For years I traded time with my family, my wife and two beautiful children at the time, for time alone, with cocaine. What a horrible trade... No winners anywhere. It was never planned, I never meant to do it, but from the moment I snorted that first line of every two, three, even six and seven days runs, I was gone until the coke ran out. I simply did not know I could live any other way. I was chasing something down that hole, and one day, at the end of an eight day run, as I lay on a friend's floor doing the fish from an overdose, I stumbled upon what I was looking for... me. And I've not had to do coke since. It is such a relief today to be free from that lying, cheating, conniving fool, but that is exactly what I become when I am under its influence. Today I know that is not me, and all the punishment in the world hurled at me would never have enforced that understanding upon me.
We fill our prisons with just such people. Broken people, people who needed a way out from whatever the conditions of their lives may be or have been, and found drugs to work for a minute, just before and until they absolutely took over like a demonic possession out of The Exorcist. Socially, we have taken these broken people, and kicked them with a judicial jackboot, screamed at them to ... shape the hell up, and what's wrong with you, and you can't see your kids, and you get locked down in solitary... Yeah, that's helpful. That's going to fix it all, change a mind, a heart, a being. Well, it is going to change all that, but you won't like the change, you don't like the change, and you're paying for more prisons to prove it.
I've got a really crazy idea. Stick with me here, just for a minute. I might be onto something. I'm sure you'll let me know your thoughts in the comments below. What we're doing is (obviously) not working, right? Surely the fact that (according to The Sentencing Project) our private prison population is up by 784 percent over the 10 year span from 1999-2010 is proof to the contrary. Surely hundreds of billions of dollars later and growing by the second tells us one thing, and one thing only -- Time to make a new mistake! That's right. A new mistake. And unless we are prepared to do just that, nothing will ever change (for the better). You see, we need to do something different, and chances are, with the many options available, we may make a new mistake, and not get it right again. The solution, then, is to go ahead and try something else, and not wait until we pour another trillion or two in its direction, but act quickly when we see our attempt is not working. Only this way will we stumble on the right thing to do. I, for one, do not know what that right thing is, but I am willing to bet it contains two elements: empathy and kindness, both lacking in our current model.
Brian O'Dea is a film and television producer and award winning author (HIGH: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler, Other Press)
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the theatrical and on-demand release of "How To Make Money Selling Drugs," a new documentary by Matthew Cooke that examines the drug trade from a variety of angles. For more info on the film, click here.