A young man in our community met with his probation officer yesterday. His original charge is for assault. He got into a fight with his cousin. Yesterday, he failed his drug test. That was not surprising.
His probation officer gave him a requirement to go to “such and such” place for a mental health and addiction evaluation. At first look, this seems like a merciful, and even helpful, consequence. Let’s provide assistance to the addict, rather than just throw him in jail.
The young man came to me with the official paper handed to him by his probation officer. It included the details of the organization where he is to report, a phone number and an assigned case worker. The instructions read that he is to report to this place within five days.
I pointed out the phone number and told him to call. He took the phone and in a few minutes came back to me and said, “It was just a recording, something about today being the color green. Maybe I dialed the wrong number?” I took the phone and dialed the number myself. Yes, a recording answered. The color of day is regarding addicts who are required to “check in,” but the recording went on to list the names of different personnel and instructions for pressing different numbers to reach them. I listened for the name of his assigned case worker. She wasn’t listed. Finally, I pressed 0 to reach an operator. A message came on asking me to wait on hold.
I handed the phone to him and told him to wait for someone to come on the line and then explain that he has been ordered by his probation officer to come there. Ask how he is to do that. A few minutes later he came back with the explanation that they only take “walk ins” on Thursdays from 9am-2pm. Okay, so that means he has to go tomorrow. If he waits til next Thursday, it will be more than the allowed for five days.
He said, “I also have to show my ID.” His wallet was stolen a few weeks ago by “who knows who” in the homeless camp. Sigh. “Okay, that means we have to go get you a new ID today.”
We then looked at the address. It is in Edmond. Edmond is the suburb north of our city. I know that there is one bus that goes to Edmond. So I jumped online on my computer to help him figure out what time to catch the bus and where to change buses. I entered the information several times, in several different ways, and discovered that the only bus that will get him there on Thursday arrives at 2:05pm. Too late.
There is no way that this young man could even understand the instructions for what is required of him without help. And there is no possible way that he can even meet the requirements. His probation officer knows that he lives outside, on the southeast side of the city, that he has no transportation.
When I started huffing and puffing and blustering my frustrations, my young friend shook his head and said, “It’s my own damn fault.” Yes. Yes, it is. I appreciate his honesty, and to an outsider it might even look like humility. But really, it’s shame. The shame of addiction. The shame of being entirely dependent upon other people to help. The shame of failure, once again.
Codependency, enabling, “when helping hurts,”—these things are all very real, and figuring out what are the best ways to help is complicated and messy. We cannot live other people’s lives for them. I cannot prevent someone from putting the meth pipe in his mouth again. And there are consequences for every choice we make.
But sometimes the mountain of failure and shame is just too big, too hard to climb, and the path is impossible to trek alone. In Community, we climb the trail together. We hold each other’s hand. And when we have the ability, we make the mountain lower. We take away some of the rocks. We move obstacles out of the way. And we cheer each other on, “Yes, the hike is hard, but you can do hard things! Don’t give up!”
Yesterday, I helped my friend get a new ID, and today, one of the rare folks in our Joe’s Community who has a car is taking our young friend to his mental health and addiction evaluation. The gas is being paid for by our Community Fund—dollars and pennies dropped into the bucket every Sunday to help take care of one another. Today, my friend is holding his head up high, and making yet another attempt to scale the mountain that is his life, and this time, he just might summit.
Or maybe he won’t.