders slumped. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s ok, bro. I’ll just man up and face this crap.”
The PO sat and stared at the scene in his office, but every once in a while, he’d look at his phone. The anguish my primo felt and the helplessness I felt were irrelevant to him. The embroidered badge on his polo shirt was all that mattered to him. “There’s gotta be something you could do. My cousin isn’t a threat; he needs a medical treatment program. Not jail. All he’s gonna learn in jail is how to pick up other drugs. Please–”
Once again he cut me off and said, “He had his chance. All he had to do was report. Now, he’s going to jail for violating his parole. That’s all there is to this.”
Just then, a cop knocked and entered the office. “Who are we taking? Both,” he said and pointed at both my cousin and me.
The PO looked at me and smirked. If he wanted, he could’ve had me arrested on some bogus disturbance charge. He waited for a good ten seconds before he said, “No, just the one on the left.” He nodded towards my primo.
My primo put his hands behind his back, the officer cuffed him, and then led him out. I followed them out and said, “We’ll reason with the judge, Primo, I promise.”
My cousin nodded. The officer guided him into the backseat of the squad car, walked towards the driver seat and told me with compassion in his eyes and voice, “Take care. Hope it works out.”
I nodded and said, “Thanks for that.”
While I get that my primo had his fate somewhat in his own hands, I know the disease is strong and can overwhelm even a mature and established recovery. If the PO had even half as much compassion as the police officer, I believe my cousin may be in a treatment facility rather than jail. But, power preceded compassion. That power does little more than to perpetuate and extends the trauma of addiction.