A Message from Beyond the Grave

elizabeth sleasmanToday, I read the obituary of Elizabeth Sleasman.  What was unique about it is that she wrote most of it herself.

You can click on the link, or read the entirety of her message below (I will assume that she would have wished to see this re-posted as much as possible):

Message from Sue:

I ask that EVERY parent and grandparent show this to their teens, even if they are perfect children. I was a perfect daughter, and my parents never knew I was using and drinking for at least the first five years (age 12 to 17), then only suspected it until the last ten years of my life when I couldn’t hide it any more.

Message to the teens: If you haven’t started – don’t. If you have, quit NOW. Your drinking/drug using friends are not really friends, they will steal from you, use you, and will do anything to get another “fix” – just like me. What starts out as fun for the first year or so, ends up to be a horrible, lonely life. During the last ten years, I never knew from one day to the next where I was going to be, I ate out of garbage cans, begged, and stole. I slept in bushes, doorways, abandoned vehicles, and nearly froze to death in the winter. Most of the time I was high or coming down, and much of that time, did not know what I was saying or doing – I could remember very little of what happened the night before. While using, I thought I was invincible and nothing could ever happen to me – after all, I was the “safest” user out there. I had a little girl who, because of my drinking and drugging was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and other very serious problems. I did not believe this, I believed she was perfect and only a little slow; and of course, it was not my fault – she will need specialized care for the rest of her life – again, not my fault, or so I thought.

You will become a thief and a liar, next you will lose your family, your “real” friends, and eventually your life. I started with Marijuana, and alcohol. It did not take very long for me to be so hooked on hard drugs that I could not have quit if I wanted to. Some of my closest “friends” overdosed and died; I did not quit. The light of my life, my daughter, was taken away – even then, I could not quit.

I entered the Methadone treatment and stopped using, but unfortunately my drinking habit kept on and I started using again. More recently I was admitted to the hospital because I was vomiting blood – my stomach was raw and the lining split because of crystal meth and alcohol. The doctors glued it together, and tried to get me to go to treatment – I said I would do it myself. I have quit now, but I am dead; don’t wait as long as I did, give your life another chance.

Thanks to attorney Scott Gordon for alerting me to this obituary.

Trying something new: DUI Treatment Court

The front cover of today’s Chicago Tribune had a story about a DUI treatment court in Peoria.  The program is for people who have been charged with a second or third DUI.  They are required to wear a SCRAM bracelet or go for alcohol testing twice a day.

The SCRAM bracelet, known in the industry as Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor or in slang as the “Lindsay Lohan bracelet,” is a plastic device about the size of a cigarette pack strapped above the ankle of a repeat drunken driver. Every half-hour, SCRAM screens for alcohol in the wearer’s perspiration.

The bracelet is the central component of a court program that begins when a motorist is arrested for DUI in Peoria County and is screened for alcohol addiction tendencies. If those are evident or if a motorist has been convicted of a second or third DUI, they move to DUI treatment court.

For a year to 18 months, an offender agrees to abstain from alcohol and drugs; wear the SCRAM device and/or undergo rigorous, random alcohol and drug testing; and attend treatment sessions and therapy groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

If the participant drinks alcohol, ingests drugs or misses treatment or therapy sessions, he or she often pays with a stint in jail. If participants follow the regimen, they are complimented along the way — much like Kelley’s avuncular exchange with Duncan, who is close to finishing the program successfully.

The most powerful aspect of the DUI treatment court experience was hearing other people’s accounts of beating their alcohol and drug habits, Duncan said.

“To hear other people who opened up, saying that they need help and things like that,” Duncan said, “it made me think if they can be honest with themselves, why can’t I?”

An outgrowth of the drug treatment court model started in the late 1980s in Florida, the first DUI court was created in 1994 near Las Cruces, N.M. Peoria County established its court around 2005, after Kelley’s predecessor, Rebecca Steenrod, attended a conference where experts noted that the drug court protocol worked for DUI cases and obtained a state grant to get the court started.

As of June 2012, there were 208 courts dedicated exclusively to DUI treatment, the National Center for DWI Courts says. Research suggests they work.

