Sorry to have my inner Frenchman intrude again, but this is important to him.
I was a stupid kid in 1979: a nineteen-year-old who was constantly high on almost every drug imaginable. I'm not sure I was sober for more than a few hours that year.
I'm not proud of that now, although I think I understand why I was that way. I had no hope of breaking out of the tiny backwater where I lived and making anything of myself. No one from my extended family had. No one from my social class had.
Although I was brighter than most, if not all, of my classmates in high school, no one ever thought to tell me it was possible for me to go to college. That might not seem like something you would need to tell someone, but I had no inkling that it was possible. My family didn't know. They were barely literate and were suspicious of educated people. So no one told me about the ACTs or the SATs. No one told me about scholarships. No one told me that money was available for working class people to attend college.
My greatest hope in life was to work at the local La-Z-Boy chair factory where I could make a few pennies over minimum wage and "retire" with a bad case of company-doctor-diagnosed "non-work-related" chronic tendinitis after ten years.
No wonder I was stoned all the time.
One night in December of that year, I was doing bong hits back in the tire room of the truck stop where I worked when an old friend's little brother and another guy walked in. They asked me if I could get them some weed. I didn't really know either of them, but I had rodeoed with the older brother in high school--we were the only two bareback riders on the team--and we had been good friends. So I got them an ounce of what was probably paraquat-contaminated Mexican pot (thank you Jimmy Carter).
They were informants.
I was awakened in my apartment a few months later by four flack-jacket-wearing cops and arrested on a third degree felony, Distribution of a Controlled Substance for Value. I was convicted and began serving an indeterminate sentence of "no more than five years" on New Years Eve, 1980. I saw Reagan's inauguration on the rec room TV while I was there. I had voted for him, so I guess I deserved to watch it while wearing a florescent orange jumpsuit.
I only served a few months of my sentence behind bars. Space was limited. I was young, and wasn't dangerous, so they set me free on the condition that I remain employed and report to a parole officer every month for the remainder of the five years.
As horrible as the experience was--and it was a nightmare--it didn't change me. If anything I became worse, freebasing cocaine and doing a lot of mushrooms and MDMA (it's called ecstasy now). I was high all of the time again and dealing for real--no more buying bags for a friend--to be able afford it.
Then I met a woman, a single mother with two kids. We started dating. I wanted to get serious, to live together, but she refused because she had applied to go to college and didn't want to put down roots in Tremonton. I told her it had been my dream to go to school, but I couldn't afford it. She told me about financial aid, something I'd never dreamed existed. I know that may seem hard to believe--My 2007 self hardly believes it even though my 1984 self lived it--but it's true.
The following September, I began my first day at Weber State College. It changed my life. It became ok to be smart, no one mocked me for it or told me I was full of shit when I talked about things they didn't understand. I dove into my studies relishing learning for the sake of learning. I reveled in it. I eventually went on to get a graduate degree.
I stopped getting high (except for the toke I take every five years or so to remind me how paranoid it makes me). The ability to go to college made me a productive member of society.
If I had waited a few years, I wouldn't have been able to receive financial aid. The feds cut it off for people with drug convictions in the nineties. Without that opportunity, I'd probably be dead, in prison, or God forbid, a Republican right now.
Thankfully, Congress is considering changing the law. They're finally beginning to understand how counter productive it is. But, as with anything else that makes sense, they need a little push. I hope you'll consider writing or calling your Congressman about it. I'm told it's very important to call your congressman now if you live in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.
Thanks to Tom Angell of Students for Sensible Drug Policy for alerting me to this.
And as long as I'm being all French and stuff
Update: Reader Adam says I should tell you to Digg this post. I think the Digg it link below does that.