There used to be a news, traffic and weather station that had a key phrase. “Know before you go.” I like this line. I think this holds true to more than just traffic and weather. In fact, this holds true to life.
But please, allow me to explain.
Before going forward, I want to be clear that this is something from a personal perspective. I want to be clear that what I’m about to share is based on my experience. This is not to point fingers or say what is right or wrong. Instead, this is to reveal what it was like for me in teen centers and adolescent rehabilitation centers. I want to be clear about something, treatment was a benefit for me. There were others with me at the time. And for them, the outcome did not turn out quite as well. I can say that I know why. I can say that they were inaccurately placed and became part of an institutionalized system that did not get better for them.
I remember coming into a small place in a small, mainly unknown town in upstate New York. This place is no longer in existence. However, at the time, this was a 42-day, inpatient facility. There were other kids there, mainly around my age, but there were some who were exceptionally young. In fact, I swore they were too young for rehab.
Instead, I saw their behavioral problems as a cry for help. I say this because I cried for help in a similar way.
I certainly did not see the need for them to be placed in an inpatient facility. There was no physical addiction. There was also no benefit to them listening to gun stories from stick-up kids, scrounging for crack, or the stories from emancipated runaways that lived on the street. This becomes like an attractive, outlaw image, which people use to hide behind. There were some that were so young they hardly ventured out of puberty, let alone into a crack house or scored heroin from the corner. This is not to say that there weren’t the tragic young kid stories with parents in the drug game. This was very real too. There were kids that were abused. There were kids that were forced to drink at a young age so they would fall asleep so their parents could drink without interruption.
Safe to say there was every kind of kid in this facility. There were kids from white families, black families and Hispanic as well. There were kids from different religious backgrounds. We were all of the above. Some were from wealthy homes. Some were from poor homes. Some of the kids were from New York City, some from the local places in upstate New York. And there were some kids from different parts of the country. We were all different with one similarity. We were all in the same place at the same time.
There were the dope kids on heroin. There were the crackheads, which was me (mixed with heroin too) and there were the crazy kids, the drinkers and the fighters. There were car thieves. There were those who understood the transaction of prostitution. And then there were the little kids, the 12 year-olds whose parents thought they were out of control. Rather than deal with this, unfortunately, the parent shipped them away.
I see parents like this and wonder how they could dedicate themselves to the family dog more than they did their child. I saw parents give up and give their children away and I heard kids say this in group too. I heard them say my mother loves her lifestyle more than she loves me.
There were the kids in need of supervision. They needed help and support. They needed therapy and certainly a behavioral intervention. But what they didn’t need was to be sat with people that struggled with the needle or the crack pipe. There was no need to expose them to these stories or to have them appropriate themselves with the things we called, “Yets.”
Hey, did you ever smoke crack?
Did you ever steal a car?
You ever find yourself on heroin?
Ever been arrested or locked up?
Part of our nature is to find where we belong. Another part of our nature is if we think that we don’t belong, we often try to appropriate ourselves. We liken ourselves to our surroundings, in which case, I have seen little kids enter into the system of treatment centers and come out worse than before. I have seen kids find themselves inaccurately institutionalized to become the very person the treatment was intended to prevent.
I remember back when I was a kid. They had a special name for county jail. They called this “College,” which is where people go to learn how to be a criminal. They even made it sound cool. (See what I mean?)
Image is everything. Fitting is everything. If you can’t fit, the mind finds a way to have the world make sense.
Please understand, I am not saying that jails are not necessary. Nor am I saying treatment is not necessary. What I am saying is find the right place for the right needs.
First, I must say here that I agree; laws must be upheld. However, before going forward, I need to be very clear about something. Laws are intended for law abiding citizens. Those who break laws are unconcerned about the punishments and therefore, laws alone are not a deterrent.
In fact, I watched a young man wait for the state troopers to come and shackle him with hands and feet, cuffed, and connected to a chain around his waist. I saw them escort this young man to the patrol car, place him in the backseat and then I watched them drive away. This young man went to face an 8-year prison term, in which he had no way to defend himself. He was weak, small, and baby-faced with long blonde hair. Not a good look for where he was about to go.
The young man was part of a program where he took treatment over jail. The choice was simple. Get help or go to prison. The problem with his placement is that his treatment was set in a place that was not suited for his needs.
I don’t know what happened to this man. I only know the look on his face. I remember the comments he made about suicide. I know about the talks we had about depression. And I know that drugs were only a symptom.
