Friday, June 20, 2008

BEING SAFE IN FEDERAL PRISON HAS TO BE BETTER THAN BEING A DRUG ADDICT ON THE STREETS

Many people are salivating over the conviction of Saul Ochoa. The only thing I know about the Ochoas is Benny gave me a good deal on a speeding ticket about 2 years ago. Saul’s family says they do not know the man who is addicted to drugs and now a convicted drug dealer. My view of dealers is different than that of users. I personally believe anyone who sells drugs to children should get life without the possibility of parole. But I would be softer on an addict/dealer who has not dealt drugs to children.

In state court he would probably get a slap on the hand or just have the charges dropped. In federal court because he was a public official, he will get the book. I can hear it now - betrayal of public trust - yadayadayada. I do not know the extent of his dealing. It would certainly influence how I would sentence him. For now though, I want to focus on the addiction issue.

Some jail time is in order, but would justice be better served with rehabilitation? - if possible. Actually on drug rehabilitation I am not a strong advocate. You cannot coerce people into changing. The concept behind most drug rehabilitation is someone else is going to help you overcome your addiction, instead of you just facing it and saying no more. I have known a lot of people, clients, family (a nephew found it easier to hang himself in jail rather than deal with his addiction) and friends. I have never seen drug rehabilitation work.

For a second I want to go back to Ochoa’s family. Where were they as he was going through the addiction process? I suspect they kept on changing his diapers - poor baby. The reality is, his family was probably his biggest enablers. Families are always the enabler. I remember a brother blaming the police for picking on his son when the son got caught selling. I can go on and on and on about a brother and his bizarre conduct when it comes to drugs.

People tell me all of the time on this issue, "you do not understand pain." Oh really - I was diagnosed with myofascitis 31 years ago, and told this week it has now spread into my arms and legs. There is no treatment for the pain. You just live with it. On most nights I am reduced to holding on to walls and chairs to keep from falling down. If I know I am going out at night, I stay in bed for a good 4 hours before going out so that I will be able to walk with minimal pain. I have had a headache for 31 years. I have a bottle of pain killers which is over a year old. They were given to me for a bone graph in my jar. The original seal remains in tact. I do not do pain killers.

When you have myofascitis pain killers give you a false sense of hope. I guess if I hate someone enough I could joke about them dying, but I could never joke about someone, anyone deserving myofascitis. It is a lifetime sentence of chronic pain for which there is no cure Nor treatment. Some physical therapy at the gym helps a bit.

So my question is, why can some people be strong and others weak? I am not sure if there is a biological component to who can remain strong and who cannot. I know depression is real. I know it hurts. I know people turn to drugs, or other addictive behavior, or violence. I cannot tell you how many gay men I have represented for spousal abuse. They blame their wives for their feelings.

But in the end we have choices. I believe living away from my family was the best medicine for my myofascitis because I had no one to feel sorry for me or make excuses for me. I have been forced to stand on my own.

I suspect Saul’s family, such as now, found it easier to make excuses for him, than to tell him - deal with your problems and stop making excuses. I just ended a dear friendship on a similar issue. I do not change the diapers of adult men- that would make me an enabler and a source of the problem. Friends do not enable friends.

I would hope that if Saul can demonstrate to the judge by September that he understands that he has to do this on his own, and a family which is acting as enablers are not his friend, the judge shows him some mercy. I hope Saul will use his time in jail between now and September to find honesty in his heart to know how he got to this point. Until he learns to love himself and respect himself, he will always be a drug addict. If he continues to use his family as his diaper changer then maybe the judge should do him a favor and give him the maximum sentence. Being safe in a federal prison has to be better than being a drug addict on the streets.

And oh, by the way, "I found GOD" would get the maximum sentence from me. Nothing wrong with GOD, but substituting one addiction with another is not the answer.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Saul's family and friends did not enable him. Many people in the Laguna Madre area knew he had personal problems, and many thought that he was drinking. No one knew about his (recently acquired) drug addiction until it was too late.

I can tell you that many people in town tried to straighten Saul out, and his brother Bennie was the toughest on him.

The whole episode has been very painful for the Ochoa family, and for the entire Laguna Madre area community. As you may know, Saul's problems came at a terrible time for that family, as Saul and Bennie's father was gravely ill, and died a few days after Saul's arrest.

You might say that by not being tougher on Saul, that people enabled him, but how would you treat a person you thought was suffering from depression?

Port Isabel and the Laguna Madre area are very close knit. You can criticize us for being naive, but I would say that we are mostly innocent and well-intentioned. Crime is not as prevalent in our area as it is in other places, and no one ever imagined that Saul was using cocaine.