An Arizona study from the late 1990s to the early 2000s showed that 3.6 percent of DUI treatment court “graduates” had gotten arrested for DUI two years after completing the program, compared with 5.4 percent of standard probation graduates. A NHTSA multiyear study of DUI treatment courts in Georgia found that “graduates” had a recidivism rate 38 to 65 percent lower than offenders in traditional programs, and a 2007 Michigan study concluded that DUI courts there had a significant effect in reducing recidivism, drug and alcohol use and criminal justice costs.

But apart from the salaries of the judge and a probation officer, funding for Peoria County’s DUI court largely hinges on participants’ ability to pay for services, and that presents problems. Bracelets are available to those who can pay $5 to $22 per day for one, which often leaves indigent hard-core drunken drivers with no choice but jail. Treatment also can be difficult to obtain for those unable to pay.

I have previously endorsed this idea before (click here to read), even though I am sure that many of my clients would vehemently object to being placed in such a court and being required to wear a SCRAM bracelet or have to report to a probation office twice a day to take a breath or urine test.  Certainly, doing so is embarrassing, inconvenient and expensive.  And I am concerned that DUI treatment court might be pushed on people who really don’t need it.

But I think a DUI treatment court is a good idea because a DUI arrest is not so much a crime as much as it is a symptom of a person’s alcohol abuse or dependency.

For example, I have represented people who have gone through a bad period and picked up multiple DUIs in a short period of time.  This can mean that they can end up as a convicted felon and barred from ever getting a license again, even if they can later prove years or decades of sobriety.

So I am all for a different approach, one that treats repeat drunk drivers not as hardened criminals, but as people with an addiction that has impaired their ability to control their actions, but with help, can regain control of their life and become productive citizens. But this can’t happen so long as we permanently mark them with a “scarlet letter” that keeps them from being able to legally drive, work, support their families and develop positive self-esteem.

I think it would be better to pull these people out of the criminal system and instead give them an intensive alcohol and drug use treatment program with the possibility of avoiding a criminal record or permanent license revocation.

What do you think?


Should you enter treatment while your DUI case is still pending?

Recently, on the avvo.com website, someone who has been charged with a fourth DUI asked whether he should enter treatment now, or wait until after he has been sentenced.  My simple response was “Do the treatment now — it is not guaranteed to help, but it might. Plus, it might help turn around your life.”

Not coincidentally came the news that two recent high profile Lake County defendants, both of whom were involved in fatal crashes, have entered into treatment — Carly Rousso (the Highland Park teen who allegedly was “huffing” shortly before crashing and killing a 5 year old) and Jeremy Betancourt (the Antioch teen who is alleged to have been drag racing prior to a fatal crash).

There are many reasons why a person should enter treatment while their case is still pending — particularly when their history suggests alcohol or drug dependency.

By entering treatment, the person is showing the court that he or she is attempting to do something about his or her problem, instead of continuing to be the problem.  Why should a judge be lenient to someone who remains in denial about an alcohol or drug problem, and remains a high risk to repeat the offense?

In addition, life skills are more important than a court case.  I have lost clients and a family member to alcohol and drugs.  Treatment might have saved them, but they were unwilling.  Often, it takes the threat of jail to get someone to enter treatment.

Treatment is not necessary for alcoholics.  Some people are in a lesser category called “alcohol and drug abuse” and have a very unhealthy concept of what is a reasonable use.  Treatment can be very helpful in recognizing these problems and providing tools to quit or drink responsibly in the future.

But for alcoholics or drug addicts, treatment is a necessary first step in the road to recovery.  Alcohol or drug addiction is permanent.  It does not go away, even if a person becomes abstinent.  It just remains in remission. Treatment can be helpful in batting away defense mechanisms that prevent a person from honestly assessing the extent of his or her problem.

So yes, if someone is facing a serious charge, or has multiple arrests or otherwise has shown signs of reckless drinking or drug use, I strongly recommend getting into treatment sooner rather than later.

The future of DUIs?

ct-met-aj-1-dui-technology-0628-jpg-20130627From today’s Chicago Tribune:

Starting Monday, just in time for Fourth of July celebrations, Illinois will add a high-tech tweak to its fight against drunken driving: a camera installed near the dashboard of motorists charged with driving under the influence.

Of the estimated 11,000 motorists in the state required to have Breathalyzer ignition interlock devices on their vehicles, more than 3,000 of them are caught each year trying to drive after drinking too much, said Susan McKinney, administrator of the state’s program. The Breathalyzer locks the ignition and stops them.

