"I don't like this story..." Cindy is speaking, a somewhat squat pug-nosed girl with dark curly hair, who, when on the first day of class we were told to write an introduction about ourselves and then share in groups, had written an entire page telling us what a great writer she is. I had had her pegged as a hardcore liberal, but then there was this. "...I just can't sympathize with the protagonist. Drug addicts only have themselves to blame. They just need to stop doing drugs."
I look up, startled, and make eye contact with who else but Misha, the cute prim Persian girl who always wears the most elegant clothing, never has a hair out of place. But we share an instant moment, a "what the FUCK did she just say??" look. Maybe there's more to Misha then I thought. And for myself, the professional bee expert who has never once mentioned drugs or illegal activities or any such shenanigans, no one there would probably guess that just the previous night at 3am I was picking my dear friend up from jail, just another little blip in her 13 years of fighting addiction.
A Month Ago
We'd very suddenly lost our previous office manager after she out of the blue one Sunday drunkenly called the boss and almost-incoherently ranted at him, the only takeaway from it being that she said she quit. We never heard from her again, she never even came by to pick up her stuff. We'd known she was a recovering meth addict, we speculated that maybe she had relapsed. Who knows, we didn't love her particularly, so: moving on.
I had been almost reluctant to even mention the position was open to my dear friend Shalane. I knew she'd been looking for a job for weeks (months?). It was very hard for her to get hired, since she has such a long record of relapses and jail time (mainly parole violations, see also: relapses). But I figured what the hey, I'd mention it to her at a time I wasn't in the office, not be part of the hiring process at all. Wash my hands of it.
When I had first met her, she was still a teenager, and straight edge -- didn't even drink. Back then we all hung around the local coffee shop every evening drinking beer from covered coffee cups. Back then I had a green mohawk. We had a great summer that year, long warm summer evenings drinking with friends and having adventures ... and when I came back from school the following year I found the entire former crew was now either in jail, homeless, or going to AA meetings. Even the coffee shop was no-longer the same, had become a Starbucks.
I attended AA meetings with my friends, have probably been to way more than most non-addicts (it reminded me of a little of church, if church were real and the parishioners were actually all genuinely sure that if they strayed from the bath they were doomed), and soon, unfortunately, I was getting up before dawn every Sunday to drive hours out into the high desert to visit Shalane in Banning jail. I still had my green mohawk but I'd wear nice slacks and a white collared shirt, and the guards would smile good-naturedly at me. I'd talk to Shalane through a glass pane with a shitty telephone receiver, just like in the movies. Shalane looked like a tiny pixie next to her burley scary-looking female cellmates. They were apparently very curious as to who I was, because every other visitor was also burley and scary looking, whether male or female.
In later years, she was lucky enough to be in the "Musick" facility, AKA "the Farm," just miles from where I live. There was no glass wall in the visitor area there, and the other inmates in the female ward actually contained a lot of normal looking or even cute girls -- the Orange County DUI pool mainly.
More recently she was in OC Central off Flower Street, where the guards treat me, now long since mohawkless, like I must be some kind of criminal myself. The glass is thicker and smudgier than ever.
"Who's this Shaleen?" my boss asked. The crafty fellow had foiled my plot to be uninvolved in the decision, by utilizing a device called a "phone" (always one step ahead!) to call me. "I really like her resume, she sounds perfect. She says she knows you?" Damn. Cornered. Do I help my friend or give my boss the whole honest lowdown? Ethical quandary!
I hemmed and hawed, saying I have never worked with her and can't speak to her abilities pertaining to the position. Noted that she has had a ahem slightly checkered past with drug problems. Boss was undeterred, after all, he has some exciting stories about life in jail. He had tended bees on The Farm years ago. Fellow inmates had called him "the yellowjacket" and steered clear of him after someone attempting to shank him was hospitalized.
