By Anastasia Hearn
Criminals and addicts are people too. This is a challenging subject to approach, but it is also a unique opportunity for the conservative movement to change the lives of many people.
I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. In 2014, I was charged with third-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit third-degree burglary, third-degree larceny, and conspiracy to commit third-degree larceny. Sadly I have almost no memory of the day in question, but I was accused of driving some other people to a residence for it to be burglarized, so they could buy drugs.
I had destroyed my life with drug use because of horrific abuse I had suffered as a child at the hands of a relative. I do not blame the man who hurt me for what I did, but I see the effect it had on me and my choices. I had been homeless for a few years at that point, and was hanging around some pretty awful people to keep up my habit. I was the only one with a car, so they used me as their driver to pick up and sell drugs. But many days, I was too messed up to drive, so they would leave me at another user’s house with some free cocaine and vodka, and use my car for the day.
I was not convicted of the burglary, by some miracle, and was put on probation and fined. I continued my downward spiral for a little over a year, until a suicide attempt changed my life. I finally asked for help, and my parents sent me away to rehab. After a few tries (and failures), I landed on my feet and emerged from my insanity to start my life over again. On September 15th, 2016, I pledged to stay sober for the rest of my life. I have kept that promise and am still trying to rebuild and find my purpose. But I am one of the lucky ones.
Over the years, I have watched as many of my friends have succumbed to their addiction. I have attended many funerals of people who have died way before their time. This is just a fact of life as an addict, and I’m not sure much can be done about this. But I want to try.
It starts with finding ways to restrict the flow of drugs into this country, especially through Mexico. That is why I support President Trump’s push to build a wall at our southern border. I understand that this is a tough subject for a lot of people, but putting politics aside for a moment, we have to come to an understanding. If 99% of the people who come into your home just want a glass of water and a plate of food, but the other 1% want to murder you and steal everything you own, you still put a lock on your door. We must control our border to prevent the drugs that are killing our citizens from entering this country. But that is only part of the problem.
The Democrat Party believes that a welfare system and free clinics with free needle exchanges is the way to help addicts, but that is only enabling the addict to continue using. They insist that we cannot require drug tests for welfare because it would leave addicts suffering with no help, but maybe that is the point. Many addicts will not recover without hitting absolute rock bottom. When there is a safety net to catch you every time that you fall, what motivation do you have to change? When my parents threw me out on the street, I blamed them for everything that was wrong with me. But after a few years of falling, I finally picked myself up and learned my lesson. What my parents did was the best thing anyone could have done for me. They let me learn the hard way. I firmly believe that if they had continued to enable me, I would not be alive today. Addicts need to feel true misery to be able to pull themselves up into success.
There is still such a stigma about addiction in this country, that most addicts are terrified to ask for help. I know that we cannot legislate morality, or change people’s minds when they say that drug use is wrong. I know that it is wrong. But regardless of whether we approve of people’s choices in life, everyone deserves a small amount of sympathy. Look at me, for example. If you know that I used to sleep in an abandoned building and inject drugs, drink vodka in the bathroom while working, and drive criminals around to get more drugs, you will look at me with disdain. I understand. But, if you look at me as a woman who was repeatedly sexually abused by a trusted relative for years before the age of 8, who wanted nothing more than for the nightmares and flashbacks to go away, who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol in order to repress those memories, you might be a bit more sympathetic.
Now consider that I am definitely not the only person who has experienced such a significant trauma. Victims of abuse often self-medicate to soothe our pain without even knowing. Some people use food, others bury themselves in their work. There are many ways to cope with trauma or mental illness. But some people go to the extreme, like me. I’m not saying that we don’t deserve to be punished for crimes we have committed, or that we deserve to be forgiven immediately for the damage we have done to our families and those around us. But I am saying that the drug use and criminal element are usually symptoms of a greater issue. If we as a society could try to find a way to deal with underlying issues, we could reduce crime and drug use astronomically.
Some of us come to realize our wrongdoing and work to change our lives on our own, but often we are met with hostility and difficulty nonetheless. That has been my fiancé’s experience. We met at an AA meeting, and fell in love. Long before I met him, he spent quite a few years in jail for a few felony convictions, one being a violent crime. He knows that what he did was wrong, he served his time, and continues to try to make up for his past by helping others in his life. He got sober in prison on November 25th, 2015. He has completely turned his life around.
But the world hasn’t looked at him the same since. When we decided to move in together, it was almost impossible to find an apartment that would accept him with his record, although he makes more than double the amount of money required to pay rent in most places, and spent over a year in a rehabilitation facility following prison. We finally settled in the one place that decided to give him a chance. This apartment building (that we currently reside in) is filled with addicts and dealers. A friend of his found a bag of methamphetamine in the middle of one of the hallways here, I find used needles in our parking lot daily, and empty bottles are often found littering the hallway and in the bushes outside.
This kind of environment is usually catastrophic for recovering addicts, but we have managed to maintain our sobriety through our mutual faith in God and each other. But many people in our situation don’t make it.
The struggle doesn’t stop with the environment, though. There is always the issue of employment. My fiancé is one of the fortunate ones, because he found a job that accepts addicts in recovery and pays well compared to most other places that will hire us (fast food, bars, some restaurants, etc…). Although his job is extremely dangerous, and he comes home with new injuries frequently, he is willing to work hard and sacrifice to build a new, better future for us. But when we decide to settle down and build a family, and he wants to find a new job, that will be a problem. He is qualified and skilled in a lot of areas, but the background check will ruin his chances instantly. It isn’t enough to simply say to an employer, “I am a recovering addict with a few years clean, I’ve turned my life around and I am not going back.” No one will believe him. That is the problem.
America has always been the “land of opportunity” and I fully believe that with determination and perseverance, anyone can achieve their dreams. But with so many barriers and so much liability, it is hard for businesses to justify giving someone with a record a chance.
I believe that if we could come together to find a way to reform our criminal justice system, and to find a way to help people recover from lives of crime, we could change a lot of lives for the better. We have to start by recognizing the reality that criminals and addicts are people too, and although they have made poor choices, they do have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, provided that they relinquish their life of crime and follow our laws.
A system that says, “once a criminal, always a criminal” creates a never-ending cycle for people. When you commit a crime, go to jail, get out, get treated like trash, have never-ending garnishments put on your paychecks to “repay society” (that only go to the government, not the actual victims in most cases), and have the near-impossible task of finding a home and a job and building your life back up, you are more likely to return to a life of crime because it is easier for you.
But if you have a path to regaining your freedom, to building your life back up, to clearing your record and being able to find a good job, to becoming a better person, then you are more likely to succeed in life, and not be a burden on others, and everybody wins.
Anyone who can successfully change their life has the potential to help thousands of other people like them do the same thing. My fiancé has often talked about wanting to go into prisons and speak to people like him, to explain to them how beautiful their lives can be if they follow the path of sobriety and build themselves up to being great members of society. But for that to happen, these people need real opportunities, and while conservatism may not have all the answers, it has always stood for the principle that we all win when more opportunities are created for more people.