Ciela Hanson Kickinger: The road to freedom
December 11, 2017
Imagine you grew up in foster care and were never told you were loved or worthy. How do you think you would react? Might you turn to drugs if you were offered them at age 11 as many inmates in our prisons have experienced?
When I used to walk past the jail which was near our house, I felt afraid. Then my mom started volunteering at our local jail, teaching mindfulness. My mom would share some of the stories of the tragedies that happened to them in childhood, stirring compassion in us. I became curious to know what kind of people they were. I wanted to know more of their story and how they could change their lives.
Despite having the largest prison population in the world, America has little to show for it. Drug offenders comprise 46.3 percent of inmates, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Yet addiction expert Gabor Mate, M.D. wrote in his book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction," "If the goal of the War on Drugs is to discourage or prevent drug use, it has failed… The United States continues to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on practices that demonstrably fail while eschewing approaches with the potential to help."
For example, in an article from the National Institute of Justice, in 2007, 73 percent of Canada's drug strategies 245 million budget was spent on enforcement even though it has not proven effective.
Yet "if we could implement effective programs, we could expect to reduce recidivism by 15 to 20 percent," according to Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center in her article called, "Beyond the Prison Bubble." Programs are as varied as inmates taming wild mustang horses for sale to training inmates to fight fires.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health provider, Julie Lang, at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility said, "People need skills. Skills can be learned. If they never get treatment than the skills they need are never on the menu. At our jail, inmates say AA, NA and Mindfulness classes are helping them gain sobriety."
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Robert said he was just 15 when he first went to jail and was in jail for a total of 22 years.
By age 11, he said he had already started using drugs and by 13 he had been in 14 foster homes and begun to sell drugs, only stopping at age 47.
It was only with a gang that he found a sense of belonging and family, he said, "All I wanted was a mother and father."
Being with the gang gave him a false sense of security and power, he said, breaking free of that was very difficult. Yet he knew if he continued on this path of three hots and a cot (prison), he would literally die.
Robert said he has now been sober for over five years. He said programs of recovery were vital to ending addiction. He had cut himself 72 times, he said, and wondered why he survived. He heard from his sponsor for the first time that he was worthy, something he had never known.
He said Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous gave him the support to recognize his own value. Now he is motivated by a "purpose driven life" and goes to various prisons to help those seeking to change their lives.
Jesse Smith said he was just 15 when he first went to jail. He said he imagined he would die in jail, as he felt he too had found belonging and acceptance there. Yet it was having children that gave him the strength to make the decision to get clean.
Released from a drug program in July, he said his recovery has to be his first priority. He is grateful to Nevada County for all the resources available to help recovering drug addicts. He is happy to be greeted with kindness by police who used to be chasing him while he was on the other side of the law.
He too was in jail most of his adult life. "Meetings are the only way I know how to stay clean," he said. "Once you are in the system, it is incredibly hard to get out." He said all drug addiction ends the same way, "jail, institutions or death" and he is no longer willing to "roll the dice of my life."
Addiction is an illness that impacts the brain. Research shows that many hardcore addicts were seriously traumatized as children.
As a society, we need to be more understanding of the nature of this problem. Local programs such as Common Goals Substance Abuse Counseling Services in Grass Valley who specialize in helping people make positive changes in their lives could use financial support.
If reading this allows even one person to support people who have been in jail and are fighting addictions, I know I have succeeded in letting my voice be heard.
Ciela Hanson Kickinger is a student at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning.