When I was putting people in prison for long periods of time as an Assistant District Attorney, I saw firsthand the type of people who were going to prison for crime. Usually they were people of color. But usually they were just poor. To be sure, crime can originate from any class, rich and poor. However, certain types of crimes were consolidated in usually specific types of groups. And, while there are exceptions to this general rule, the vast majority of time people of a certain class were going to prison for certain types of crimes. For instance, it is more likely for a person of less fortunate means and education to participate in the underworld of the drug trade and to partake in residual types of crimes, just as it more common for people of higher classes to be involved in white collar types of crime.
Still, you saw drug addiction from every class, and depending on the crime, I could usually determine easily to what substance the defendant was addicted. Usually, a person who commits another charge is addicted to at least one intoxicant, controlled or not. Domestic violence assailants usually abused alcohol. Auto burglars were usually heroin addicts. Violent crimes were usually alcohol or a more powerful drug, like methamphetamine. What was obvious to me is, regardless of the drug, people who commit certain types of crimes were abusing drugs. And, to be fair, people usually went to prison for those other offenses and not the addiction, at least on the front end. If people went to prison for drugs, it was usually due to some underlying drug addiction. This lead me to want to understand why people kept using and committing residual crimes in the face of extraordinarily long prison sentences. It seemed illogical to me.
I started reading Dr. Carl Hart, a PhD in neuroscience and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and it fundamentally changed my understanding of addiction. He had done some research on cocaine and rats and determined that bored rats liked cocaine more than busy rats did. He came from the Miami hood and wanted to understand why his community used. He realized that people used substances because, mostly, they didn’t have a purpose in life. And, to me, this makes sense. I personally believe the class division this country is experiencing contributes further to the lack of sense of purpose amongst certain classes. People committing crimes usually have no real purpose in life. They do drugs because they have no real purpose in life. Class division reduces them to a replaceable being who can hardly even read their own name or have any need to.
Dr. Hart now advocates for legal drug regulation and treating the addiction. Listen to the piece; it’s about 20 minutes long, but it’s very compelling. We must ask ourselves: If addiction is a mental disease, which, by the way forbids you from owning a gun under federal law, then why are we not addressing the problem? Why are we incarcerating addicts without providing for sufficient rehabilitation. Why are we so retributive?