Perspectives






“… Town and Country supermarket, popular for its prices, was pulsating with shoppers. Many were heading toward the store entrance from its expansive but almost full parking lot, forcing me to park in a perimeter space a bit farther out than I usually do. Walking around and between other parked cars, I found myself trailing behind a young woman, perhaps in her late twenties, accompanied by her two children. Her daughter appeared to be about eight or nine years old, her son about four or five. The children were crackling with energy, running and skipping slightly ahead of me. As this mother neared the automatic doors she stopped abruptly and directed her children to go into the store and wait for her there. As they bounced inside, mom reached into her purse, fishing out a cigarette and lighter. Leaning back against the wall with one leg bent and her foot resting on the wall, she lit her cigarette. The glow of the cigarette's ember intensified as she took a protracted drag, followed by a strong, deep inhalation that pulled the smoke down her trachea, through her bronchi and finally into each and every tiny space where the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange normally takes place-the delicate alveoli. Within seconds, this hit of nicotine would be rapidly absorbed into her blood and transported to her brain. Meanwhile, this woman's son rushed ahead of his sister, racing past the row of checkout lanes. The daughter ran after him, calling out, "Stop. Mom told us to wait for her." Drug addiction is a family disease and I had just witnessed a subtle form of it. I doubt anyone else had their attention directed at this parental neglect, the young girl serving as a surrogate mother to her brother. If they had, I doubt they would have suspected that this maternal addiction to nicotine was placing her children at risk in a crowded store. So many questions whirled in my brain. If this woman's craving was so strong, why didn't she smoke before leaving the house? Does she need that one milligram of nicotine in a cigarette so often that she did smoke before driving, or during the drive to the store? Did she first start smoking as an adolescent as almost all addicted smokers have done? Does she smoke in the car or house, subjecting her children to secondhand and even third hand smoke? Is her addiction so powerful that she doesn't even care anymore? How often does her daughter serve as a protector to her brother because mom had to have her drug craving satisfied? What other substances might this woman be using to abuse herself and consequently her family? Did she smoke during her pregnancies? These are brutally difficult questions and later on I asked myself some tough questions, days after this incident. Should I have intervened in some way? Confronted the mother? Observed the children from a distance to assure that no one inappropriately approached them? Why did I start shopping and abandon this scenario? I am disappointed in myself for not becoming involved at the time. I could have been charming, non-threatening and diplomatic to finesse an outcome that produced some sort of peace of mind for that moment and, more importantly, transient safety for those children. I would have worried about this family as I do now, as I do for all the unknown, hidden and camouflaged drug addictions more horrific and menacing than the one I witnessed that day. None of us need search for addiction. It is ubiquitous. It is both subtle and gross, endangering the person who struggles with it and those endeared to that person. Watch for it and intercede in an appropriate manner either directly or indirectly. Addiction has no laws or rules to control it, so it becomes us to act and not turn away. …”



Retrospective

Apr 11, 2005

“… I had only given forty-two presentations of Manda’s Story when I was invited to speak to the men in the drug treatment program at Porter County Jail. This program, now known as the Chemical Dependency and Addictions Program, had as its seminal name, when the program began on October 21, 2002, the Intensive Outpatient Program or IOP. I found this name to be a mildly amusing dichotomy. As long-term residents at the jail, just where else did the inmates have to go after their group therapy sessions except back to their cells? Intensive Inpatient Program seemed a more appropriate name to me. I had come to realize, however, that this regimented confinement was providing an essential element absent from the inmate’s lives in the drug culture-structure. To make that mental shift from the utter chaos of the drug culture to the forced abstinence of the county jail is a shocking, slap-in-the-face jolt, initially stunning but perhaps later appreciated as an infusion of order and common sense, finally facilitating clarity of thought. My drive to the jail this day was a short one, ten or twelve apprehension-filled minutes. Still relatively new as a public speaker, this was my first presentation to an audience with legal offenses serious enough to imprison them. How would these men react to Manda’s Story? What could I tell these street-wise prisoners that they didn’t already know and had already lived? I would later have an epiphany-some of them had never developed a depth of understanding about their selves and were confused as to the authentic “why” of their self -abuse with chemicals. I arrived at the jail with time to spare and picked up the visitor’s phone on the wall next to one way glass windows at the control office. I identified myself, stating the purpose of my visit. The officer on the phone told me to wait while he contacted Dennis Mallonee, addiction therapist for the men’s group. Dennis, a thirty year veteran at the steel mills, had returned to school and earned his credentials in addiction treatment. He soon appeared and led me to a large recreation room filled with about fifty plastic chairs, a room that had never been used for recreation but now served as a speaker’s room on those occasions when both addiction groups needed to be combined, as well as the venue for their graduation ceremony. We passed through three doorways secured with thick steel doors along our route to the room, each door remotely unlocked by the control room after Dennis scanned his electronic “key” over a sensor pad. As I set up my projector, boom box and other materials, about forty-five inmates had been seated; the murmur of their conversations reverberating off the cement block walls and twenty foot high ceiling. Dennis approached me and said he had to leave for a short time and would I be alright if left alone with his “group”? With disingenuous bravado, I said, “sure” as my eyes scanned these men, many heavily tattooed on their thick, muscular arms and some with tough, hardened faces-a testament of their survival in the dangerous world they occupied. Standing just six feet tall and 138 pounds, I’m thinking, ‘please don’t snap me in two like a dry twig’! My delivery of Manda’s Story that day went well with the power that is intrinsic to her story mirroring many of the themes of addiction these men had already experienced, reflecting them back for a bit of insight. Having been to the jail dozens of times since then, I’m now comfortable with Dennis’ groups. Most of these clients are your neighbors, co-workers and cousins. The fell into the abyss of addiction for many reasons: co-existing mental disorders, curiosity, boredom, loneliness, anger, purposelessness and meaninglessness. I am proud of these groups. They are completing a course of treatment during their incarceration that can and does make a difference with about a fifty percent reduction within the group to reoffend and once again become a guest at the Porter County Jail. As an inmate told me at one of the men’s graduations, “Don’t get me wrong-jail sucks. But, I realized I could brood about my life while here in jail or I could use the time here to focus on making a positive change. I’m thankful for Dennis and this program for putting me on a safer and more productive path”. Note: I’ll be writing soon about Gwen’s women’s group at the jail. …”