Pardon Me

I have a bit of a confession to make.  About 10 years ago, I had a drug problem.  It progressed as one might expect, and, as a result, I ended up a convicted felon.  Stop for a moment, and think about those last two words.  I'm betting that, without even a thought, they evoked an immediate negative response.  It's not your fault.  We've been conditioned to respond that way, myself included.  The problem is, in a society where just about every human endeavor carries with it a zero-tolerance policy, it takes relatively little to become a felon.
When I first got out of prison, I was curious as to how I would be welcomed back into society, if at all.  So, I posted my background (anonymously, of course) on a number of internet forums.  I tried to make them as varied as possible.  I wrote that I'd recently gotten released from prison for drug possession, and that I'd done 2½ years for what the state deemed a "non-dangerous, non-repetitive" crime.

The responses I got were, for the most part, negative.  I expected that.  I did commit a crime, after all.  Though, in my defense, I can honestly say that I never committed any of the crimes usually associated with drug use (theft, fraud, domestic violence, and the like).

What I didn't expect was the level of venom associated with those negative responses.  Up to, and including, death threats (posted anonymously, of course).  What I learned from it was that, by and large, most believe that my debt to society will never be fully paid.  That even my small trespass warrants a lifetime of second-class citizenship, no matter how well I live my life from here on.

So, I've come to accept that because of my mistakes, there will be certain things I will never have in this life.

I'll never have a job that will pay enough for me to own my own home, or retire, or have anything other than basic first aid as health care.  I won't be able to buy my right to vote back, or own a firearm. (on that point, the only thing that would make me consider owning a firearm is the complete collapse of civilization, in which case, having permission to do so would be moot).

I've resigned myself to spending the rest of my days doing menial work in one service industry or another.  So be it.  In the scheme of things, I still have it better than most of the people on this planet, whose lives are often hard, brutal, and short.  So, if I'm to serve, I'll endeavor to do it well.

Back in the days of sailing ships, if a sailor was found guilty of some transgression, the punishment was  usually swift and severe.  But afterward, when the 40 lashes, or whatever were done with, he was once again a member of the crew, and the incident was never spoken of again.  It was simple economics, of course.  There were a finite number of able-bodied men aboard ship, so they were of value.   Now, there are more of us.  So many, in fact, that even the best of us are considered inherently expendable.

So, I have a question for those of you who would wish me, and those like me, dead; Those for whom the claim of good citizenship is marked by the simple ability to follow orders.  What happens when there are more of us, than there are of you?

Yeah, I don't know, either.


Joe Pereira said...

The bigots of this world will look down at you in order to try to elevate themselves, to gloat at being 'better' than you but of course we know they are not; and deep down they also know they're not, hence their bitterness. In reality they are worse, much worse than all your minor misdemeanours. To err is human. Those anonymous people are nasty low-life evil shits; and that leads me to answer your last question; "a much better world it will be"

Louis Wu said...

Thanks, Joe. It's that kind of logic and kindness that gets me through the day.

Jon Nichols said...

Hi Louis,

First off, you left me a wonderful comment on my blog and somehow I lost it. However, I did not want to let it go without thanking you.
Second of all, my day job is at an agency that does drug treatment. Addiction is a disease. Period. It is not an ethical question. "Zero tolerance" affords no room for mercy and consideration of the individual circumstance. I'm glad you're better and doing well now, Louis. Your writing and contributing already make the world a better place.