My sense is that Bennie was hardest on him because he felt that Saul was letting down the people of the area, and that his status as an older brother made it easier for him to take a hard line.

---

You are right that drug rehabilitation does not work, in the sense that addicts can not be cured of their addictions. But rehabilitation, coupled with treatments that address the health issues (including mental health) that underly addiction can be effective in placing a person on the road to recovery, which is a lifelong process.

My personal view is that rehabilitation and mental health services should be much more accessible. There are great programs for those who can afford to pay, but for a person of average means, treatment is often not available until mental illness or addiction has reached an advanced stage, and lasting damage has been done.

This is also the case for those convicted of drug related offenses. I agree that dealers should be dealt with much more harshly than users, but I think that a distinction should be made between those who sell drugs to support their own habit (as a consequence of their addiction), and those who sell drugs for economic gain. Based on the evidence that has emerged, Saul sold seized marijuana at a very low price to obtain money to support his cocaine habit.

While people should be punished for breaking the law, sometimes the consequences of addiction are punishment enough. We need rehabilitation as an option in our correctional system for the same reason we need better prisons and improved programs: as a society, we can't afford to throw people away.

BobbyWC said...

Jared, I almost rejected your post on defamation grounds, but decided the substance of what you are saying is too important - so I will simply add a caveat to the readers.

I have read nothing anywhere that Saul's addiction was to anything but marijuana - I know of no allegations he ever did anything but marijuana.

Second I have read no where and of heard of no evidence that his brother Bennie was aware of Saul's drug use. The presumption is he was totally unaware of the situation.

Jared, several issues - enabler - you mention the issue of the father - that is enabling - sympathy - people loose family members every day without having to turn to drugs or abusive behavior.

This problem has nothing to do with Port Isabel - this is a national problem - the people of Port Isabel are like every where else in the country.

I mentioned the mental illness issue because that is the problem - until Saul faces he has a problem and gets help he is going nowhere.

The problem with family is, they think if they turn him out he will fall off the deep end - what they fail to realize is the day he became an addict he fell off the deep end.

But families all over the US do what families do - they think they can change him - they cannot - only he can change himself - this is why non-enabler families put the family members out on their own to face their reality. Some succeed and some fail.

Sometimes letting go of a family member is the best way to help the family member. No one was being hard on him - yelling is not being hard - you are hard when you say - "you are out of the family until you seek help." then you wait and see what they do - you cannot take them for help - they must do it on their own.

I had a client who I told not to take 12k out of his retirement to pay for his son's rehab - I said allow him to spend the 6 months in county, which would have only been 2 with the way things work - at least he might dry out and face the consequences of his actions.

Charlie sad - "oh no the judge said this place is good" the choice was rehab or 6 months. The day his son got out of rehab he was arrested by an undercover cop for buying mariajuana.

You say to an addict - a month in rehab or 6 months in county jail - what are they going to say - rehab

The father lost his son and 12k because feeling sorry for his son was easier than saying - "you are an adult now - work it out - it is your problem."

Bobby WC

BobbyWC said...

Jared,

After my post I read in the Herald confirmation about the cocaine - so I stand corrected - I just did not want that out there without me being able to rely on a press report of same. There is no reason to make things worse.

Jared, you need to proceed with caution how you talk about this - my biggest concern was your reference to Bennie - as a sitting judge - especially in a case with evidence tampering by a brother - you walk a very dangerous line when you suggest he had knowledge of any of these events.

I want to be clear to everyone - to the best of my knowledge no one in a position of authority or any investigator is saying or implying Bennie knew about the problem or tried to cover for his brother.

Unfortuntately Jared, when you are a mere brother you have more familial rights to cover for the brother than when you are a judge - this is why caution is needed when discussing the issue.

Something else you said got to me when I went out for coffee.

"but I think that a distinction should be made between those who sell drugs to support their own habit (as a consequence of their addiction), and those who sell drugs for economic gain.

Your statement, and I do not believe you intended this, implies that the economic benefit a dealer makes from dealing drugs is worse than the destruction he/she imposes on the family members of the user.

I am sitting on a jury and a defense attorney makes such a suggestion and I would hang his client.

I have seen far too many children destroyed for life because their father is an addict - The idea I am going to excuse the behavior of the dealer who is destroying innocent children because the dealer himself is addicted is just beyond comprehension.

What you do not see Jared is - that throughout your post you are making excuses instead of saying what needs to be said - Saul needs to face himself and admit to his problems - no one else can do this for him - so long as people are saying poor Saul he is a victim - so give him a lessor sentence even though he was dealing drugs and destroying innnocent families, he will never be okay.

How to treat people with depression - do not feel sorry for them - do not help them rationalize their need to be depressed.

