Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sixteen: Our Young Men, Drugs, and the Legal System


































































Dakota is sixteen, a young man, a teenager, a boy, a child, an adult... the perception of what category or label a young person falls under is different for individuals and also in the eyes of the law- from state to state or judge to judge, how to prosecute, or treat, a sixteen year old or a teenager of any age is debated. When drug addiction is involved, the combination of a person young enough to still be developing significant areas of the brain, drugs, and the law... becomes a train wreck.
When Dakota choose to smoke pot at fourteen, he also choose a peer group geared toward acceptance of pot smoking and access to it; he choose a peer group who were more likely to be involved with the law. And so at sixteen, friends and acquaintances of his- all boys, that I know of- have been arrested, received probation, gone to jail and rehab, ended up in prison. Dakota has been sober now for about half a year, he's never been in trouble with the law, never had court enforced rehab or programs, never been kicked out of a school, but watching the repercussions of drug use in the lives of his friends and acquaintances has terrified and provoked me. As with all hydra-headed issues, drug use and it's criminalization, the handling of teen drugs users inside the law and all the ways those intertwine have no easy solutions or answers, no easy way to the solution. We do have better answers to these issues, answers that can be- and in small ways, are beginning to be- implemented.
The path of addiction is one that is linked inexorably to the law because the abuse of drugs is illegal. A teenage boy who has the right predilection for addiction will become addicted quickly, depending on the substance he is using it could take a week or a few months- with the right type of brain and the additional help of enormous stress and the incredible changes in the teenage brain it will happen even faster. ( This resource, Pleasure Unwoven, is one of the most compelling and informative pieces I've ever seen to explain the process of addiction in the brain, and why it truly is a disease. ) Not all abusers will be come addicts, but once a person is an addict, there is a set of changes that happen so deeply in the fundamental workings of the physical brain that only targeted intervention can typically bring that person back to their former self. The worse the addiction, the more removed the addict becomes from the thoughts and feelings and actions that reflect their true person, and the more the addiction dictates the course of that person, the more baffled and trapped and miserable that person and everyone around them becomes. It's not unlike any disease of the brain- mental illness such as Bipolar or degenerative such as Alzheimers- which change the person affected profoundly and negatively.
Knowing this and being the mother of two teenage boys has given me a new perspective on the handling of teenage boys in our legal system who have drug involvement. It brings me back to a foundation of effective parenting- it's about teaching consequences, not punishments. When a teenage boy has hurt an individual or group in some way- stealing a car, forging a check, public drunkeness- who is a drug abuser, what is the ultimate role of the court? To protect society and to have the offender pay their debt. Neither is being accomplished when the punishment is a criminal record and jailtime. What is needed is treatment for a disease. Look at my son's face. Boys just like him- that young, that completely niave and arrogant and confused and still only partly formed, that beautiful for their youth and their promise and their vulnerability - are going to jail and spending weeks and months hardening their hearts and minds against the onslaught of emotional pain around and inside of them. The drug addict will worsen. The boy will get out of prison and be even more likely to need drugs to cope.
I keep watching these boys- to me, they are boys, I see boys in sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year olds, just boys... that's what we call them when they go off to war, isn't it- in recognition of the ridiculousness of the waste and the vulnerability of our youth- with their baby faces and adult posturing and intelligence and total and complete obvious confusion about how to handle being a human being, I see these boys go to jail. And I watch them come out, angry and hurt and hard and even more lost than before.
I want a treatment focused solution for our children. I want punishment to be the last control to protect society, and treatment to be understood as the most effective tool to achieve our judicial goals.
I want boys like my son to be considered boys. In the eyes of the law, law that is supposed to be wise, fair and just, we can clearly see the young addict needs guidance, consequence, treatment. Not the immediate incarceration and punitive strike. Not the release back into society of a boy even more convinced he must posture as a man who knows how to make it in the world, when really he is somebody's boy in the grip of addiction.
Jenny Grace said...

