Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Unfortunate Circumstances

[trigger warning: jail, drug abuse]

I am sad today. I tried to help a friend and it didn't work out and in the process I learned something about what the war on drugs has become: a way of ensuring that very nice people who have made a mistake that hurt only themselves will never move past that mistake.

There is an expression in Christiandom I am still very fond of: There but for the grace of god go I, meaning of course, that only luck prevents you and I from experiencing terrible misfortune. That bum down the street begging for change? The only difference between you and him is misfortune.

My friend is a recovering drug addict. Like so many, he tried drugs and found they were wonderful for a momentary relief from his troubles. So he took more drugs and wound up with more troubles, necessitating more drugs, and ended up in jail. The very best place in the world to get drugs is jail, so that didn't help anything. Eventually, he fathered a child, which motivated him to quit using and now he's stuck in purgatory.

What do I mean by that? My friend is trying to pick up the pieces of his life, get a decent job, get his own place, eventually go to school, but everybody does background checks for even the most menial of jobs these days. And nobody cares whether or not the person's record reflects a true unfitness for the job at hand*, they just see arrests and jail time and no job for you.

So why even try to clean up your life? Why bother? You've been convicted, you have a record, and now you're never getting a decent job with a living wage. You'll scrounge your whole life, living in one friend's basement, sleeping on another's couch, with never even a shot at getting ahead. You were a danger to yourself, not anyone else, but you'll be treated as if you carry a lit stick of dynamite in your back pocket at all times. "Go to rehab! Get clean! You can do it!" we all shout, while hiding behind our backs the dismal life we've condemned them to.

We all make mistakes. We all do things we are ashamed of. Some of us get to say we're sorry and move on. Some of get to pay and pay and pay forever.

*I suppose that you could argue that drug use 5 years in the past makes one unfit for cleaning toilets, but I'm not sure how.


  1. Has your friend tried going before the court to get his record cleared? A friend of mine did that. I think he had to wait 10 years, but he finally went beforw a judge this year got his record cleared so his jail time/arrests won't show up on background checks.

  2. It's either 7 or 10 years, I think, and it hasn't been that long. Thank you, though.

  3. I have a friend who just graduated with his MBA and is finding it extremely difficult to find a job because 3 years ago he did a year in jail for involuntary manslaughter because he was in a car crash with a lady.
    The emotional and psychological impact of that event (at 20 years old) have been severe. Even now when background checks are run he finds that he is denied even menial work because of that unfortunate event. Not sure how any of that impacts his job performance...but that's how employers see it.

  4. I just hope the best for him. We make it so hard for people to get out of the crime/drugs/jail cycle here in the U.S. Then we wonder about repeat offenders.

  5. I feel sorry for the child he fathered. That was probably the most irresponsible mistake he made, and extremely selfish.
    The reality is that there are consequences to bad choices (which he made over and over apparently) and he is finally being held accountable now. Hopefully he can turn this around and be a real father so he doesn't screw up 2 other people's lives as well as his own.

  6. Anon;

    wow. way to be a judgemental prick with almost no knowledge of all the facts. ALSO; PF specifically stated that this guy is working his ass off trying to "turn his life around" and CAN'T, because of stupid shit. non-violent offenders who don't hurt anyone else should NOT go through hell.

    the saddest part is the way we treat people - if her friend had been a RICH guy, he'd NEVER have gone to jail, and he'd have NONE of those specific problems.

    EVERYBODY makes bad choices. the POINT is that SOME people, almost randomly, never stop paying for them. and it's terrifying, i admit - but acting as if it were ONLY this guy's fault is burying your head in the sand.

  7. I agree with a lot of this, except this:

    You were a danger to yourself, not anyone else, but you'll be treated as if you carry a lit stick of dynamite in your back pocket at all times.

    Drug addicts are dangerous to everyone, especially medical personel. A great deal of robberies are committed to fund drug addiction (I was robbed by drug addicts). This is not to mention the emotional trauma for friends and family.

    I sympathise with people who are generally trying to get their life on track. I don't think that you should be able to do background checks except for health, school and the police force (which I think is the case here in Australia). An office job has no business knowing your background in that much detail.


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