Tag Archives: recidivism

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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This I believe

As a kid, I remember my mother waking up early every morning, and in twenty below zero Chicago weather, heading out to board the CTA bus for work. This strong woman had been through more than I could ever imagine.

I watched her leave my father because he was involved in drug trafficking. After some time she started dating and her boyfriend moved into our apartment. Jose expressed his affection for my mother by slapping and punching her. One day I jumped between his swinging fists. I begged him to stop…but I was too small to make a difference. Punched to the ground, all I could do was weep beside my mother. Our neighbors never responded to the sound of our cries.

Things are better now and my mom is no longer with Jose. Regrettably, I chose a path of drug addiction and crime. I lived and begged on the street, robbed people at knifepoint, and even stole from the purse of the woman I once tried to protect as a little boy. Eventually, the Cook County Department of Corrections taught me that the fast lane does not run forever.

I was given more than a second chance at life during my six-month incarceration in the Cook County jail. I received the gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness. As I worked through my recovery behind bars, I was humbled by the people who responded to the burdens of their drug-addicted neighbor. However, when a prisoner is released from jail, they are likely to return to a community that is not conducive to rehabilitation. According to the Department of Justice, seven out of ten released prisoners are rearrested within three years.

But by the grace of God, I was literally met at the prison gate by fellow Christians who welcomed me into the church. Life Church in Wheaton, IL chose to do the risky thing and let a convicted criminal into their congregation, into their Bible studies, and even into their homes for dinner and fellowship. They did not judge me, nor did they allow me to be lost in the vicious cycle of arrest and re-arrest that is often the American criminal justice system. These particular Christians knew they did absolutely nothing to earn God’s love, yet he loved them anyway. They knew that sharing God’s love was the true and right response to receiving what had been freely given to them.

As graduation approaches, I am truly overwhelmed by the love that radically changed my life. Because of the love I have received, I have been able to forgive the neighbors who ignored my mother’s cries. Because of the love I received, I am compelled to share that love with others. I have learned that humans are dualistically capable of committing great acts of evil and great acts of love, for I am one of them.

It is no doubt that my experiences as a victim of domestic violence and as a recipient of undeserved forgiveness and love have influenced my passion for social justice. Today, I urge everyone who has received God’s forgiveness and love to realize that they too have done nothing to earn it. Because of this, I believe it is not an option or special calling to share God’s liberating love with others. However, sharing the Gospel is more than just sharing words; it is sharing works as well. The story of the Gospel is one in which God chose to leave the good place of heaven and identify with all of oppressed humanity, by taking on their burdens and liberating them from the bondage and consequences of sin. It is this act that compels me to identify with the struggles of those who are oppressed by unjust systems in the world.

We live in a world with crying neighbors everywhere; where some cries are never heard because injustice is deeply embedded into our nature as fallen human beings from our largest to our smallest institutions. Injustice in the world puts people in bondage, but God desires his people to be free, that they may worship her.

Therefore, I choose not to ignore the muffled cries of the oppressed.  I choose to resist building my life only focused on my own family, and to reject any inclination to seek guilt-absolving ignorance or amnesia about the evils of this world. I seek to live in a way where I identify with the least of these and learn about their burdens as best as I can. I am no longer too small to fight back when injustice is present, nor do I fear the threats of any man who tries to stop me. I believe God’s love for humans grants them a unique value higher than any other part of his creation. My hope is for all humans to seek in the best and most sincere way as possible to eradicate human suffering and to ensure that the spreading of God’s love is not impeded by injustice in the world.