I know that his dabbling in the drug culture was minimal. His drinking was a bit beyond the amateur level but more, his temper, his background, his experience with trauma and perhaps bullying and insecurity were crippling for him. Why not deal with this before placing him in an inpatient treatment facility.
I know that if perhaps this young man was seen by the right people instead of forced to go along with the disease concepts and 12-step models, perhaps none of this would have happened. He was about 17, maybe 18 years old.
His fellow peers in treatment never knew exactly what his charges were. We only knew about the court mandate and the time he would have to serve. Or, he could have just played ball, which is something I begged him to do.
“Just do what they say,” I told him. “Play along and before you know it, we’ll be out of here!”
I have seen people flush there life away before. I’ve seen people trade their soul for pieces of poison. I’ve watched good kids become criminals. Yet, I never saw anything quite like this.
And dare I say this at the same time, but there’s a catch 22:
I know that without attention to behavior and without some kind of inflexible program, the kids that I met would have never listened. I know that I wouldn’t have listened. I understand that there is a need for discipline and accountability. However, the idea that one size fits all is inaccurate.
I can say this because I remember a 12 year-old girl. She was lost. She was sad but yet, sweet. She was unaware of her qualities and unaware of how she shared herself with others. Especially boys. She was young. She was perhaps mirroring her own mother, whose lifestyle was intimate and friendly with men in front of her young daughter.
At a young age, this poor kid learned that sex creates attention. Sex can be used as a tool or bartered to receive at least a semblance or acceptance; to feel wanted, to be included, and moreover, to simply be invited because to a kid, this means everything to someone when they feel nothing else but unincluded.
I hear people blame parents all the time. I’m not saying that parents always make the right choices. I’m not saying they made the wrong ones either. I do say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. i do say walk a mile in someone else’s shoes first. I say the last person known to walk on water has been gone for a really long time.
However, in my experience, I have met bad kids from great families. Or, perhaps I should say this another way. I have met kids with every advantage in the world, and still, I saw them on methadone lines and strung out with no hope left.
I have met with kids and spoken with others who were away, the same as me. They were away at young ages. And not all were necessary. Not everyone benefited from this. Not everyone’s story was a success.
I can say that my time away was fitting for me. I can say this was helpful. I can say that there were others with me that do not share the same opinions. I can say that yes, there were times of abuse and mistreatment. I can say that after my goal to educate myself and to someday build a program of my own; I can see where the mistakes were made.
I was asked about a program from a parent that wanted to send their child to a drug rehabilitation center. The child was exceptionally young. There were other factors in play. There was other exposure to trauma. There were behavioral issues and issues with medication.
I am not a doctor. I only know that I have seen people on medication and medication alone is not a cure. I have seen people surrender to a diagnosis and allow this label to define them as invalid.
So, what did I tell the Mom about the treatment center she chose?
I invited her to do research.
I invited her to have a deeper discussion with her therapist and learn more about the program and the culture in this program. I encouraged her to find the right fit for her child because not all sizes fit. I did not tell her yes or no. Instead, I suggested to learn her resources.
For the record, I learned more about drugs and the drug culture in rehab. This was my college.
Last week, I saw a video from a girl that was sent away to a therapeutic community. Hers was more like a boot camp situation. And I get it. I know what happens in places like this. I was in a place like this. But then again, I wasn’t. And here it was, a famous doctor sent this young girl to this place. Of course, now that the lawsuits are coming out, the famous doctor is stating, “I did not know about these things.”
But yet, you recommended this place?
I’m up late some nights, just thinking. I’m up late, trying to figure out if there is a right ingredient for mental health. Is there a place like this where all are welcome and nothing like abuse or sleep deprivation is used.
Shit . . .
I remember when I had to sit in a corner and face the wall. I had to walk around with a sign that said, “Ask me why I’m a spoiled brat.”
In fairness, I definitely was a spoiled brat.
I was a lot of things but more than anything, I was someone responding to stimuli. I was behaving on behalf of so many things. Mainly, I was reacting to the emotionally chemical changes in my brain. Perhaps if we started at the source and solved the problems instead of the symptoms; I might have been able to escape a lot of drama.
And I know what this is. This is me ranting. I doubt most people care, but I do.
I care a lot.
There is no theft worse than the theft of a childhood.
Same as I want mine back; I want the same for the kid whose mom called me.
I want the same for a 17 year-old senior in my town whose recent car wreck led to the death of a 16 year-old girl. They call this vehicular manslaughter. They were drinking. They were partying and high. One is dead. The others in the car were hurt. And the driver?
Man, this kid’s life is over now. The hard part for me to swallow is his life hasn’t even begun yet.
Where the hell are we going?