I spent the majority of my life hiding the reason behind my parents’ divorce. When kids at school asked why my dad wasn’t around, it was easier to say he left us and now lives up state rather than explain the harsh reality that his crack addiction played a significant role in the destruction of my family and life as we knew it.
After being arrested and hospitalized for stab wounds he got during a drug-related transaction, my dad moved hours away to a residential treatment facility to work on his recovery while my mom, brother and I struggled to put food on the table, and keep a roof over our heads. More damaging than any of the hardships I faced in the formative years to follow was the shame I continued to carry around into adulthood. Shame rooted in the stigma associated with drug use and abuse all thanks to the harmful drug war.
It wasn’t until 2007 when I traveled to New Orleans for the Drug Policy Alliance’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference that I finally broke free from the shame and shared my experiences with others for the first time. It may sound surprising that I felt more comfortable opening up to complete strangers than to some of my closest friends and family, but Reform is a unique experience and a conference like none other.
Although Reform attendees have the opportunity to interact with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions given by leading experts from around the world, it’s more than that. It’s a place where people from across the political spectrum can come together in fellowship to displace all the fear, misinformation and biases that perpetuate the drug war with a more compassionate and fair approach to tackling drug-related issues.
My first Reform conference was certainly educational as I expanded my knowledge base around heroin maintenance, ibogaine, the therapeutic value of cannabis and a whole host of other important drug policy topics. But, more importantly for me, Reform offered a space of healing where I could also critically examine the privilege my father enjoyed—receiving treatment instead of incarceration, unlike some of his friends who were people of color.
Reform was the catalyst that helped shape the path I’ve been on for the last eight years, but it’s the brave advocates, hardworking allies and inspiring social justice organizations that I have the honor of working with on a daily basis who continue to fuel my passion for this movement for freedom and justice with the goal of dismantling our racially discriminatory drug laws.
Many of the organizations that motivate me have already joined as Reform Conference partners helping us ensure that our 2015 gathering will be the biggest and best ever! There is still time for you to join us.
Contact Jim Clapes at the Drug Policy Alliance for more information on becoming a Reform conference partner.
Meagan Glaser is the New Jersey deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.