As I have previously posted, I recently applied to college for the cosmetology program.  You would think that even if you are an ex-con, this particular profession would be a safe bet.  You need only be creative and energetic, along with posessing the skills to perform the job, but I’m here to tell ya, it ain’t so.

In order to apply to this program, first, I had to pay a fee to apply.  Once that was done, I paid a fee to apply for the specific program.  Then, I get an acceptance letter that is conditional upon the following: a drug screen, a background check, a physical, a Hep C vaccine and a history of everywhere I have lived in the past decade.  All of this is incredibly costly, and of course has to be paid by me, as the Pell Grant doesn’t cover such nonsense.  Mind you, these are not conditions applied to me for being an ex-offender, it’s for anyone who wants to attend this program. 

Along with paying for all this, I am allowing these people to access not only my criminal background, but my credit history as well.  It’s a complete invasion of my privacy and it’s humiliating, but I want, and I NEED an education in order to have any kind of a future, so I must comply, and in compliance, I must once again relive my past and explain what I’ve done and why I did it.  I have to bow down to these people, tell them how bad I’ve been, and plead for their forgiveness and admission to the school.  This is not my first time going through this process, I was graciously provided a grant several years ago by the Gateless Gate Zen Center in Gainesville, FL, a chance which I regretfully blew through my own inability to maintain self control and motivation.  At that time however, the process was no where near this invasive, this rigorous.  This time it is much harder, nad it has only begun.

In some small way, I can almost understand…maybe they want to insure the safety of the students.  Maybe they want to try to cut down on drug use among students.   Sexual predators, etc.  The problem here is, that with a legal system as corrupt and flawed as this one, it’s the decent people who make mistakes and are trying to get better that get hurt by these practices.  A child molester or a drug dealer isn’t going to go through the trouble of enrolling in college in order to commit more crimes, it’s easy enough to to do his dirt at the local bar after local students are out of or in between classes, or outside in the parking lot, the student lounge, whatever.  I dunno, this just seems incredibly excessive, and it’s because of the computer age and the invasion of Big Brother into our lives, that more and more schools and organizations and companies are enlisting the services of these websites that expose everything a person has ever done in order to dig into the dirt of each and every person they can.  It’s quick and it’s easy, and it’s allowed.  The school has every right to research my entire life, expose my flaws, make me pay for it, and then….deny me admission based on my past mistakes.  Welcome to the modern age of education.

On the other hand, of course, there is the person who has nothing to hide, so why worry about a backgound check?  Sure, it’s an extra couple of hundred bucks out of your pocket just to have someone tell your “superiors” that you’re okay, but hey, you’re okay and that’s all that matters.  Well, to those of you who ARE okay, and especially those who AREN’T…consider this…

Imagine that you’re NOT “okay”.  You become addicted to drugs at a young age, maybe you were even unlucky enough to be born addicted.  So, as addicts do, you run the gammet of all of the downfalls of addiction, including getting caught.  You get caught, go to jail for posessing no more than a weak hit of cocaine.  you lose your house, your car gets impounded, you get fired.  Once upon a time, you were a taxpaying citizen, now you’re homeless and all you can turn to is drugs.  At least if you’re high, you won’t miss your home, you won’t hurt so much.

Your not a criminal, you don’t steal from people and you don’t hurt anyone.  You’re sad and you’re hopeless.  You sell yourself to any pervert willing to use your frail form for his own selfish reasons, and he throws you maybe 20 dollars for your soul.  Sometimes he’s just some lawyer or crooked doctor, sometimes he’s a cop using his position to threaten you and making you do it for free.  Sometimes he’s just as dirty and hopeless as you are and he doesn’t end up even having any money at all. This is the chance you take day after day after day.  When you don’t wanna live anymore, you just don’t care, and the law knows this.  They know you are weak, you are broke, and you are alone.

Soon, you are known by the police, who spend a lot of time watching you walk up and down the road as they patrol the town.   You start getting arrested for trespassing everywhere you go, because they want to get you off the streets, or because they are bored.  Sometimes you ask them why they are harrassing you, and they tell you, it’s because it’s a slow night.   You go to jail over and over, because you are caught with a pipe, or needle, or a pill or some crumbs in your purse of some really weak coke.  You are tired and hopeless and some times when you are arrested you are grateful for a meal and a place to lay down.  It’s bad when your grateful for jail.

Everytime you go to court, you are told by some public defender who was assigned to your case a month or more earlier, whom you have never spoken to or even met, that your only real option is to plead out.  If you plead out, they tell you they can get you outta jail sooner, otherwise you would have to go to trial, and they tell you that you WILL loose, and face more jail time and or prison.  They sell you out, it makes their job easier.

