I have been a long time lurker with only two comments to date. Recently though, I have seen a wave of drug war and mentally ill related diaries which inspired me. That and two recently viewed documentaries, courtesy of Showtime, A-K-A Tommy Chong and A Review of American Drug Policy (the title of the latter may not be 100% because I only had the chance to view it once and Showtime's website search feature is sorely lacking) gave me the courage to post here.
My intent is not to directly change anyone's mind but simply to ask them to seek the truth and use common sense. In the end, I suppose my real intent is that our politicians will do the same and help heal our seriously wounded country in the process...
I just hope this diary isn't too subjective and inspires objective comments.
Let me begin with just a little regarding my background and family history:
My grandmother died at an early age when my mother and her siblings were still mostly in their teens. She had multiple nervous breakdowns until one finally lead to her death. The actual events surrounding this death are still a mystery to me and many others since my very religious preacher grandfather would not allow the subject to be discussed, even many years after the fact. This mystery still remains as my cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives adamantly refuse to discuss the topic even to this day. My aunts and uncles from this family(7 in total) either became religious extremists (they were raised Southern Baptist by the way), had bouts with mental conditions which were self-medicated(read: became drug addicts), or a little of both.
My mother became a little of both, self-medicating with alcohol and later in life, becoming very religious in an attempt to heal the sorrows of her life. One aunt died from heavy drug use and an eventual overdose of prescribed drugs which lead to liver failure. One uncle was a raging alcoholic who eventually dried out and became a traveling evangelist (he was a preacher in those revival tents so often seen in small towns). Another aunt was an alcoholic and married another alcoholic who abused her badly. Following her drying out, she too became very religious. 2 of the other uncles became Southern Baptist preachers who threw brimstone and fire across the state of Alabama's northern counties. The last uncle decided to disown any immediate family members who did not become born again and proudly proclaim it.
As for myself, I am male, now 41 years of age and I have battled insomnia for over 30 years as well as what I believe to be some form of manic-depression. I too did some self-medicating in my teenage years. At first, it seemed just an experiment, but as I dug deeper into my psyche I realized there was this black hole in both my heart and mind I was seeking to fill. Luckily, I was cognizant enough to see how dangerous things like cocaine and alcohol were to me. I barely dabbled in cocaine usage (please imagine a manic on cocaine) and used alcohol heavily from 16 until my early 20s. My drug of choice was marijuana... It seemed to calm my overactive mind(manic) and make the lows seems not so low(depressed). As we speak now, I have not been drunk in over 10 years and there has been only a handful(less than 5) of occasions I have smoked marijuana in the last 2 years. My remaining vice is cigarettes and I smoke 2 packs a week. That particular topic I won't touch on now but, we all know how serious it can be.
In my early 20s, I began to seek help for my insomnia and mood swings. Luckily, the mood swings were not as severe as I have seen in some yet, they had their really bad moments. As for the insomnia, try going for 72 hours without a bit of sleep and try to remain level-headed and fully aware of your choices and environments. I dare you! The proscribed government facilities to seek help for the uninsured (aka me) required a detailed essay on my habits and other things about my life, immediately followed by a drug test. I was informed this was no place to get my drugs for free but rather, a place to rid of my drug habits. In my essay I clearly told them of my marijuana usage as self-medication yet, when the drug test came back positive(only for marijuana) they seemed shocked and disappointed. I was then scolded for my drug use and ordered to drug treatment. Great treatment so far eh? Have me spill my life details out onto the table and then try to shame me for being a druggie.
As a result of these drug tests, I was sent to drug classes before any serious treatment would be considered. These so-called classes format was talking with others in the class, which consisted of some seriously mentally disturbed individuals who would do anything for their drug fix, and then sharing your own stories. As they talked about things they did, I quickly realized I was out of place. As they heard me talk about my relatively peaceful life, they too realized I was out of place. There existed in that room not one bit of friendship or camaraderie. It was like watching a covered pot of boiling water waiting to spill over. I believe the only thing that kept some people going there was the ability to judge others and say, "Wow! I am not nearly so screwed up as I thought." Needless to say, I didn't last too long in these classes. Strangely enough, all I gained from these classes was the same thought as above. I began to think I was considered normal compared to these people yet, the problems remained.
