Imprisoned by Addiction When Faced With Criminal Charges
You see the flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, or the police come knocking at your door. It’s too late to undo the actions that have brought you here, but it’s never too late to start treatment.
Is this your defining moment? Is it your “rock bottom”? The slamming door of a jail cell can be an open door to recovery–you just have to walk through.
You’ve been walking a fine line between the person you were–a law abiding citizen–and criminal behavior caused by your addiction. You never imagined you would steal, commit violence, drink and drive, or purchase drugs from a dealer. Then that nucleus accumbens in your brain takes over, demanding dopamine, and suddenly you don’t think about the consequences of getting caught – the mother with kids is in handcuffs for hitting someone with her car while under the influence, the former hedge fund manager lets his cocaine addiction cloud his judgement and starts to embezzle funds to pay for his habit. The addict’s voice says, I need this more than my family, my job, my reputation, my freedom.
When you are faced with the unimaginable stress and shame of an arrest and possibility of being convicted and going to jail, it can seem even more difficult to envision a sober future. You are probably thinking, “But that’s not me. I made a mistake, but I’m not a criminal.” Being arrested is a shock. You’ve probably never seen the inside of a jail, but you won’t be alone in how you got there. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., “Nearly 50% of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted.” Your addiction has brought you to this point, and it feels like everyone in the world is looking down on you.
Taking public shame and turning it around
“Every time I see that mug shot, a part of me wilts. It brings back all the shame, remorse and regret I associate with who I was then. To avoid obsessing over that image, I have to dissociate myself from the person it depicts.” – Keri Blakinger
You feel like you have let down your family, your employers, and your community, and perhaps they let you know it. Those feelings can be even harder to bear than the thought of paying for your crime. If you are a prominent individual or a celebrity, there can be other challenges. Schadenfreude has become a parlor game in our nation–where we love to kick people when they are down. The media and social media outlets will take this opportunity to point out your weaknesses. They may even publish your mug shot online. Journalist Keri Blakinger wrote about this experience in Me and My Mug Shot: The Face of Addiction Stigma.
Is it better to hide away or to face this scrutiny head on? If you are in the public eye, the reputation management people come calling to “fix” this. They may talk about repairing your “brand.” But you are not a buzz word–you are a human being in pain facing a crisis. Your main concern has to be your health and wellness, and your recovery. The public shaming is difficult, but being honest about your disease will help you and help others, particularly if you are a public figure.
There is a reason that 12-step and other recovery groups value anonymity, but once your addiction has become public knowledge, you can look at this as an opportunity. There will be people who will say terrible things, but when you are open about your problem, you will be surprised at the support you will get from friends, family, and even strangers who have faced the same struggles. Your openness can also serve as a positive example, encouraging others to come clean and seek treatment.
Even if your criminal charges aren’t dredged through the media, the impact of an arrest can still be a driving force for change. In a support or recovery group, no one is going to judge you. The other people in your group have been where you have been. The staff understands that addiction is a disease, not a crime. You can focus on how you got to this point, and work on getting back to your true self.
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You are already in a prison, now is the time to break free
You still may have to face a trial, and of course that is stressful, but there is hope. The justice system is starting to recognize that addiction is a disease. California and some other states have implemented Alternative Sentencing and diversion programs, such as PC 1000 and Prop. 36, as a way to help addicts by providing access to treatment instead of incarceration. This may be an option for you. In order to qualify for these programs, you usually have to be a first-time non-violent offender. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony drug- or alcohol-related charge, and can show the court that you are dedicated to living a drug- and alcohol-free life and committed to avoiding the type of behavior that got you arrested, you may qualify for one of these programs. If you have already started a treatment program when you go before the courts, that also works to your benefit. Talk to your lawyer about your options, but equally importantly, come talk to us. This is your life and your freedom. You should be seeking quality drug addiction treatment, not only to gain your freedom in the outside world, but true freedom from the bonds of addiction.