Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Crushed Tomatoes

What would you do if you were sentances to 15 years in prison? What would I do?

I have no idea.

I'm not sure I would survive 1 year in prison let alone 15 years. I don't know what prison is really like - I can only guess by what they show on TV, what ex-prisoners say on NPR and, oh yeah, by the stories my brothers tell me. Yes, my brothers have been to prison. 2 of 3. The third has some experience in jail, but has not been to prison...yet? I found out today that my youngest brother is likely to go back to prison for as long as 15 years. My heart feels like no more than a mess of crushed tomatoes in my chest.

There is relief that he will be off the streets - unable to hurt our mother, his wife, his children and any innocent bystanders. But I'm also not sure that America's prison system is doing anything more than that to help him or others like him. Years ago, he learned to shoot heroin while imprisoned and that is what has ahold of him now. I don't absolve my brother of his crimes - I hold him responsible for the choices he's made - but I also recognize that heroin has one of the highest addiction rates, that there are few effective and easily accessible therapies for such an addiction and that life as an ex-con predisposes one to relapse.

It's not so easy to just say that people make bad choices.

I don't want to infringe on any other person's right to a good night of sleep, but in addition to an ocean of grief at this latest familial tragedy, I'm also ANGRY. I'm angry that people can just brush off problems of addiction as other peoples' problems. I'm angry that doctors, compassionate people, can say, "we have done all we can, now it's up to them to make a better choice" as they drop their patients off at the homeless shelter where they will be surrounded by other addicts and may not be able to access social services. I'm angry that my little brother is going to prison where he may be beaten or raped.

And I feel guilty. That I'm over here at a safe distance, 2,200 miles away from my family, never having my home searched by the FBI, never having a fist raised to me, never being robbed by my own family, never having to comfort the children of an addict when they don't have enough to eat or when they're afraid because they don't know who is safe. I am relieved and I am guilty, because

There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.

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