Over and over you get caught for walking somehwere you shouldn’t have.  You get searched everytime the police see you, you are homeless and you are always on the street.  Over and over you are run through the system with a poor excuse for a “public defender” (who are they REALLY defending?) who tells nyou to pead guilty.  And the beat goes on.  The misdemeanors start becoming felonies, and start doing more and more time.  Your only crime; getting high, and you don’t know how to stop.

Years and years later, you try to regain your soul, you try to rebuild your life.  The only one you ever hurt with your addiction is yourself, but you have the criminal background of a habitual offender, for nothing more than walking around doing yourself harm, and selling yourself to the vermin who prey upon women for a perverse thrill.

You apply for your local college, and your criminal record makes you look like some kind of drug peddling sexual predator.  You have to live it over again, explain it, and when the time (hopefully) comes, you will attend the class, all the while knowing that these women know you were a junkie, you were a whore.

Drug addicts are forced over and over again to plea out on charges that are many times grossly inflated.   They sit in jail for a month or more before getting their day in court, and they never talk to their “defender” untill they are brought to the courthouse, many times, not even untill they reach the actual courtroom…in front of the judge!  How much talking can you do with you “defender” at that point?  They are told to plea out and they do.  They think these little charges don’t matter, but OOOH let me tell you, they add up, and they do count.

I would like to tell you a little bit of a graphic story of how the police do their jobs out there, and in jail.

I am walking back to my motel room, tired and hungry and wanting to finally try and sleep.  A truck speeds by me, hits his brakes and makes a u’turn in the middle of US1.  He pulls up next to me and asks if I need a ride.  I am used to this, I am a homeless drugie and I do things when I have to.  Tonight however, I just wanna go to bed.  I accept a ride, and he propositions me.  I know already something is wrong with this guy, and I say no to him.  Please just drop me off.  He doesn’t.  He turns toward a nearby bank machine.  All he keeps asking is “How much?  How much?”

I tell him I will et out and walk, although I am further from my room that I had been when he picked me up.  He pulls a couple of beer outta the back seat, hands me one, opens one for himself and then pulls up to the ATM.  Come on honey he says, just tell me how much to get out.  Aaaand…..she folds. 

A hundred I say.  And it’s over.  SUV’s  swarm in from all directions and I am jerked and slammed and cuffed hard and tights behind my back before I can say the word “coerced”.

 I was arrested  after being up for 3 days.  I was handcuffed before I was searched.  Once I was searched, the officer found 8 pain pills in my bra which I was charged with as a felony.  I was taken to the station  and booked. Once I was taken into the changing room to be searched, they took the cuffs off of me and as I stripped a pill fell out of my bra that they had missed when they searched me.  I had been cuffed the entire time and had no idea they hadn’t gotten all of them when they searched me.  I was charged with the worst kind of felony in jail, Introduction of Contraband.   Oh, and this prostitution charge became a felony because it was my third.  Some real police work there.  Good job, boys.

 I tried over and over again to talk to my “defender” and get help with this, with NO RESPONSE.  For 6 months I sat in jail, going to court from time to time only to be told that the case was postponed, and I had to go back to jail for another month.  Eventually, when my day finally came, the woman whom I had never met who had een “working” on my case told me my only option was to plead guilty.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the pill was there.  It didn’t matter that I had been searched and they missed it.  They didn’t need to prove that I INTENDED to bring it in, only that it was there, that’s all the proof they needed.  I was forced to plead guilty and lost two more years of my life.

Did I need to be taken off the streets?  Of course.   I am sure it saved my life.  Did the cops know that I was just an addict, not some hardened criminal?  Yes, of course.  Being charged with numerous felonies for nothing more than being in posession of a small amound of drugs,  however, has created a profile for me that the new age of computer background checks will reveal to anyone who wants to know, and it only displays the charges I plead guilty to, not the truth behind them.

 I may not have learned from one or two or even three times in rehab, but getting sentanced to rehab over and over as opposed to being charged with felonies over and over again just for getting high would have made it possible for me to clean up and have a future at some point.  No one seems to care that addicts are people who can be rehabilitated, sometimes it takes several attempts, but if one is not violent or harmful to society, what is the purpose of ruining the rest of their life once they get clean?  I never hurt anyone but myself, and the system that saved my life, has ruined my future.

Yes, this is a rant.  I thank you for reading.   I know that there are so many others who are going through this same process.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to voice the plight from an insider point of view.  Addicts are being charged as felons for nothing more than being addicts.  The stigma follows them wherever they go. What happens to them when they get clean?