As Your Honor knows, housing is a key stabilizing factor in anyone’s life. Knowing where you are going to sleep tonight – having somewhere to store your things, is gold. Yes, my client failed in following up on his treatment. Yes, my client relapsed. But let’s take a step back and look at the overall purpose of any punishment. Let’s look at the likelihood of creating more accountability and seeing the changes we hope for him supported in a less expensive and more useful way.
The prosecutor is asking for a 30-day jail sentence. Your Honor, if you impose that much time you might as well just sentence him to the full maximum, the year in jail. Remember, this is a misdemeanor. Why am I saying 30 days is functionally the same as the whole year? Because he will lose the subsidized housing that he just got into. The housing that his social worker and case manager worked hard to get him into, specifically so he could stabilize and stop being a problem for society. And for himself.
Your Honor, we have all seen the growing number of tents in our city. We all know that there is a long waiting list for any housing, any roof, of any kind in this city. If you put him back at the end of the line, if you put him in jail and he gets evicted while locked up, what will be the result?
He will be back to square one. He will be back on the streets. How is he going to avoid his friends who use? His friends who sell? His friends who are not his friends, and are not his support group? How is he going to find his way back to stability, and treatment, and enroll in food stamps, and get help for his mental diagnosis, and get help with the prescriptions he is court-mandated to be on, so he won’t fall back into self-medicating with drugs? How is he ever going to get the chance to maybe see his family again, and work on earning their trust by prolonged sobriety?
I understand the need for accountability. I do. And I am not going to stand here and give you a detailed list of the problems he has had, like the recent loss of his mother, and getting assaulted, and having his meds for his mental health diagnosis stolen, and the rest, because one thing addicts in treatment learn is, it is their responsibility to stay clean and sober in all of life’s circumstances. Yet as his attorney I feel it incumbent upon me to point out the obvious, in stating that he has had very little of what we now call social capital. I don’t need to go into details, Your Honor, because I know you get the picture. He hasn’t had very many chances, and he messed up this one, and he knows it.
He knows you can send him back to the streets today, and back to square one. He is waiting to hear your decision today. Your Honor, it is no secret that this defendant has messed up every relationship he has had through the bad start he got and the bad choices he made since. He does not have a stable person left in his life who would let him so much as sleep on their couch, let alone move in with them for the meanwhile. I think for those of us with a large safety net, it is hard for us to fathom the loneliness that would entail. Hard for us to truly fathom how incredibly easy it would be to just give up, in his situation. Just give up for good. But he is still trying, against all the odds. With very little to go on but hoping against hope.
I am not going to stand here and say he shouldn’t have any consequences for relapsing, but community service, or day reporting, or anything else you can think of, would make more sense than kicking him out of safe and sober housing. This is the first place that provides him with the kind of support and guidance he never got at home or in foster care. Give him one more chance and then throw him away if you have to. I already told him, and I am happy to repeat it now, because it is important, that at some point the judge is going to quit worrying about how he is doing and choose to just protect society from his bad choices. I just hope we are not at that point yet. How to combine justice and mercy is beyond me, and I am glad I am not in Your chair today, Your Honor. But taking away his housing just doesn’t serve justice.
Please don’t kick him back to square one. He has been kicked enough. And he really is trying to rise. Trying to get his life in order. And I hope, contribute to society. I know him better at this point than a lot of people do. I know him as he is now, clean and sober and trying. I am willing to invest in him. I believe he has a future. I hope you will consider an alternative consequence instead of the jail time, because I don’t want to see him back here again. He is happy to do day reporting, community service, work crew, or whatever you need. But let him keep his housing. It is for the greater good.