FOR WANT OF A MAGNET

Sometimes, I am left shaking my head at the way things are done.  A drunk driver is put on some kind of monitoring to make sure the court can easily discover if he begins drinking again.  Great idea and very useful for public safety.  It is also a great support for the individual because close monitoring is one of the best supports for establishing sobriety.  In serious cases, we  have a multi-million dollar monitoring brand that provides a couple thousand dollars worth of equipment to each individual – a complete set of everything they will need to be continuously monitored at home – except for the magnet they need to activate this equipment.  All the rest of the cords and plugs, straps and monitors are provided.  Just not the magnet.

Clients sign all kinds of paperwork swearing they will not tamper with or alter the equipment.  They watch a video on how to use it, and are personally instructed.  By definition, they have suspended licenses at this point in the process, so most of the people I work with are taking various buses to get around.  They tend to live in the suburbs because it is more affordable.  So they do not live in walking communities or have lots of stores nearby.

Did I mention they are not from around here, familiar with the area, or English-speaking?  Many of them also work very long hours at several low-paying jobs.  Fitting in treatment and court and keeping their jobs is a challenge.  A challenge they deserve, you might say, as they chose to drink and drive.  Fine.  I still argue that there are enough difficulties inherent in the system without setting them up for failure.  They will be inconvenienced and punished throughout the five years of their probation.  There is no societal benefit to creating a risk of failure based on something that is not related to drinking or driving.

Offenders are fitted with an anklet that will remotely and continuously monitor any alcohol intake through skin perspiration.  It is top of the line and highly sensitive.  They are warned not to use any bodywashes, aftershave, perfumes, or even teeth-whitening toothpastes, as these and many other products contain alcohol.   They are instructed on where to plug in the unit’s base so they can download their data via a telephone line.  And how to shower without damaging the anklet.  There is a lot of tension in the room during these sessions, because there is a lot at stake.  If they cannot figure out how to use the equipment correctly, they could go to jail.  They will certainly be called in for a hearing.  And if they miss their hearing, a bench warrant will issue.  Even if they have not been drinking.

The equipment is very high tech.  The latest and the best.  Each set of equipment costs several thousand dollars, and each offender signs an agreement to replace it if it gets damaged.  The company apparently makes their money by leasing the equipment and getting paid for the monitoring.  I do not know how much the court pays, but the individual at this time pays a startup fee and then pays 12 dollars a day in order to be monitored.   That adds up to around 360 dollars a month per offender.  I also looked up the company website, and if you click on wanting to become one of their sales people, you are asked if you have $50,000 dollars in capital to invest.  So I have a strong feeling that they are making a good profit.

Clients are sent directly from court to set up monitoring.   They meet with a monitoring representative, who carefully trains them, takes their first payment, sets them up with all their equipment, and then tells them the following.

“So you’re all set!  This is everything you need to go home and get monitored.  Except, see this magnet?  You will need to find one of these.  No, we don’t have one for you.  It is not included.  No, we cannot sell one to you.  You have to go find it on your own.  No, I don’t know where they sell them.  Maybe a drug store?  Or maybe not – no, it is not like a refrigerator magnet.  It is a special magnet.  I don’t know what it’s called.  Just try to find one that is shaped like this, a rectangle, and this size.  Maybe try a hardware store?  It has to be strong.  I don’t know how strong.  No, I don’t have a picture or it or the name of it or the size or anything.  Sorry.  But it looks like this.  You’ll have to go around and find one somehow by today because you have to get hooked up and download the readings today.  Otherwise you will be in violation and we will have to report you and you could go to jail.  Oh, you’re on the bus?  Gee, that’s too bad.  Too bad we don’t have the magnets.  But here’s all the rest of your equipment.  Good luck!”