Community Stories: Drunk or Jail

Community Stories is a blog series giving voice to the experiences of members of our community. Identities are kept secret for their privacy and protection (except when community members choose otherwise) and some details are changed for that reason. But the gist of these stories is true and accurate to the best of our understanding.
Imagine yourself an 18 year old boy. You’re a senior in high school. Your family is poor and emotionally dysfunctional but you’re managing. You earn decent grades and work in the evenings and on weekends at a sit down restaurant, one of those chains with kitsch on the wall and regular food with funny names that seems to you to cost a lot. One day a new girl starts working there. You recognize her from school. She’s a sophomore. The two of you hit it off and soon start dating. After a few months things get serious. She takes you to meet her parents and they don’t like you at all. They aren’t even coy about it. They don’t want their daughter dating “the wrong sort of person” someone with “no future.” Things they actually say to you. She quits the restaurant and is supposed to stay away from you but you keep dating until you get caught. And then you’re in trouble. Big trouble. Her dad presses charges against you for statutory rape. Your parents don’t have the money to fight this legal battle properly. Long story short, you wind up with a rape conviction, a permanent place on the sex offender registry, and your own parents disown you because the whole deal bankrupted them in the process. They never forgive you for ruining their lives. Now you really don’t have a future.
child_protesting_against_hardship_caused_by_strict_sex_offender_policiesThe thing about not having a future is often you still go on living. And the thing about the sex offender registry is there are no degrees or context. Everyone is on one list; whether it was statutory, child porn, rape, or something else, everyone is lumped together on one don’t-employ-or-rent-to-this-person list. And if you’re on the list you are required by law to continually report your home address. That becomes a problem when you experience homelessness, which you’re prone to since the list makes it hard for you to get a job or an apartment. So that becomes your life. Bouncing from one temporary job to another, one sketchy apartment, house, or trailer to another. Sometimes there’s no work and you lose your place. Other times your place gets shut down for health or building code issues or your landlord just does you wrong. In between stable seasons, you stay at homeless shelters and are able to give that as your address to the registry. But shelters have funding tied to programs, so you can only stay in one for so long before you “graduate” out and can’t come back for a set period of time. When things misalign so you’re without a place or a spot at a shelter, you wind up with an additional felony for not reporting an address. Then your address is jail for 4-6 months. And the cycle repeats.
Fast forward. Now you’re 30. That cycle has been your life for 12 years now and the turn around keeps getting shorter. You’re about to “graduate” again. You really don’t want to go back to jail. Then one day, sitting at a day shelter, someone tells you about a possible alternative. There is an addiction recovery organization that has emergency beds for people who show up drunk or high in the evenings. Miraculously, through all of it, you’ve never developed a chemical addiction (besides coffee). Now this guy is telling you the way to avoid prison again is to get drunk or high everyday so you can access one of those emergency beds. You can report that as your address for as long as you’re willing to get wasted everyday. Your first thought is, ‘that is messed up.’ Your second thought is, ‘I will probably lose my job if I do this.’ Your third thought is, ‘I really don’t want to go back to jail right now.’ Drunk or jail. That’s a brutal choice.