Lovely.

a work in progress said...

i hope you don't take ANY offense at my posting this link to you. i'm not meaning to disrespect or undermine the gravity of your experience with your son. i've studied this subject fairly intensively and just wanted to perhaps throw some light from a different angle.

http://www.peele.net/lib/truth_1.html

with respect (and hugs!)
AWIP

Cid said...

My eldest son just turned 13, a teenager now and it scares the hell out of me. Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

~Amber Elise~ said...

A criminology course opened my eyes to the ways that our present system is NOT in ANY WAY helping the "offenders." At that age they need a little guidance, to re-compensate perhaps in some way, Helping the person they hurt perhaps. I know my day is coming with my little man, when he will be a young person and explore like young people do.
It takes strength, to be a Momma.

Ms. Moon said...

I have been thinking a great deal about the whole way we deal with "crime." It's a huge onion of a subject and what you've written about is one of the layers.
You are such a good mother, Maggie. Always know that. Fierce, loving, and so courageous.

Still Life With Coffee said...

wow.. thank you for writing this. I look at my 10 year old boy and I think to myself, "I have no idea what will happen to him as a teen". I just hope he is always shown compassion and understanding. LIke you said, they are boys not men.

Claire Marie said...

Wonderful, wonderful post. I've been interning at an outpatient program for teens with drug problems, and it has really opened my eyes to the seriousness of this situation.

Petit fleur said...

I can hardly talk about this subject because it is so upsetting, and the answers seem so obvious. You are exactly right Maggie. When I express to people that I really don't even believe in traditional prison system, they look at me like I've got 2 heads.

Part of the problem is that warehousing humans has become an industry, a big one. Industry has no heart. You make perfect sense Maggie, and I can't wait to see the change too.. I think it's going to be slow going though.

Keep speaking up and speaking out!
xo

Annie said...

Hi Maggie,
This is powerfully and honestly written. I'm glad you were able to get Dakota the help he needed, before he had any involvement with an extremely flawed system. Our sons are about the same age, and luckily, his influences have not included anyone who uses drugs or engages in criminal activity, but we've seen it happen to the child of a friend. He is now 22, and he's struggling yet again to finish a drug treatment program and go back to college. I know you are ever watchful, and I see your son's intelligence and compassion in these photographs and everything you've ever posted about him. I think Dakota will be okay.

Elizabeth said...

How, though, how? I agree with you on an intuitive level but really have literally no experience with addiction. How do we do this?

kelly louise said...

As the mother of a tiny boy, here here.

Stephanie Meade Gresham said...

I've thought it ridiculous how little money is put into prevention programs (for drugs, abuse, etc) compared to the heaps and piles of money keeping our jails going.

Prevent more= punish fewer!

(on a side note: my verification word is bearomp. hee.)

Lora said...

yes, yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

When I'm in prisons and half way houses and youth lock ups, my heart breaks for these children who are punished rather than helped. And they come out of these institutions ruined and broken.

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

I'm all for preventative measures vs. punitive measures and this country is behind with regards to that. I'm scared to death of parenting during the teenage years. Choices are so hard for our young people. Your love is remarkable for your children...you're always seeking the best possible way, Maggie.

Millie said...

Your best written piece ever MM. In order to obtain illegal drugs these kids need to form relationships with a dealer. Who in turn needs to get their wholesale supply from further along the criminal food chain. So there it starts, & it often becomes very difficult to break ties with that group of low-lifes once sucked into their world. Dakota has huge potential to achieve whatever he wants in life. It looks to me like he is making informed, intelligent & brave decisions. Bravo to him & his awesome Mum.
Millie x

Lovely World said...

Well said. Have you sent this out to the wider world? It would make a great newspaper editorial.

Middle Child said...

I had some scary times my self while young and also with my girls - I am impressed with how you have thought this all out - I think of the silly things i did when young and which i survived - if I had been caught or killed all this good life I have had since then would have been so different or not have existed - I don't know what the solution is but each should be taken on its individual merit - and more effort made in trying to catch the respectable and wealthy business men who are often behind the importation of the worst drugs

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