“We get an inordinate amount of people telling us it wasn’t them (blowing into the Breathalyzer),” McKinney added. “They say it was anybody but me. Now, the technology will allow us not to have to make a judgment call.”

Adding the cameras is the latest step in a movement that may bring even more technology to bear in the fight against drunken driving, a movement quietly gaining momentum even as it draws fire from those who think it would ensnare responsible drinkers and devastate the restaurant industry.

Prototypes in development would measure blood alcohol concentration through a touch pad on the dashboard or steering wheel, or perhaps through sensors that gauge the driver’s breath.

Illinois is far from installing that sophisticated technology, although Secretary of State Jesse White is “very interested” in the devices, spokesman David Druker said.

Motorists arrested on DUI charges can drive only with restrictions that include the ignition device. As of Monday, those restrictions also will require a camera on a visor, roof column or other unobtrusive spot that takes a snapshot when the driver blows into the Breathalyzer to start the car.

The camera activates again when he or she takes a Breathalyzer at random prompts three times an hour while driving.

I posted about this before (Smile while you blow?), and here were my thoughts then:

As you may know, the Illinois Secretary of State requires that most people who have been suspended or revoked in Illinois for one or more DUIs have a BAIID installed on their vehicle as a condition of a driving permit.  The BAIID will only allow the individual to start a motor vehicle so long as there is not a BAC reading of 0.025 or higher.  This means that a person can have a BAC that is well below the legal limit yet not be able to start his or her vehicle.  Because of this, it is quite common for people to find that they are locked out and unable to start their vehicle despite not having consumed alcohol for over 12 hours, and feeling completely sober.  When this happens, not only is the person unable to start the car, but he or she will then face repercussions for their “high” BAC, including but not limited to extensions of the suspension, revocation of the driving permit,and  impoundment or forfeiture of the vehicle.


Faced with such consequences, it is commonplace for the person in this situation to attempt to claim that someone else was responsible for the BAIID result.  Sometimes this is true, sometimes it isn’t.  Currently, the person may contest the action of the Secretary of State and request a hearing, at which time he or she can present their evidence.  This requires the Secretary of State to weigh the credibility of the witnesses and evidence.  A photograph of the actual test will make this determination a lot easier, for both the Secretary of State and motorist involved.

Does AA’s take all comers, no questions asked policy create a risk of harm?

Over the years, I have had many, many clients who have benefited from their involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar support group.

These groups operate under a “take all comers, no questions asked” approach — i.e., so long as you are willing to show up and be respectful, they will let you into a meeting.

There is no pre-admission screening process, and no one reviews your background.  All they care about is whether you are “sick and tired about being sick and tired.” The person sitting next to you may be a lawyer, a counselor, or a convicted rapist.  Of course, the same thing can be said about sitting down at a fast-food restaurant, a subway car or a tavern.

In this article over at ProPublica, “Twelve Steps to Danger: How Alcoholics Anonymous can be a Playground for Violence Prone Members,” author Gabrielle Glaser writes about how some sick people see AA as a place to meet new victims.

No evidence is presented as to how common this practice is.

My take:  as in all things, you should use your common sense when meeting new people, particularly when they start asking for favors like loans or a couch to sleep on.  Unfortunately, many new members of AA are in a vulnerable place when they start, and the predators know this.  Still, this will hopefully not scare anyone aware from the help that AA can provide.

What do you think?

How will drinking affect your looks? There’s an app for that, of course!

Here’s a Today show segment about the “drinking mirror” app that will let you see how you will look after years of regular drinking use.  Will an appeal to vanity scare people away from their nightly glass of wine or cocktail?  What do you think?

A Great Blog Post by Roger Ebert about Alcoholics Anonymous

ebertI have read and watched Roger Ebert for over thirty years, and like so many others, I was shocked and saddened to hear of his passing.

In his memory, I would like to link to a great blog post that he wrote a few years ago, about his alcoholism and his membership in Alcoholics Anonymous.  From time to time, I have quoted this or sent copies of this blog to clients.

Here is part, and you can read the rest it in its entirety here:

In August 1979, I took my last drink. It was about four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, the hot sun streaming through the windows of my little carriage house on Dickens. I put a glass of scotch and soda down on the living room table, went to bed, and pulled the blankets over my head. I couldn’t take it any more.

