A friend of mine relapsed recently. He’s 56 years old, and he goes to the Parole Board next year so they can determine if he is suitable for release back into society. This will be the 15th time he’s gone to the board in the 29 years of his incarceration. Every time he has been found unsuitable, particularly over the last twenty years, it has been because of his addiction.
I want to help my friend, but we both feel boxed in by CDCR policy. In a perfect world, my friend could reach out to a staff member, preferably in the medical department, and ask for help. But as policy is constituted now, CDCR can only deal with his problem in a disciplinary context. What that means is this: My friend goes, tells someone he has relapsed. They are obligated to write a statement that will then be placed in his central file. He’ll be placed in a state-mandated substance abuse program. And a record will be created that the Parole Board will examine to see if he is suitable for release. In addition to writing a statement, CDCR will also begin drug testing him. The first time he fails a test, he will be issued a disciplinary write-up. The Board will have no choice but to find him unsuitable, for at least another three years.
So my friend hides his drug problem. He stays right in his cell, where his other addicted associates can easily find him. He starts missing work and his behavior grows more erratic. Eventually he gets caught with a home-made needle or something, and gets a write-up. Same result.
He and I have discussed this during his periods of sobriety. During those times, he is often terrified, because he knows he’s caught in a cycle, and if he doesn’t find a way to change things, he’ll die in here. He’s already losing his family. Not too long ago, his youngest son cut off all contact, because he couldn’t understand why his father kept getting in trouble and wouldn’t come home.
I propose that the CDCR treat relapse as a medical issue, create places for people to go when they need to detox, and refrain from allowing the Parole Board access to a person’s relapse history if they have voluntarily tried to address it.
Treating relapses as medical issues would enable the CDCR to document these instances in a person’s medical file instead of the general file that the Parole Board accesses. Furthermore, it would be the beginning of decoupling drug addiction from criminal activity.
My friend has expressed on multiple occasions the challenge of trying to leave drugs alone, while staying in the same location.
After all, relapse is a part of recovery, and it would be great to see CDCR policy on the side of recovery. I don’t want my friend to die in here.
Written by James King
James recently had his sentence commuted by Governor Brown and will go before the parole board as early as this spring, to be considered for release. He is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.
You may write to him at the following address:
James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974
James King is a writer. Some of his influences are James Baldwin, Angela Davis, his hometown of Ferguson, Mo, and that all oppression must be eradicated. He writes to introduce marginalized perspectives, and he writes to feel whole. Read more about James.