At High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, Nevada, a correctional officer (CO) was arrested this month for allegedly trying to smuggle drugs into the prison facility. The drugs were found and seized by officials before the CO went into the prison. An employee at the prison since July 2014, the CO has been placed on administrative leave indefinitely.
Selling drugs in order to make ends meet and/or to augment a personal stash of illicit substances in order to maintain an addiction is nothing new. However, many families of people incarcerated in the Nevada facility are deeply concerned by the notion that an official paid with their tax dollars to help protect their loved ones may be the one providing them with harmful substances.
The job of a correctional officer is difficult. Often low-paying and risky both mentally and physically, it is not easy to go to work every day and face potential threat at every turn. But like police officers who similarly put themselves in harm’s way, when one steps over to “the other side” and makes illegal choices, it can be that much more difficult to overcome the stigma of so-called “criminal” behavior – especially if an underlying substance use disorder played a role.
Stigma and Treatment
Unfortunately, the stigma that pervades our culture around drug and alcohol abuse and addiction can be a huge obstacle for people who desperately need treatment. It can be very difficult to admit that the problem exists and that treatment is necessary to oneself, let alone to anyone else. Taking the steps to enroll in treatment is therefore a big step, one that a person may feel exposes them to the judgment of others – at home, at work, and in the community at large.
The fear of stigma is not unfounded. It is true that people who are in recovery from addiction face obstacles in life that others may not, especially if there are legal issues – felonies specifically – compounding the problem. Securing safe housing, getting a good job, or even accessing social services along the way to stability can make it difficult to stabilize in recovery independently. Many feel that their only recourse is to again engage in the criminal behaviors that supply them with the money they need to pay the bills. Soon after, relapse becomes a real threat, making stigma a deadly problem. It can contribute to the cycle of addiction, making many feel that there is no way out of their old lifestyle.
As we work together as a global community as well as close to home to reduce stigma surrounding drug abuse and addiction, it is important to highlight the fact that no matter how dire the situation may seem, there is always hope. Through treatment, perseverance, and ongoing support of others in recovery, it is possible to find a path to stability and a substance-free lifestyle. Even small choices can add up to big change, both when it comes to seeking help on a large scale and in day-to-day life.
Here are some ways that you and your family can move toward the life you imagine for yourselves:
- Take care of yourself. Eating well, getting good sleep, bathing regularly – they sound like small things but when it comes to your sense of self-confidence and self-esteem, they set you up for success and put you in the right frame of mind to take on whatever comes throughout the day.
- Prioritize your physical health. Quit smoking. Get to and maintain a healthy weight. Keep up with medications, medical appointments, and holistic treatments to manage symptoms of chronic illness. How your body feels and functions matters.
- Prioritize your mental health. Talk to a therapist regularly. Be fair in your expectations of yourself. Take breaks throughout the day. Go for a walk, a jog, or a swim. Check in with yourself regularly, and if you feel stressed, upset, angry, or depressed, identify what contributed to those feelings and do something about it.
- Work on building a positive mindset. Practice mindfulness. Actively write out what you are for grateful regularly. Choose to focus on the positive aspect of what comes your way, and if that seems impossible, identify the opportunities available due to the change.
- Connect with positive people. Spend time with others who are working hard to live a positive and self-aware life and who are supportive of your sobriety.