Jail… the Ultimate Time Out for Addiction

Image, handcuffs woman


“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.


Author: Barbara Stoefen

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  1. It is difficult to deal with the situation. Only after you’ve been down the road do you understand. I see the government spending money but it doesn’t seem to make difference. When you come to the realization that you are no longer dealing with your child, you are dealing with and addict. There is no reasoning, there is no common sense, you are only along for the ride they take you through. Everyone sinks, you just hope they get to the bottom, before you do.
    I have a suggestion that we spend the “opioid program” money on testing inmates upon first arrival at a prison. Those that test positive get treatment.
    We had many sleepless nights not knowing if we would get a phone call about an overdose or death. We were aware that there was a bench warrant for our daughter and assisted the police to meet and pick her up. She was admitted to prison for missing a court hearing for shoplifting. Although she had missed three hearings, she was out in 24 hours. We tried to keep her out of the drug environment, but she create a scene out in public on day 3, the police arrived, took custody and released her to one of her drug environment friends. After not showing up to meet her PO in one county she spent 120 days (90 day request) in jail for probation violation. She went to the next county for a hearing and was given a choice of jail or rehab. She went to rehab for about 20 of 28 days before being administratively released for having sex with another patient. Both the rehab and my daughter were to report the status to the PO. Neither one did. She was picked again and sent to jail for 60 (now 72) days for the probation violation. The longer it goes the less hope and determination I get back.
    I am okay with her being in jail and get nervous as each release date approaches, not knowing how to deal with the next step. Will it be forward or backward.
    Her attitude seemed greatly changed this time, but she got a letter from an old (drugged) boyfriend and we are back on the roller coaster again. We had a planned vacation for early December but may cancel because supervising our daughter and helping her get a life, an honest life on track is much more important.

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  2. Glad to see these post. My son is currently in jail for FTA’s, drug charges. He called last night and wanted me to come pick him up. I said NO. Yes it was hard. He said it’s a signature bond only. I said NO. I know he he will have FTA if I get him out. I know he saying what he thinks I want to hear. Manipulation and saying I’ll do whatever you want. He can stay there til court. My issue is why the court would give a signature bond when he has FTA’s, that I dint get. Anyway, I have to stay strong and pray a lot.

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  3. I run the County Jail. Most of the inmates are for drug related offenses but mental illness is coming on strong. Georgia closed its mental health hospitals and sent the patients to be inmates. I have aat with many parents who tell me to keep their child as long as possible. They simply need the “relief” incarceration gives them. Sad, but true.

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    • I absolutely agree with many parents who want their drug addicts to stay in jail which is safer than in street. I have experience with my stepson who do not change his way even got arrested five times within 3 months

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    • The heavy metals in vaccinations are destroying our children brains (many independent studies that show neurotoxicity get squashed by pharma run media and government), followed later by the highly available self medicating recreational drugs, and we have ourselves an epidemic…….. but Big Pharma wins big.

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  4. Your story Matches mine to a T but my daughters drugs of choice were crack /cocaine/Barbituate/Alchol and pretty much any pill she got her hands on including my own… as Hard as it was I HAD to leeve her in jail thats the only place i knew she was safe and away from the drugs even if for 24hrs until court…..She still loaths what i did and is still active evwn after giving birth to my first grandchild (son) she posted apic of her high as a kite all i did was pray pray pray that whole day almost obsessively…. And i know when shes hit her bottom shell come to me its the waiting that rips at my Heart ….. You did the right thing even thou its so hard and emotional…im proud of you from one Mom to the other Xoxo

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    • Thank you for sharing, Annmarie. We both know that loving a child in active addiction is painful, and requires a lot of us. It was my experience that getting healthy myself was the best way I could help my daughter. Giving it up to God also helped me let go of my controlling behavior, and my fear too. Don’t give up on her, and try to “raise” the bottom if you can. Blessings.

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  5. I’ve had many clients say that jail was the best thing that ever happened to them. Sometimes it takes drastic measures to halt the inexorable slide towards rock-bottom.

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  6. I love this line, Barbara, “Of course I don’t want you in jail, Annie. But I didn’t put you there.” I have heard of a number of parents who found that while that was never their wish, jail helped to save their child. So amazing that your daughter continues to visit to spread recovery. Thank you!

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    • Thank you so much for the comment, Cathy. 85% of those lodged in our county jail are there for drug-related offenses. That’s a wild number, huh? I tried to urge the Sheriff to launch some kind of inpatient treatment, but the funding just isn’t there. Maybe some day…

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  7. Thank you for this wonderful post. I feel less alone.

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    • Glad you stopped by. Please visit this site at any time… you have friends here.

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  8. The end of your post gave me goosebumps. Praying for similar endings to those still suffering.

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    • Amen to that, Pamela. (And Annie’s recovery still gives me goosebumps!)

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  9. Annie!!! Your awesome!!!
    Barb, thank you for beimg real. Helpful to hear as I have addicts in my family recovered and not recovered. Love your perspective

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    • Thanks Stacey! Yep… Annie is awesome all right. She continues to amaze me with who she is, and who she is still becoming. RE your family, as long as there is life, there is hope. Love you, my friend.

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  10. Just wanted to say thanks for this post. My son has been incarcerated for a year and a half and has a couple of years to go. While I hate every moment and pray continually for his safety, he has been clean and sober the whole time. He has even quit smoking. I have my bright, intelligent, witty, good hearted, compassionate and loving son back. I know, as does he, that this is the beginning of recovery, not the end. But at least he is on the right path. God is good and in control. I finally know we will get through this and we will be stronger for it.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Ellen. I know lots (really!) of people for whom jail/prison launched their recovery, and am so glad to hear this has been true for your son. Yes indeed, God is good… and in control. Wishing you and your family all good things.

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