[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.