Dear Judges of America’s Justice System: Addicts need treatment not jail

**Below is a letter I recently submitted to the Second Municipal District Court in Skokie, Illinois, on behalf of my brother who was awaiting sentencing for drug-related charges. I am sharing this because I believe it applies to so many of our brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, mommas and daddies who are plagued by addiction. While most people who use illicit drugs do not get addicted, this letter is written on behalf of those who do.

January 2, 2014

To The Honorable Judge William T. O’Brien:

My big brother Bobby and I were once one and the same. We grew up under the same conditions inside of the same home. Yet, today our lives seem to be irreconcilably different, as he is awaiting judgment in your courtroom and I am on the first winter break of my first year in graduate school. I believe the key to my brother’s successful rehabilitation and reentry as a productive, addiction-free, member of society can be found in my and Bobby’s divergent paths.

I snorted my first line of heroin with Bobby on the night our father was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison. I was 13 years old and Bobby was 18. Fortunately for me, I was eventually admitted into a residential school for “at-risk” youth called, Mooseheart. Here, I discovered my knack for academics. I graduated at the top of my class, but what I had in “book smarts,” I lacked in common sense. My flirtation with heroin at 13 paved the way for my illicit affair with it at 18.

During my years of active addiction, Bobby and I were virtually inseparable until I was incarcerated at the Cook County Jail in 2008. I completed the HRDI rehabilitation program in jail, but after seven years of heroin and cocaine addiction, a four-month program behind bars would have hardly been enough to keep me sober without a long-term, voluntary, aftercare program. Unfortunately, most people who cannot afford the legal representation that is necessary to avoid jail-time come from communities with little-to-no access to the resources of the middle and upper strata of society.

The key to my success was completing a transitional living program called the Koinonia House in Wheaton, Illinois. At the K-House, I gradually transitioned into “freedom,” while still having protections and support groups around me to keep me safe from myself. During the 15-month program I enrolled in community college courses and stayed “plugged-in” to productive sectors of society. Upon graduation from the program, I received the Chuck Colson Scholarship for ex-prisoners at Wheaton College in Illinois. Earlier this year I earned my B.A. in Sociology and now I am at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Bobby has the same desire and ability that I did to achieve long-term sobriety and build a positive, productive quality of life. However, Bobby will neither receive the full treatment that he needs for recovery inside of jail nor overcome his addiction without a long-term gradual and therapeutic transition into “freedom.” You may ask why I was able to get “clean” and Bobby has not, but the hard answer is that heroin and cocaine addictions are unpredictable and relentless beasts.

I know that having a sincere heart and will power was not enough for me to achieve long-term sobriety. I am only here because of the 15 months that I spent gradually transitioning into freedom, in a therapeutic, supportive, and in my case religious community. Bobby is no different from me in this regard. I would humbly plead that your Honor would grant Bobby this chance to free himself from his own prison of addiction via a long-term residential TASC program. Indeed, as I am sure you know, he has three little girls who desperately need him to get his act together…but he cannot and will not do it alone. Thank you for your time and work.

Respectfully submitted,

Daniel I. Aguilar

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6 thoughts on “Dear Judges of America’s Justice System: Addicts need treatment not jail

  1. anniemouse2018

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this letter. You are such a blessing. I need to ask a judge for treatment options instead of jail for an upcoming probation violation hearing this week. I was on summary probation for a 3rd time DUI and managed to get another DUI just 4 months after my release from jail. The new charge was result of my poor decisions with alcohol following a series of traumatic life events that followed my time in custody. The new DUI will be an automatic felony because of my previous charges and will be considered my 4th. I served was 140 days for my 3rd and it destroyed my life. I was immediately remanded from court and therefor lost my job, my apt and many friends along with some family support. Jail did nothing to help me with the issue that landed me there in the first the place. I needed treatment not jail, I just wasn’t sure how to ask for it. I’m sure I’ll be assigned an overworked public defender that won’t have time to plea my story or background to the judge. I’m hoping a letter pleading for treatment instead of jail will help me. This posting has helped me more than you know. THANK YOU!

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  2. kathi

    My son is awaiting sentencing for armed robbery, with a fake gun . He is only 18 yrs old and is addicted to heroin . The prosecuter says he does not qualify for a DOSA because of the crime . which here in washington is a drug treatment while in prison . a shorter jail sentence and treatment after jail . They are refusing to give my son a chance at treatment .
    We are all glad that he is safe from himself while in jail , even him .
    I am looking for a way to convince the court to realize that my son is not violent , and he was very sick with his addiction ! and that he should be treated for his illness while in prison .
    the court knows our family . My son had come forward about being molnested from a family freind just a couple years ago . the man was sentenced to 3 years prison . Then he was involved in another situation where his testimony helped them to prosecute a man that was sentenced to 20 years ib prison !
    It is beyond me why they will not help him , !!

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  3. Pingback: A Personal Prayer of Repentance | The Tattered Rose

  4. The Tattered Rose Post author

    Reblogged this on The Tattered Rose and commented:

    Ending Mass Incarceration won’t be easy. In addition to legislative changes, judges need more discretion and compassion in their sentencing. Addicts, who constitute a large portion of the correctional population, need treatment not jail. I know I did.

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