She came in for an interview, and despite her past, and her talking openly of her past, and her needing to turn herself in the next day and serve ten days for a past bad decision (her on-again-off-again boyfriend "Beef" (seriously) had talked her into skipping out on probation and moving to Nor Cal for a few months), Dave hired her. So we went another ten days without an office manager on our faith that she'd work out. I must admit I was pretty anxious that this would all end badly and the whole debacle would be blamed on me. The morning she was to start I picked her up at 3am from the narrow canyon between a parking garage and the the giant dystopian edifice that is OC Central Jail. There was a foggy mist in the air, which illuminated by the sepiatone streetlights gave the whole scene a surreal quality. The imposing doors of the spaceport-like jail building stood silently, deserted looking, until they suddenly disgorged one lonely girl into the cold night.
As it turns out, I was shocked by how competent she turned out to be in the workplace. She was smart and professional and organized and totally on top of everything. After two weeks Dave commented that she was "so far by far the best office manager we've had as judged by the two week mark." Her life outside of work was still a bit of a mess but she kept it together in the office, seemed to flourish there. Dave, wanting to help her, volunteered to pay for therapy for her to help her get the rest of her life together.
And then today a major wrench was thrown at us from on high.
Today: Gone Again
This afternoon Shalane and I were in the office. She stepped outside into the pleasant warm sun to call her Parole Officer. Little dust mote things drifted lazily in the air and caught the sun, seeming to glow. Shalane could only use phone on speaker mode after it had somehow been dropped in pistachio icecream the other day, so she paced the far end of the parking lot. Told her PO that she had done some drug last week, which by the grace of god hadn't resulted in a melt-down. She thought honesty would be the best policy. But the PO told Shalane she needed to immediately enroll herself in a 90 day program or go to jail. Being enrolled in the program is a full time thing, it of course precludes working for us.
Now, granted, obviously, she shouldn't have used, but I am very upset with the PO's decision on this matter. She's been in programs before, she's been in programs for 13 years and it hasn't worked. Now she has a different opportunity, a good job she loves and is good at, with people who care about her and will support her as much as they can. And if we were anyone other than us, she'd have just lost this job forever.
She had a close call last week, but she'd still have a good job, a unique opportunity, a very valuable support to help her get her life together, extra motivation to really not fuck this up. But, if we were nearly any other company, we'd be done with her now, and she'd just be in for yet another 90 day program where she could go and feel deeply depressed about having fucked things up again, and if she came out sober, in my opinion it would (will) be despite the program, not because of it.
According to the official Orange County Probation Office website, their mission statement identifies their goals as to (1) Reduce Crime; (2) Assist the Courts in Managing Offenders; (3) Promote Lawful and Productive Lifestyles; (4) Assist Victims. I don't see how taking a girl who's been offered a rare opportunity at a good job and forcing her back into the program meat-grinder for the umpteenth time makes any progress towards any of those goals. Frankly I think having a good job with supportive people is going to do more for her. I'm pretty sure the basic goal of the parole office is to reduce "recidivism," return to criminal activity, and some quick googling hasn't gotten me an answer but I'm pretty sure having a good job does more for that then a draconian drug program.
Now maybe you're saying "why are you still friends with this girl?" and "its her own damn fault." But you must understand, its NOT actually her fault. From the moment she drank her first alcohol or smoked her first pot, things I'm pretty sure 99 and 90%, respectively, of you have done at least once, she was doomed, because she is physiologically prone to addiction. "There but for the grace of god go I," as the phrase goes, and you or I or that know-it-all Cindy would be in the exact same position, except we've been more fortunate.
So this afternoon I found myself once again driving her to a form of incarceration, a depressing reverse of her arrival. In a month she should be able to work again, and we're saving her job for her.
Random fact: years ago, she drew the userpic used on this entry for me.
In wildly unrelated news, I rescued two man-overboard persons from another vessel at sea in gale conditions last Sunday, too bad it didn't fit the prompt. ;)