Strangled Again by the Same Villain

June 26, 2019, 11:46 am

Recently, a friend of mine who I met through Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step program, locked up. He told the corrections officers that he was afraid for his life, and they put him in protection. As the details of what happened unfolded, it became clear that just a few weeks before leaving prison on parole, my friend had gotten a hold of illicit drugs in prison and had relapsed. He owed debts for the drugs that he could not pay, and his only recourse was to take the coward’s way out. Back into his addictive thinking, he even took advantage of other people, including another good friend of mine, who cared about him. I was angry because my addict friend has effectively set himself up to quickly return to prison. His addiction led him to prison in the first place, and now, just a few weeks before going home, he relapsed. Unfortunately, he is not alone. 

A 1997 survey of prisoners found that 52% had committed their crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. An even higher percentage committed their crimes because of the devastating influence of addictions in their lives. This survey did not even take into account the influence of process addictions, like sex and gambling addictions, on the criminal conduct of prisoners. The fact is that addictions are highly correlated with criminal conduct. 

When individuals leave prison and return to their communities, many continue to struggle with the influence of their addictions. Some, like my friend, start struggling even before they leave prison. Some never stopped struggling, even while they appeared sober in prison. Many ex-prisoners (who I prefer to call “returning citizens”) find that struggles with addiction are a significant factor in their ability to positively adjust to life after prison. Even after sometimes years of “sobriety” in prison, many people still feel the strong pull of their particular vice, and they find it very difficult to say “no.” Promises of “just one time” turn quickly into full-fledged addiction once again. As any addiction expert can tell you, relapse is often fast and furious. 

One doctor and addiction expert, who works with addicts in prison, noted that trauma is a leading contributor to addiction. She explained that addictions are most often used as pain avoidance, not pleasure seeking. Consequently, until an addict deals with the underlying pain (often from trauma) that is feeding his addiction, he will continue to struggle with addiction. Because of my participation in a 12-step group with my friend, I know he has trauma he hasn’t healed from, and despite my anger, I feel compassion for him. 

Because my friend relapsed even before he left prison, his chances of returning to prison are very high. It saddens me for him, but until he is ready to deal with his underlying trauma and to form new healthy habits of dealing with his hurt, he’ll continue to return again and again to the drugs that dull his pain. Slowly, the criminal justice system is beginning to recognize that locking up addicts does not rehabilitate them. Instead, many addicts need professional help that is not provided in prison. 

I hope my friend finds the support he needs to live free from his addiction when he returns home. He is fortunate to have family that loves and cares about him who will fight with him for his sobriety. But he has to want sobriety first. Until he’s ready, neither prison nor professional therapy will help him live a life free from his addiction. 

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The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry. Women Against Registry reserves the right to edit or delete any content submitted.