Yesterday I received a Facebook message from one of the big movers and shakers of Show-Me Cannabis. He wrote…”I thought you might be interested in this bill, your book might be an excellent testimony for the committee to consider.” And he attached the following link: http://www.house.mo.gov/billsummary.aspx?bill=HB525
I asked him for some additional info, because honestly, all that is political kind of flies past me. Laws, bills, political machinations…so not me. Heck, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t even know where the Capitol was or who my representative is.
He explained that I could testify as a witness against HB525, which would put drug courts in every circuit court division in the state of Missouri.
I said “sure” and the next thing I knew I was driving to Jefferson City at 6:30 this morning…over two hours in each direction. All to discuss why drug courts are a bad thing…
Now this is a double-edged sword as I see it. No drug court? That might mean a ticket straight to jail or prison, depending on the offense. But drug courts SUCK. I could sit here all day and tell you how they suck, but instead, I will cut and paste the testimony I ended up giving today…
My name is Christine Shuck and I am here to testify in regards to House Bill 525, in regards to: “Drug courts [may] shall be established by [any] every circuit court pursuant 2 to sections 478.001 to 478.006 to provide an alternative for the judicial system to dispose of 3 cases which stem from drug use.”
I am a writer, teacher, and homeschool mom.
In 2011, I published the book, The War on Drugs, An Old Wives Tale, which chronicled my husband’s and my experiences after we were caught growing marijuana in November 2008. We faced a possibility of 15 years or more in prison, and ultimately my husband was offered the opportunity to avoid prison by participating in a drug court program in Cass County.
I took extensive notes through the length of our experiences with the Cass County Drug Court program. I made this decision early on, after too many jaw-dropping experiences to count, in which our freedoms were violated in a number of different ways.
I chronicled them all in this book, and interspersed our personal experiences of our 511 days in the Cass County Drug Court system with the history of marijuana, drug courts and how the war on drugs began.
Despite having avoided up to 15 years of incarceration, and my husband having completed the drug diversion program successfully (I was never charged in the case), I am here today to discuss why drug courts are not the answer and perhaps offer another, more humanitarian alternative…
- The opportunity for corruption and abuse was rampant – Drug courts have unprecedented levels of control over the participants. This has never been more evident than through these three examples:
- Once a participant has moved from the first level into the second level of the program (during the first they are not allowed to work, thereby incurring significant financial hardship), he is expected to obtain full-time work immediately, something denied the participant during the first stage of the program. But he is also given the stipulation that any employer must be, according to the drug court officials, informed of the participant’s history and current status in the drug court program. This opens the door for corruption and abuse on the employer’s side of things – “do what I say, work these extra hours, or I’ll fire you and you’ll go to jail.” Self-employment is actively discouraged. We were told on a number of occasions that unless we could provide actual paycheck stubs than none of our income would be considered. Eventually my husband simply gave up on trying to start his martial arts business and enrolled in school full-time. We ended up having to declare full Chapter 7 bankruptcy by the end of the program, something we would never have considered before.
- Prior to my husband’s participation in the drug court program a counselor employed by the drug court program was engaging in illicit drug use and intimate relations with other drug court participants. This was according to the former assistant DA, who had moved into private practice and was our attorney during the proceedings. He went on to detail how this individual had used her position to coerce the clean participants in the drug court program to submit urine samples for the dirty ones through threats and intimidation.
- During my husband’s participation in the program, another attendee was tested using an uncalibrated breathalyzer and received a false positive, that maintained the same reading four hours later (an impossibility since he was in jail and not imbibing alcohol). Although he insisted on a blood test, he was kept in jail for a full two weeks, abused verbally by the judge and drug court staff, called a liar, lost his job, and released only after his test came back negative two weeks later.
- Psychological manipulation and verbal abuse – My husband endured outright lies from the staff throughout his experiences, but none hits home more than when they decided to conduct a psychological experiment on him, telling him he would be allowed to ‘level up’ from the 1st to the 2nd He applied for jobs, had interviews scheduled, and then when the day came, they did not go through with their false promises. According to several of the counselors, the director of the program was convinced that my husband was “narcissistic and had a God complex.” The goal in not ‘up-leveling’ him was to watch him lose control and bring him to the breaking point. He didn’t, and a full month later he was allowed to up-level. In addition to this, early in his participation in the drug court program he was told he was no better than a child rapist by Judge Jacqueline Cook. A child rapist. Over and over, he would receive the same message – you are a criminal, you are worthless, you don’t deserve to be walking free. These are not messages that reform, or encourage, they simply remind the participant that he is worth nothing and has zero control over his own life.
- One size does not fit all – Drug courts include everyone from the occasional marijuana user to those heavily addicted to hard, dangerous drugs such as heroine, methamphetamines and cocaine. This one size fits all approach does not work. Forcing an occasional marijuana smoker to “admit [he] is a helpless, and hopeless addict” simply means you are forcing them to lie. The alternative? If he didn’t admit he was an addict, he would have been thrown out of the program and sent to prison immediately. So for 511 days, my husband lied. EVERY DAY.
- It is not serving its specified purpose – Drug court states that it is not intended to be a form of punishment, but that of rehabilitation. However, participants are treated like criminals, not patients. And if they object they are told that they should be thankful they are not in prison. Having law enforcement personnel, as well as former addicts in positions of power has caused these programs to veer from rehabilitation into threats of incarceration, retaliation, and retribution. From my husband’s drug court graduation application, “Always the threat of what will happen if we step out of line looms over us.”
In summary, drug courts simply do not work as envisioned. For those hopelessly lost to addiction, there is some level, tiny as it might be, of rehabilitation. For most, it is simply a degrading, dehumanizing experience that you would not wish on your worst enemy.
So, what can we do instead of drug court?
Please note that I am not at this time suggesting we legalize it. I’m suggesting that we remove the punitive aspect of it. If we truly want to make a difference in people’s lives, we will offer them the alternative of true rehabilitation. Not rehabilitation with the threat of incarceration.
If we continue to treat drug use and abuse by ostracizing, demeaning, and attempting to control every aspect of a drug user’s life – we will continue to fail.
For those who are true addicts, the drug court model has only limited benefit. If we, however, include an addict within a nurturing society, allow them understanding and patience and surround them with examples of functional habits, positive role models, and more – we can encourage them to change their lives. Not all drugs are the same, not all users are the same.
The reality is, we cannot punish drugs out of a person’s body. Instead, we need to offer support, guidance and caring. Tough love, derogatory environments, and threats of incarceration do not help.
So I finish with this testimony and every representative on the committee (some eight or so in the room at the time) were just staring at me. Apparently I had shocked the hell out of them. The chairman of the committee said, after a moment’s pause, “So, you are suggesting we decriminalize ALL drugs?”
I should have quoted the article here on Drug Decriminalization in Portugal which has seen a reduction in drug addiction by around 50%, but honestly, i was a little rattled by the long drive, little sleep, and basically the whole experience. So I just smiled and said, “Yes.”
And that was the end of that.
Eapen commented later that I was probably part of a very small handful who had ever had the audacity of suggesting such a thing in those hallowed halls (my words not his). He also said that I certainly had their full attention.
My point in being there was, it is one thing to tout drug courts as this great alternative to incarceration, when the reality is that drug courts are not such a large step away from jails and prisons. I’ve explained it in length above, but there you go.
I kill mice with flyswatters…do battle with libraries over class cancellations…and (not quite) fearlessly give testimony before legislators.
I’m feeling mighty…
If you haven’t read my book The War on Drugs: An Old Wives Tale – you really should. Click on the link to purchase it on Amazon in paperback or Kindle formats.