I recently began thinking about the impacts of the arrest of 28 people in Aroostook County, 10 of whom collectively received a sentence of 108 years in federal prison. The impact of the sensationalist news reports and the impact in our addicted community. The first impact is to these people, they have had to give up 108 years to addiction. No recovery assistance, no rehab, no last hug from Mom, just a door slamming in their face for a very long time. And no other way out without jeopardizing the safety of themselves and their families.
Families left to sit with a grief boiling up from the pits of their stomach as they watch the video sentencing screen turn black. Sitting, unbelieving and just staring at the blackness of lives lost to addiction. A grief so deep it has no place to go but in the silent screams of loss. Children left without parents, mothers and fathers left without sons and daughters, brothers and sisters left without hope. A daily phone call or email not enough to sustain that shred of hope.
Personally, I sat as a judge sat in the comfort of his high seat speaking via video call and told these people what horrible human beings they were, told them they had ruined countless lives (of course, not thinking of the impact on their own lives), waved aside any testimony from qualified therapists as not relevant, and handed down the harshest sentences he could.
I have begun to think of all of the stories that judge must hear in the course of his work. In fact, two-thirds of addicts have experienced some form of trauma. It is clearly part of any good lawyers defense arguments to bring up these trauma and try to give the court some understanding of how these people got there. I imagine the judge has heard a lot of stories, I also imagine, like the rest of society, he has become immune to the impact of these stories. I honestly don’t think any consideration for this even goes into his or any other judge’s sentencing decisions anymore.
The impact of this conditioning is seen everywhere. Society, or at least a large part of it, has come to believe that the best way out of the drug crisis is to lock people up and basically throw away the key, or at least hide it for many years. I really don’t know of a family in our community that hasn’t been impacted by addiction anymore. As I have said many times, the war on drugs has failed. We have taken this war into our communities, homes and families and it hasn’t worked. I don’t know how we can make our government system understand this.
For the collective 108 years we are willing to pay $3,672,000 to keep these 10 individuals in prison, yet we are not willing to spend even a portion of that for the services that they need. Some of the stories of what these and other people have survived are devastating. As a society we say, “Who cares” every time a sentence is handed down without making an effort to actually fix the problem.
I would like to say that since these 28 people have been gone for nearly two years already, the drug problem in Aroostook County has been fixed. Anyone with eyes can see that there has been no impact at all. There are just new faces taking the place of these 28. For each one, you have those who will make judgemental comments, there are children bullied in school by other children, there are grandparents raising grandchildren and there are so many crying themselves to sleep at night. When are we going to do something different?
Do I have an answer? I do not. But what I do have is compassion, empathy and passion for helping the people in our addicted and recovery community. Do I know what it’s like to suffer trauma? I do, although not while I was a child, I have experienced some of the nightmares and flashbacks that accompany PTSD. I know what it’s like to suffer from depression. I have seen the direct impact of persecutory ideations. It is difficult at best and the world could certainly benefit from taking a look into an alternative way to deal with our war on drugs.
We are all just collateral damage in this war.
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