I did two long years of therapy and various forms of anti-depressants - I take no shame in it - but you know what, I had no one making excuses for me - I walked into the doctor on my own without anyone telling to do so and said - I cannot function anymore I need help

When I realized the psychologists were not helping and the medication was only allowing me to float along without ever asking why I was depressed I stopped the medication (which was not really helping at that point anyway) and asked myself why?

It took several years but I finally got it - I know the problem is two fold - I was able to prove to my doctors through testing that dairy causes me to crash emotionally - I was able to show an oxygen deprivation which was magnifying an otherwise normal state of unhappiness which most people might feel and deal with during the normal course of events -

I was fortuntate because I had no one to feel sorry for me - I did not go out and look for excuses or people who were willing to change my diaper.

The closest thing to sympathy I got was my psychiatrist and neurologist both telling me I under estimated how hard the myofascitis has been on my emotional state. My view is my ability to cope with the myofascitis is evidence of my strenghth which is what in the end I believe has been the bedrock of my ability to deal with the pain.

My point is - I understand depression - feeling sorry for the person and medicating the person only makes things worse - although I will say short term medication allows the person to get a sense of calm which could help lead to more rational thinking.

Bobby WC

Anonymous said...

Bobby:

I did not say thay Bennie had knowledge of Saul's drug use. So far as I know, he found out when everyone else did: when Saul was arrested and announced his addiction at the arraignment.

As I said, many people were concerned for Saul's wellbeing in the months before this happened. You contended that that they may have enabled him in his addiction, but my point is that no one knew about the addiction, so they could not have enabled it, although you might make the case, in hindsight, that many enabled addictive behaviors.

The larger question I posed was how do you deal with mental health issues with a friend or relative, when those issues are also accompanied by negative behaviors? Where is the line between being supportive, and being an enabler? I purposely did not mention the negative behaviors that people were concerned about, but they certainly did not include suspected drug use. Again, I didn't cite the behaviors, or the people, because I didn't want to include more than has been reported in the paper, but many of us helped Saul with problems over the past few months, and expressed concern to him about his behavior.

Beyond that, there is another issue that I barely touched, which is how do you deal with mental illness in a public official? I am not sure the law has caught up with the issue, or with society's understanding of mental illness. If you recall, it was disclosed a few years ago that then-Justice Rehnquist was at one point treated for a dependency on prescrtiption medicine. Mental illness is an illness that can be, in many cases, treated and managed. Yet, many would say that the law calls for a person with a chemical dependency or other mental illness to be removed from office, as those individuals may be ineffective. At the same time, there are individuals who can be treated, who conceal their condition, and avoid treatment, in order to preserve their careers, until the condition becomes more serious. We would be shocked if someone with cancer concealed their illness and avoided treatment until it spread throughout their entire body, yet we often see mental illness reach that point.

They are general questions, which I posed because the issue of mental health care is important to many people, and ultimately, to the wellbeing of our society.

Finally, I did not mention the father's health to excuse Saul's actions, but to temper your criticism of Bennie. We all feel angry and betrayed, and also very sad, about what happened, but I don't feel that Bennie should be critcized for what happened to his brother.

Anonymous said...

Bobby:

The economic gain is not worse than the damage done to a family - by any measure.However, we should distinguish between those who actions stem from the fog of mental illness, and those who act based on clear, cold-blooded calculation, without regard for other. Very often, the mentally ill (including addicts) do not have an appreciation for the impact of their actions, and they are subject to powerfully coercive forces that drive them to commit acts they would not otherwise commit. That is worthy of consideration.

BobbyWC said...

First, because this is important - I only mentioned bennie as to having given me a good deal on a ticket in the interest of full disclosure. At no time have I suggested bennie had any personal knowledge of any of this -

I do not believe mental illness should be a disqualification to anything unless it interfers with your ability to do your job.

You should know from my perspective I believe all criminal conduct is a consequence of some form of mental illness - so if that were the standard I would never be hard on anyone when it comes to crime and sentencing.

I understand what you are saying - his depression or mental illness kept him from making rational decisions - maybe some jurors will consider it - I would not -

the major point of my piece was - he needs to face up to his problems - I have seen time and time again how sympathy encourages denial.

Do I know the line between valid and helpful sympathy and enabler? No -

But I refuse to believe the family did not see a change in personality - I refuse to believe the family at times did not make mistakes.

But I am not about blaming the family - I am about - Saul facing his demons and coming out the otherside a better man.

To be frank with you - if he could convince me he has faced his demons, I would still vote for him because he could then take his experience and bring it to the field - which in my opinion would be a good thing.

Jared,

Thanks for a great discussion and thanks for reading