As the years went by, I tried again and again to seek some help for my troubles. In the early 90s, there was a shift in the treatment methods. Almost immediately after putting in my application for help, they wanted to prescribe medications for me to take. I cannot say which ones they thought were good for me as I instantly refused treatment without some counseling. After all, how can they know I need these medications without a proper medical examination and nothing more than an hour long(or less) interview discussing my issues? This remains general policy at the many places I have tried to get help at to this day. Somehow, they can still tell me with a straight face that "this is not a drug dispensary" when I first arrive. Suffice it to say, I remain without treatment for my sometimes serious depression/mania and constantly nagging insomnia.
You may have already asked, "How is this related to the War on Drugs, as mentioned in your topic?" Almost 8 years ago, my (ex)roommate introduced me to someone who grew their own marijuana. At the time, I considered this one of the greatest things to ever happen. After a couple of years, I finally convinced him to give me a few cuttings to start my own minor crop of around a dozen plants in exchange for some of the crop for a year or 4 grow cycles. 4 years ago, that acquaintance was busted by a drug task force and his roommate, in an effort to save his own ass, began giving these enforcement officials every name he could possibly think of. Needless to say, these officials showed up at my door, with guns drawn, using coercion to convince me to give up my right of forbidding a warrantless search. It is amazing what you will give in to with a gun pointed at your head and several police officers screaming insults about how you look and smell. For the record, I have hair halfway down my back and I was little dirty and sweaty (this was in July in New Orleans) from cleaning out our little grow room. After further coercion, they squeezed a few other minor details from our tiny operation out of us.
The story was all over the news the next day regarding this massive bust. All told, they seized less than 200 plants from 5 houses in this major bust. On the news, they discussed how the operation involved months of effort to track down these grow houses. The video feed was looped back and forth in an effort to show vasts forests of seized plants. The monetary value was estimated in the hundreds of thousands. From my apartment, they got no plants and had only some old soil, extremely dessicated stems (left there by the previous tenant), a non functioning light (also left there from the prior tenant), and a light timer. My roommate and I were charged with felony cultivation, felony distribution, and possession of paraphernalia.Yet, when they appeared at my door, they did not even know mine or my roommate's names. They simply had nicknames the main bust target's roomie had given to save his own ass. I was uninvolved with the other targets of this bust but, I did know and meet them on occasions. Details were known of their operations but not minute details. Bottom line, they were growers for their own usage, and sold some minor amounts to earn a little extra cash (best estimate would be 35-50 ounces of excess every three months in total). The buyers were mostly known and consisted largely of long-time friends and friends of these friends. As a side note, the main bust target had previously lived in my apartment before I had moved in. The owner was a childhood friend of his who allowed him to keep a bunch of things stored inside the covered porch outside my door even after we moved in.
My first day in court came and the public defender urged us to take a guilty plea to avoid prison. Reviewing the police report, I saw gross distortions and exaggerations regarding our case. When I pointed these out, the public defender said little except that to fight it would take time and I risked incarceration. My roommate bowed to the pressure and became a felon on long term probation but no prison time. He could not understand my reluctance to fight the case but I remained firm. I talked to many lawyers about my case until I found one willing to help a very poor victim of this war. He was an ex-state trooper and ex-DA, now practicing as a defense lawyer. He worked with me on payments for his services and did not demand payment up front in full. This lawyer saved me and my record.
A year later, the case has not been resolved and the judge knows me by face and name. On multiple occasions she questioned me as to why I was still in her courtroom. My usual response was, "waiting for my jury trial your honor." Sometimes the assistant DA would mention facts of my case and asking why was I not accepting probation aloud in the courtroom, to no one in particular, when my case was about to be up next on the docket. Needless to say, these statements were typically demeaning and meant to shame me into accepting their deal.