On Monday I went to visit wise old Dr. Jakob Schlichter. I had been seeing him for a year, telling him I thought I might be drinking too much. He agreed, and advised me to go to “A.A.A,” which is what he called it. Sounded like a place where they taught you to drink and drive. I said I didn’t need to go to any meetings. I would stop drinking on my own. He told me to go ahead and try, and check back with him every month.

The problem with using will power, for me, was that it lasted only until my will persuaded me I could take another drink. At about this time I was reading The Art of Eating, by M. F. K. Fisher, who wrote: “One martini is just right. Two martinis are too many. Three martinis are never enough.” The problem with making resolutions is that you’re sober when you make the first one, have had a drink when you make the second one, and so on. I’ve also heard, You take the first drink. The second drink takes itself.That was my problem. I found it difficult, once I started, to stop after one or two. If I could, I would continue until I decided I was finished, which was usually some hours later. The next day I paid the price in hangovers…

This woman [an alcohol treatment counselor], I will call her Susan, had an office on Lincoln Avenue in a medical building across the street from Somebody Else’s Troubles, which was well known to me. She said few people stayed sober for long without A.A.. I said the meetings didn’t fit with my schedule and I didn’t know where any were. She looked in a booklet. “Here’s one at 401 N. Wabash,” she said. “Do you know where that is?” I confessed it was the Chicago Sun-Times building. “They have a meeting on the fourth floor auditorium,” she said. It was ten steps from my desk. “There’s one today, starting in an hour. Can you be there?”

She had me. I was very nervous. I stopped in the men’s’ room across the hall to splash water on my face, and walked in. Maybe thirty people were seated around a table. I knew one of them. We used to drink together. I sat and listened. The guy next to me got applause when he said he’d been sober for a month. Another guy said five years. I believed the guy next to me.

They gave me the same booklet of meetings Susan had consulted. Two day later I flew to Toronto for the film festival. At least here no one knew me. I looked up A.A. in the phone book and they told me there was an A.A. meeting in a church hall across Bloor Street from my hotel. I went to so many Toronto meetings in the next week that when I returned to Chicago, I considered myself a member.

That was the beginning of a thirty years’ adventure. I came to love the program and the friends I was making through meetings, some of whom are close friends to this day. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. What I hadn’t expected was that A.A. was virtually theater. As we went around the room with our comments, I was able to see into lives I had never glimpsed before. The Mustard Seed, the lower floor of a two-flat near Rush Street, had meetings from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and all-nighters on Christmas and New Years’ eves. There I met people from every walk of life, and we all talked easily with one another because we were all there for the same reason, and that cut through the bullshit….

I’ve been to meetings in Cape Town, Venice, Paris, Cannes, Edinburgh, Honolulu and London, where an Oscar-winning actor told his story…

There are no dues. You throw in a buck or two if you can spare it, to pay for the rent and the coffee…

As to those who criticize A.A., Ebert said:

Sober. A.A. believes there is an enormous difference between bring dry and being sober. It is not enough to simply abstain. You need to heal and repair the damage to yourself and others. We talk about “white-knuckle sobriety,” which might mean, “I’m sober as long as I hold onto the arms of this chair.” People who are dry but not sober are on a “dry drunk.”

A “cult?” How can that be, when it’s free, nobody profits and nobody is in charge? A.A. is an oral tradition reaching back to that first meeting between Bill W. and Doctor Bob in the lobby of an Akron hotel. They’d tried psychiatry, the church, the Cure. Maybe, they thought, drunks can help each other, and pass it along. A.A. has spread to every continent and into countless languages, and remains essentially invisible. I was dumbfounded to discover there was a meeting all along right down the hall from my desk.

It prides itself on anonymity. There are “open meetings” to which you can bring friends or relatives, but most meetings are closed: “Who you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here.” By closed, I mean closed. I told Eppie Lederer, who wrote as Ann Landers, that I was now in the program. She said, “I haven’t been to one of those meetings in a long time. I want you to take me to one.” Her limousine picked me up at home, and we were driven to the Old Town meeting, a closed meeting. I went in first, to ask permission to bring in Ann Landers. I was voted down. I went back to the limo and broke the news to her. “Well I’ve heard everything!” Eppie said. “Ann Landers can’t get into an A.A. meeting!” I knew about an open meeting on LaSalle Street, and I took her there.