Our criminal justice system is not without problems. From lack of programs to help people to criminalizing mental health issues. What I’ve learned in my own life is there are ways that create a more meaning impact with better results than to utilize the system the way we do now, especially for our young people who are just starting out, still testing boundaries and not yet at the point of settling down as they sow their wild oats before determining their path in life.
As a new adult, having freshly finished boot camp, I made a bad decision that could have altered my life forever. I had a few days break before checking in to my training school to start my career field, I went home to party with old friends one last time. I had a few drinks and was likely over the driving limit and even though I felt fine in my own mind, I made the stupid decision to drive over to a friends that wasn’t far down the road. I got pulled over. I can’t remember why I got pulled over in the first place but regardless there I was, flashing lights in my mirror and a fear clutching my heart as all I could think in that moment was my career going down the drain.
The officer smelled the alcohol on my breath right away. He saw my uniform in the backseat and asked me about my military status. I told him how I just completed boot camp and was saying goodbye to friends one last time. He was a human being. It wasn’t just black and white to him. He knew the seriousness his next actions could have on the rest of my life. I wasn’t a bad person. I never harmed anyone. I partied as a teen but I also held down a job, finished my education, and pursued a career in the military all while living on my own since the age of 15. I could have been a statistic but I worked hard to not be. But I made a stupid decision that day and my future was held in the balance by the officer outside my car door.
Shortly after, another officer pulled up behind the one at my window and in that moment I felt defeated. But the words that came out that officers mouth changed everything. He gave me a quick lecture and told me to get to my friends house and don’t repeat the same mistake again. My friend was literally two streets away. I wasn’t incoherent or intoxicated to the point of being sloppy but I was sure it would have registered over the limit. I very carefully drove out of the parking lot and went to my friends house down the street, in shock over my 2nd chance. I never drank and drove again beyond the 2 drink limit. (I could hold my alcohol back in the day, I think 2 sips would blur my vision these days as I don’t drink and haven’t really in probably 15 years).
That officer could have changed my life in ways that would have had lasting effects and limit my opportunities to succeed. Being in the system changes things. I’ve watched a friend who struggled quite a bit, being in the system. When she finally changed her life, she found herself stuck. No one wanted to hire a felon. No one wanted to rent an apartment or house to a felon. Simply having a record kept her from having a life that would keep her from falling back into the system. If it wasn’t for her father owning his own business and giving her a job, she’d likely still be in the vicious circle of hinderance being in the system does to a person. How can one actually succeed when there are barriers in place for making those prior mistakes? It simply adds more negativity, strife and hardship, keeping people down and not doing anything to help ‘rehabilitate’ or help them to be successful. Our system sucks.
Another example of how a 2nd chance can truly make an impact more than a criminal record ever could. My ex boyfriend in my teen years made the decision to sell weed in order to make money. He was probably 19 at the time. He wasn’t any major dealer, just sold some small bags to friends and those who reached out. No hard drugs. One day we were both out and when we came home we found a business card on the coffee table right next to his weed box which sat open. I can tell you now, he never left his box open. Ever. Apparently, the bug man snooped through our stuff. Not only illegal but completely unethical. Well that idiot called the police on my ex and shortly after, we had a knock at our door. A detective paid us a visit. He told us he knew that **** was dealing weed and how a record could affect the rest of his life. Then another knock came at the door. Two recruiters for the military stood there at our door and the detective invited them both in to join ‘our little get together.’
What a crazy freaking experience. I was actually curious about the military, just not that branch of service, and to this day, I wonder if they set that up on purpose. My ex’s mother was the supervisor of the supervisor of the apartment complex and his dad was prior Navy. I don’t think the detective could have arrested my ex for dealing off of an illegal search and rumor from the bug man but nevertheless, that visit changed my ex’s life. Not only did he stop dealing that very day, but he also quit smoking weed. His life changed that day. He’s now married with kids and been working a full time job, being an adult and making a life for himself. He avoided the system.
These examples show that a simple 2nd chance can make a big impact on some of us. Maybe not everyone takes the hint. Maybe some will just laugh it off and continue being stupid but it can catch up with them and deservingly so. But I personally believe that 2nd chances would change more lives than realized. When we have a for profit system and rewards for tickets, arrests, and quota’s, that limits the ability of officers to make that choice to give a person a 2nd chance. It makes it all about money rather than the idea of rehabilitation, helping people, making our planet a better place.
Obviously, there are some ‘crimes’ that would never be on that list of 2nd chances. Rape, abuse, murder, ect. But for other things, a 2nd chance can be life changing and allow for better growth and change than a criminal record ever could. The system is a messy place and it follows you forever. People make mistakes and people absolutely can change and make better choices. Our young people in particular can use this kind of help. Most of us sowed a few wild oats back in the day and then we grew up.
An even bigger problem I will highlight here but deserves it’s own blog, is the criminal justice system and mental health. Having discovered here in Idaho, their method of helping juveniles get the services they need is to put them in the system as a criminal has blown my mind to a whole other level, creating anger, mistrust, and a tainted view of our state justice system. Once in the system, it can create the vicious cycle that can potentially add to their mental health issue they’re already suffering from but also hindering their chances of success. The answer to someone in a mental health crisis should NOT be to charge them with a crime in order to ‘make sure they’re getting help.’ The hardship that places on families and the burden it places on these kids is not the answer. I’m not talking about someone committing a crime in the community and blaming mental health. I’m simply talking about someone having a meltdown, mental health crisis, in my example, in my own home simply needing transport to the hospital.
What a broken system if we can be allowed to place these additional burdens on people who have enough burden on their plates to begin with. There are simple solutions and yet we don’t utilize them. It feels like common sense is becoming less common and systems just seek to place more barriers and burdens that complicate matters when it shouldn’t be that way. In these cases, it’s not about 2nd chances but common sense systems in place that can be utilized, separate from the criminal justice system. It seems no different than kicking a dog when they are already down. But I’ll save more on this issue for a separate blog. It needs attention and needs change.
I wonder if we took this 2nd chance approach, how many people would turn their lives around or make better decisions moving forward? Even if they still continued to make mistakes, how much more careful would they be with that prior experience in their life? Maybe some would completely change. Maybe others would just be more careful which in the end is still a win if it avoids certain behaviors that could possibly impact others. And to those who choose not to learn from their mistakes nor take advantage of their 2nd chance, well, the system awaits them.