I remember this headline from the satirical publication The Onion: Drugs Win Drug War, it read.
It isn’t the only faux headline they’ve come up with that has a certain ring of truth. Essentially, truth is what makes satire work. It uses hyperbole to exaggerate the absurdity of real-life news and events. Take “fake news” giant Jon Stewart. It’s not that the Daily Show makes up news, it just makes it look ridiculous by highlighting the hypocritical and sometimes downright crazy opinions of people in real news.
The Onion does make up stories on the regular, but this drug headline from January of 1998 rings a bit more true than we’d like. In fact, it’s really, really not funny.
I had the chance to attend a screening of The House I Live In this week. The documentary was released last year and continues to screen across the country. It’s also now available On Demand. It’s a kind of educational onslaught about the failures of America’s War on Drugs, piloted by Richard Nixon, and even goes back to drug policy in the time of Lincoln.
The facts are staggering. The mandatory minimum sentencing laws that went into effect in the 80s have contributed to a prison population that is 1/4 occupied by non-violent drug offenders. With over 2,000,000 Americans incarcerated in total, that’s quite a bit.
It’s also quite a monetary cost to the community. In Vermont it costs over $50,000 to keep one prisoner incarcerated per year. It costs $5,000 a year to provide the same individual with a drug rehabilitation program outside of prison.
As an extreme, but not unique example, the film showed the case of an Iowa man who was caught with 3 ounces of methamphetamine. He said that amount would easily fit in a small envelope. As a result of mandatory minimum sentencing, he will never see another day of freedom. He’s serving life without parole. Unless the law changes.
The House I Live In also highlights the lack of viable alternatives for some living in poverty that drive them to the desperate choice to sell or use drugs. Many are blue-collar workers or veterans out of a job who turn to drugs as a way to heal their pain.
What this film does, is show eloquently how no one is winning the drug war. Even law enforcement and judicial figures offer up concern and questions about what has gone so wrong.
It’s also something of a call to arms, an idea familiar to anyone who follows this blog closely. It encourages again and again: the only change that can come about is through the people. Through individual citizens identifying problems and making the choice to come together to fix it. No matter what your views, the documentary is worth a watch. Education at all levels of our community is of paramount importance.
Teaching kids not only to stay away from drugs, but also to show them what else there is for those who see no other way to make a living. Educating adults that the question of drug use is not so black and white. Every drug user is a person, just like any other, who perhaps has made bad choices, but deserves a chance.