“Mom! You’ve got to get me out of here!” I remember my daughter saying exactly this the very first time she was booked into our county jail. Heartsick that her meth addiction had come to this, I wrestled with what to do. I wanted to fix things for Annie, and help right her wrongs. Isn’t that what parents are supposed to do?
News that her child is in jail is probably the second-to-most dreaded phone call a mom can receive. Until Annie’s call that day, I’d never known anyone who’d been in jail. At least not that I was aware of. My life had been that safe, that protected. When my dad was in the FBI, he was someone who put people in jail. How could it be that my own daughter was now there? And what was I supposed to do about it?
If I bailed her out, dusted her off, dried her out and pointed her in the right direction… again…would she even go in that direction? Or would she do what most who suffer from drug addiction do, which is to keep using drugs?
And what about consequences? If I bailed her out, would she learn that regardless of her recklessness and illegal behavior, someone would always come to her rescue?
It had always been hard for me to let my daughter take her falls. Overly sensitive and emotionally fragile, I wanted to protect her from the hard stuff of life. When she took spills as a toddler, my brother used to joke that Annie was in tears even before hitting the ground. So imagine how much greater her distress, and mine, that she was now behind bars.
As I considered the scenario before me, the answer that ultimately came was counter-intuitive for sure: Do nothing. Do absolutely nothing.
“Mom! You don’t want your daughter in jail do you?!” she later screamed at me.
“Of course I don’t want you in jail, Annie. But I didn’t put you there.”
After the initial shock of that first incarceration, the multiple incarcerations that followed became old hat…for both me and my daughter. In fact, in a nutty sort of way, I grew to welcome her time in jail. Only the parent of an addict can understand this. Our children are, most typically, drug free during these lodgings, getting “three squares” a day, and at least in my county, safer in jail than on the streets.
Do I think people with addiction problems belong in jail? Some do highly illegal things… sometimes violent things for which incarceration is appropriate. But the solution to addiction lies in prevention and treatment. Locking sick people up does not change them, or make them better. But that’s a discussion for another day. What I do believe, however, is that jail can nevertheless be an effective time-out, and even more importantly, provide an opportunity for intervention.
My daughter now says that only handcuffs stopped her. Jail provided a needed respite of clean time for the fog to clear and her damaged brain to begin to function again. With little to do but sit, it’s a place to envision a new start, and to hit the reset button.
In Annie’s case, it was actually jail that provided the launch pad to treatment. With a compassionate PO, a willing DA and an insightful judge, our family was able to assemble and execute a plan that would have proved impossible with Annie a moving target on the streets. For this cooperation, I am forever grateful to the Deschutes County judicial system.
Annie’s trip to treatment was nearly nine years ago and she has since returned to jail dozens of times… as a volunteer carrying the message of recovery.