I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy but, recently an event that happened which perturbed me enough to pick up my sententious and pugilistic pen. The 20 year old son of a friend was recently arrested with drugs. Drugs are scary. Just as a drunk driver can hurt or kill themselves or others, drugs can hurt and kill. Well, most drug users use them in the privacy of their own home and are less likely to harm others but, they do run the risk of damaging their own bodies and creating issues in their normal day to day living. If someone has a drug problem, arresting them does nothing to assuage their addiction. It will be far from mollifying but intensifying any problem they may have. Punishment takes away his life. Only treatment and support from family, friends and the community will help unencumber him from the appetite of chemical dependency. People with support, mercy, compassion and purpose are more amenable to discipline and healing.
Take the scary and often moniker-ed "gateway drug" marijuana. Most everyone I know uses it or has used it and I bet that most everyone you know falls into the same category - or they're lying. So why isn't most of our population drug addicts? Because they don't have that addiction gene? I have alcohol in my house and I rarely consume it. I do drink but I don't have to. I have no need or strong desire to imbibe in it. I'm not a drinker but I enjoy the product on occasion with friends.
I have several fiends who admit to doing cocaine, heroin or ecstasy in their pasts (I work in the church. I run across these people a lot. What is the church for if not for sinners?). Once they got the fad of drug experimentation out of their systems, they went on to lead productive and professional lives, raising families and leaving drugs behind them. Would they like to indulge again once in a while? I'm sure but, they "grew up" and recognized that it affects their productivity and living a real life.
Many of our politicians and technological geniuses have indulged in temporary drug use: Clinton, Bush, Obama, Steve Jobs. If any of those men were ever caught and thrown into prison, none of them would be the men they are today for they would be convicted felons and not eligible to work in the professions they have chosen. Can you imagine what our world would be like if Steve Jobs was given a forty year prison sentence instead of freely practicing his craft in pursuit of genius and perfection?
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R) who is an outspoken state assemblyman who serves on the chamber's Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee — and had the effrontery to vote against medical marijuana — was recently busted for possessing pot. He was pulled over on the state Thruway for going 80 miles an hour in a 65 mph zone when a trooper detected a palpable odor redolent of pot wafting from his car. Katz was on his way to Albany to vote on legislation while under the influence, BTW. All charges were dropped against him. Hmmph. Membership has its privileges.
Even our best athletes in the world have smoked weed. "Disgraced U.S. Olympian Nick Delpopolo " is what the headlines read last summer after he failed a drug test. Why is he disgraced when so many other people use the drug with impunity? The Bureau of Statistics doesn't even research marijuana deaths each year because the number is so insignificant. Our government has lied and frightened the public for decades about this safe, natural medicine. Nobody beats their wife or kids, loses their job, gets in accidents, rapes or murders, or blows their paycheck on pot. Alcohol? That's a different story. Nick's life, career and dream of greatness in service to our country through sports is now ruined by societal prejudice due to the unjust prohibition laws of cannabis.
Here are just a few of the many highly motivated athletes who have used drugs:
* Usain Bolt, the 2008 World Record holder of the 100 and 200 meter sprint.
* Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer ever with 14 Olympic gold medals.
* Tim Lincecum, the National League baseball’s Cy Young Award winner for 2009.
* Santonio Holmes, the Super Bowl XLII’s MVP.
* Mark Stepnoski, two-time Super Bowl champion. "I'd rather smoke than take painkillers."
* Randy Moss, NFL single season touchdown reception record (23, set in 2007), and the NFL single-season touchdown reception record for a rookie (17, in 1998). Moss has founded, and financed many charitable endeavors including the the Links for Learning foundation, formed in 2008.
* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leader in points scored (38,387), games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goal attempts, blocked shots and defensive rebounds. During his career with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1989, Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA championships and a record six regular season MVP Awards. He has a prescription to smoke marijuana in California, which he says he uses to control nausea and migraine headaches. He has been arrested twice for marijuana possession.
* "Most of the players in the league use marijuana and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the off season" - Josh Howard, forward for the Dallas Mavericks. Howard admitted to smoking marijuana on Michel Irvin's ESPN show.
* "You got guys out there playing high every night. You got 60% of your league on marijuana. What can you do?" - Charles Oakley (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets)
* "I personally know boxers, body builders, cyclists, runners and athletes from all walks of life that train and compete with the assistance of marijuana," —WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam
* Some of the best cricket players of all time, like Phil Tufnell and Sir Ian Botham, have admitted to regularly using marijuana to deal with stress and muscle aches. In 2001, half of South Africa's cricket team was caught smoking marijuana with the team physiotherapist. They were celebrating a championship victory in the Caribbean.
Where would any of those un-convicted criminals be today had they been caught and arrested before they achieved greatness? Yes, drugs are bad and I would not encourage anyone to take or abuse them. However, are they as bad as we have been led to beleive or are we just not able to make money off of them as well as say, alcohol which kills tens of thousands of people each year? Are those deaths acceptable to our predominately Christic society?
My biggest complaint here is not drugs. It is the arrest of this twenty year old. Millions of people before him, right now and in the future will do drugs and not get caught. They will then go on to lead normal and productive lives without incident. They either lead a life so boring that they are easily enchanted or they lead a life so full of stimulus that are are easily bored so, drugs were a temporary experiment. This twenty year old will most likely become a convicted felon, do prison time, have the stigma of a conviction on his record, have difficulty procuring housing because of background checks and drug registries, endure numerous desultory attempts at finding a job, he'll have zero credit and he will most likely live off the largess of the social services and the taxpayer's dime. He will be judged differently from normal, phantasmagorical good people with a prepossessing Christian artifice. He will be labeled with the delineating modifier of "criminal" and his productivity to society will be a patent waste. His life will be larded with more problems than an algebra textbook. Most likely he is no different than anyone else. He just got caught.
Nobody is the worse thing that they've ever done. A conviction and doing prison time will not help this kid if he has a problem. It will certainly not help him when he gets out and tries to put his life back in order. If he has a drug problem, then he should be treated for it, not punished. Our entire justice system is designed for punishment and profit. Prisons should be for people who are a threat to others and not a warehouse for politicians, judges, DA's and law enforcement people to win elections and win grant money.
A story I often like to tell is about a friend who as a teen would ensconce himself on a bridge and throw pumpkins onto a highway below. Fortunately he never hit a car and he was never caught. Had he been caught or had he hurt anyone, he would have done many years in prison. He wasn't caught, he went on to college, got married, became very active in his church, had kids and now works for corporate America as a manager of a nationally recognized chain. Should he have been punished? I don't know. Had he been caught, his life would be drastically different today. With a felony conviction on his record, he wouldn't have gone to college, probably not be married and his kids wouldn't exist. He does more good for society today than society would have gotten out of him by punishing him.
Winston Churchill once said that “One of the most unfailing tests of a civilization is how a country treats its criminals.” Most criminals return to the streets in a worse state than when they were arrested. Prison turns good people bad and bad people worse. A better solution for crime would be a restorative justice approach.
In The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, Jack Kornfield describes an African forgiveness ritual: "In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe."
Too bad for those of us who profess to be Christians, that Jesus didn't show us another way. Maybe those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear, know that way. But, not to act is to act.