A break would come in my case just after a year of fighting it. The lead officer from the state drug task force which arrested me, was himself arrested for running a gambling ring. He was arrested for multiple felonies and his good name now meant nothing. The very next day, the asst. DA called my lawyer and they finally backed down on my charges. I was given 9 months probation and plead guilty to simple possession. I almost fought this too but, I was tired of showing up and losing at least a day per month to sit in there. A typical court day for me consisted of sitting there from 8 a.m. until at least 4 p.m. with my case being one of the last for the day. Sometimes, their docket was so backed up, my case would never make it to the judge and I would be forced to return the next week for another long day of nothing. Please keep in mind, I had never before been arrested and did not have so much as a speeding ticket. I narrowly escaped becoming of a victim of the system.
Today, I keep myself aware of drug policy information, even though it just causes me to despair most of the time. Even though my mental (and probably physical) issues are minor compared to many, they are still very real. Every day I battle exhaustion, despair/mania, and live in an almost constant state of minor confusion. Combine these facts with the fact that I am an avid reader and somewhat of a social activist and you may begin to see why I don't have much hope for us humans. Hope does exists within me but it is a constant battle to keep seeing its existence. I can only imagine how hard it is for those who are far more sick than I. Our prisons are filled with these people whose only crime is lack of proper care and dabbling in drugs. They do not leave prison in better shape, in fact, they often worse off. It is well known to many that prisons are hotbeds of drug activity, violence, and rape. Well known to all except for most politicians and police officials anyhow.
As for drug awareness, drug treatment, and mental illness treatment, why do we lack common sense and empathy for those who are involved? If you go to a business seminar, they employ experts in their fields to share strategies and form new ideas. For drug awareness, we often employ righteous religious types who ask you to replace one obsession with another. These gatherings are full of disinformation and often use shame as a tool of enforcement.
For drug treatment, we treat the users as criminals and then we do not employ ex-drug users to share real facts regarding the consequences of their actions. These lost souls are then filled with more disinformation,shame, and religion. Admittedly, my statement is sometimes false but then, that case is quite rare in my experience and the experiences of friends who went through these programs. Some may argue that religion is there to give them hope but, I argue that hope can be gathered from other sources. So often I have met people who successfully passed these treatment plans and have become so intolerant to other drug users that I am struck with awe. They claim religion has changed their lives for the good but has it? If this was true, how can they be so insensitive to the plight of others who are just like they were and damn them to hell (aka prison) for their sins? Again, this is not always the case but, so often it is the case. We must somehow find a way for these people to become more self-reliant without seeking aid from a higher power for their problem. This higher power treatment program, allows people to easily remove themselves from their very real plight (and life) and in essence, seek happiness on the other side.
As for the mentally ill, so often they lash out at others or themselves in an effort to seek help. Often they self-medicate with far worse drugs than I have tasted and then stumble into improperly refined chemicals and other pollutants to the body, which worsens their condition. We then treat them as criminals and lock them away in prison. Too often, they are then abused and maltreated further, leading to even more desperate cases than before they were incarcerated. These mentally ill individuals are part of the reason our prison system is one of the biggest growth industries in the USA and shows no signs of slowing down.
In summary, it is my opinion that just about every aspect of the War on Drugs and treatment of the mentally ill is deeply flawed. Both issues are quite often used for revenue generation (asset seizure and big pharma) and common sense and empathy are ignored. Ignoring the problem has done nothing but help it blow up into epic proportions. We flood the problem with disinformation and somehow expect it to resolve itself. Where is the common sense in that? How much longer must we wait until our country and its leaders take an honest, objective view on these issues? I cannot say but, I still have hope. However, that hope is often tested and fades with each passing day as I watch things get worse and worse in my life and the lives of so many others.
Please, decriminalize drug use. Speak the truth to the people. Care for our sick as if they were ourselves.