Addiction destroys families, making holidays like Father's Day anything but a celebration for parents who have substance abuse problems and the children who love them. But since the passage of California's landmark treatment instead of incarceration initiative, Proposition 36, thousands of families have been reunited as parents have broken the cycle of addiction. As the four year anniversary of Proposition 36 approaches this July 1, the human impact of the groundbreaking law is being seen all around California.
Graduates of the program are speaking out about how the voters' approval of the treatment-not-incarceration law led directly to positive changes in their own lives. Inspired by their own experiences, many graduates are going back to the treatment centers that helped them, sharing their stories in order to inspire other clients to succeed. Others have become substance abuse counselors themselves.
With three bills now pending in the Legislature that would affect Proposition 36, the voices of these graduates are increasingly important. "Without Prop. 36, the only thing that would have gotten me off drugs would have been an overdose," said William Evans, a veteran who picked up his 20 year addiction to methamphetamine while in the Navy.
California's landmark Proposition 36 initiative, passed by an overwhelming majority of the state's voters in 2000, has helped tens of thousands of non-violent drug offenders to get access to treatment for the first time. Despite the popular initiative's clear wins--both economic and social-- vested interests that benefit from skyrocketing incarceration rates have continued to fight the proposition. A bill drafted by prosecutors, narcotics cops and a judge who opposed Prop 36, and introduced by Senator Denise Ducheny of San Diego, would radically overhaul Prop. 36 by jailing drug addicts who are currently being treated as a result of that initiative.
"The voters gave us treatment instead of incarceration, and only the voters can take it away," said Glenn Backes of Drug Policy Alliance, "If cops and politicians try to lock up nonviolent drug users instead of providing treatment, then we will stand with the families of Prop. 36 graduates to defend them in Sacramento and in the courts, if need be."
The graduates profiled below are all available for interviews, please contact Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384.
William, Los Angeles, 51
William had been to jail before, but it had never helped him kick the 20 year methamphetamine addiction he picked up while he was in the Navy. The last time he was in court, he thought they would send him back behind bars, but they offered him treatment through Prop. 36. He took the treatment option, and after two years clean and sober, he says that without Prop. 36, the only thing that would have gotten him off of drugs would have been an overdose. Bill credits Prop. 36 with giving him a second chance at marriage and at raising his children. Bill is now a repair maintenance worker for commercial buildings. He is happy to have a bank account, a car and a family. He believes Prop. 36 and lots of prayer helped him find his way.
Gary, Riverside, 49
Gary used drugs for 30 years before he was able to turn his life around. He had lost job after job, as well as his home, and was living in a tent in a canyon when he was picked up on possession charges and offered the choice between years in prison and treatment through Prop 36. Gary was 47 when he entered treatment for the first time in his life. "It was a life or death situation for me," he said, "if I went back to drugs again I would not have made it." After completing an outpatient program, he was able to move in with his daughter and meet his grandchildren for the first time. Gary has two granddaughters who are ages four and seven and a new eight month old baby grandson who he is able to see all the time. He graduated from Prop 36 in February of 2003, and he now has his driver's license, owns two vehicles, has a job and rents an apartment. He just received a promotion to become a manager at an Auto Repair Shop. He continues to attend the 12 step program that provided him with support after he finished his residential treatment, and now leads sessions there.
Paul, Sacramento, 42
Paul has been clean and sober for three years, since he entered treatment under Proposition 36 on May 19th, 2002. He had struggled with drugs since he was 17, and had bounced in and out of jail and prison throughout his life, but his stints behind bars never stopped his addiction--in fact sometimes they made it worse. "Drugs are in every prison," he said. "And since I wanted them, they were easy to find." He had also tried treatment before, but it had never worked for him. But when he entered Prop. 36, he was finally ready for a change. "Prop 36 made the critical difference because the counselors and probation officers really worked with me. Even though I never relapsed, I felt comforted knowing that there was support to fall back on if I did struggle and that they would not send me straight back to jail," Paul said. After graduating from his Prop. 36 program, Paul returned often to the treatment center that had helped him to speak as an alumnus. Because of his efforts, his program began an alumni program where graduates speak to people entering the program about their experiences. Paul is now closer to his teenage children than he has ever been before, and he volunteers to raise money for their high school. He is also very active in his own community, and recently built a fence for a neighbor: he is trying to make up for lost time.