A Prop. 36 Christmas Story
This year I will be spending Christmas at home. I'll be making a turkey dinner for my son, grandson and my fiance John. Though this sounds unremarkable, as many people will do something similar, it could have been a very different holiday for me. To be blunt, I could be in jail, or even worse, dead. This may sound melodramatic, but it is the truth. The reason that I am at home is quite simple--the voters who approved Proposition 36.
Five years ago, I was in jail during Christmas and in the full grip of drug addiction. Family, Christmas, all of that was second to my addiction and I was heading nowhere. When I was re-arrested four years ago I figured I would go just go back to jail, a place that I had been in and out of for years. However, since my last time in jail the voters said "treatment not jail" and this time things worked out differently.
I went into treatment and began the long path of getting my life back in order. I was 40 and had been using drugs, including heroin and methamphetamines since I was 14. Breaking the bonds of addiction was not an easy thing. Long-term addicts will have mental health issues and I was no exception. Going to jail did not address this basic problem. I needed to be stabilized mentally, which my treatment provider did. I was diagnosed as being bipolar and was placed on lithium so I could begin to understand what needed to be done to get clean.
After going through in-house treatment, I eventually became an outpatient and took part in a sober living program. I began taking college courses at American River College and have now completed the units to be a state certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor. I recently completed an internship at my former place of treatment, the Effort, and am the first former patient to do so. Currently I work for the non-profit organization Volunteers of America.
To illustrate what a difference Proposition 36 makes, when I was arrested in 1990 the attitude was "you clean up or go back to prison." The problem with that mentality was that it did not take into account someone who had been in the throes of addiction for well over a decade. I had just lost my brother and dealt with it the only way I knew how, by self-medicating. Trust me, breaking addiction is a process and it doesn't happen overnight. There was no way that I had the life skills. Prison also was not a deterrent for drugs. People in my own cell were dealing drugs.
Though life is pretty good, there have been some hard times since getting clean. In that time span I've watched my mother take her last breath and 11 people who were close to me have died. I also lost custody of my son and am working on getting him back. Staying clean under these circumstances is a trial. Still, Proposition 36 gave me the life skills to deal with these problems and gave me the will to beat temptation.
Proposition 36 funding is due to expire this year and the politicians are already trying to make cuts and add jail time to those who backslide. Yes, Proposition 36 can be improved but cutting mental health service funding and adding short jail sentences are definitely not the way to do it. The voters wanted Proposition 36 passed and are behind treatment instead of incarceration. The clear message of the voters is to make this work Apparently some of these politicians don't get it, but I know because I've lived it.
So, for me the simple act of spending Christmas at home, free of substance abuse, is both a blessing and remarkable. I owe it all to Proposition 36. My Christmas prayer is that the politicians in the coming year have the wisdom to strengthen Proposition 36 so there can be many more people with a story similar to mine telling a similar Christmas tale next year.