Sunday, May 31, 2009

Memories of Re-Education Camp

I want to talk about Re-Education Camp - or what is officially known as the
Alabama Court Referral Education Program.

There is very little out there on the
interwebs about this program from the participant's perspective. Almost everything is written from The System's point of view, touting the victories and successes of the program - low recsidivism rate and such. (Honestly, you'd probably get the same recidivism rate if you administered electric shocks everytime we reported to your office.)

But I did find lots of unanswered queries posted on message boards, people asking what to expect from the program. I had these same questions as I prepared for my trip to Re-Education Camp. I not only searched the
internet for answers, I also asked many of my "co-workers" at community service who'd been through the program.

What's it like? What do you do?

Well, we watch movies. And we talk about stuff.

What stuff?

'Bout why we're there. DUI, drugs, whatever...

What kind of movies? The ones with the dead bodies and shit?

No. Just that drinking and driving is bad, don't do meth and pot is bad for you.

Do I have to share 'my feelings?'

...unless you want to.

I don't want to.

I've written about the shabby little hole in the wall that we report to in earlier posts - the windowless office space with all the charm of a child molester's basement except with motivational posters instead of pictures of boy bands.

That's not really the exit. That's the office that wants my hot steaming piss.

Anyone with any sort of alcohol or drug charge has to go through court referral. Every single DUI has to take this course.

I don't have photos of the room where our class was held but it is also the same room where groups like AA and NA meet. (Oh yeah, Re-Education camp requires that you attend four AA or NA cult meetings.) But
Angela found this random anonymous photograph on a sidewalk in Anchorage depicting roughly the same ambience and decor.

Court referral starts with "Evaluation." That's when you go to the shabby office and get interviewed by some woman behind a desk who determines the best course of treatment for you: the 2-day course, 4-day course or rehab. I got stuck with the 4-day course, as did the majority of people. Probably by around ten to one. The main differences between the 2-day and 4-day class is the 4-day course is twice as long and costs $100 more.

For four Saturdays in Marc
h, we met at the shabby office at 8am. It usually took almost an hour for everybody to pay their money and sign in. Then we took a smoke break. The instructor was a smoker so we got to take lots of smoke breaks. (Class was supposed to last until 2pm but she usually let us out around 1pm.)

We usually started by referring to something in the booklet that was issued to us on the first day. The booklet was $15 of the $265 charge for the class. If you lose your booklet, you're forced to buy another for $10. At least you get to keep it

The booklet says the contents cannot be reproduced in any manner so I won't post any pictures from it. But the best part is the illustrations: generic figures with no facial features. Perfect for doodling eyes, mouths, noses and hair. Drawing faces on the people helped keep me awake during the movies.

The three most important rules of Re-Education Camp are don't be late, have the money and don't fall asleep. If you can master those three things, you'll be fine. The third rule was perhaps the most difficult. When the lights dimmed and the TV screen flickered, it was tough to stay awake.

Oh, those movies were boring. One was a documentary from 1986, hosted by Phil
Donahue: Drinking and Driving - The Tolls, The Tears. In another, one of Alabama's Supreme Court justices droned on about how this program was "doing God's work." No post-mortem gore fests. I'm beginning to think those are some sort of urban legend. I've never actually met anyone who has actually seen one in the course of DUI punishment.

We spent the better part of one Saturday watching and discussing an A&E special on
meth. Doesn't matter if your arrest had nothing to do with meth and you've never even been in the same room with the shit. You still gotta go to this sad, depressing shithole and spend fifty bucks to hear some small-town, middle-aged white woman prattle on about meth when she has probably done nothing in her life wilder than drinking a second wine cooler.

At one point, we all went into her office so she could show us before & after pictures of meth addicts that she'd found on the internet.
Ooooh! Veddy sceddy!

When we covered the dangers of marijuana, she asked for a show of hands: Who thought marijuana was relatively harmless? Almost every hand went up. She said this seemed to be the general consensus among of all of her classes. She then went on to tell us the story of some teenager who started smoking pot at a young age and it fucked up his life. It had all the impact of an afters
chool special.

None of us bought the
argument but nobody objected. Best to just keep quiet. We all shot glances at eachother that said 'You know it's a lie, I know it's a lie. Just keep quiet and we'll move onto the next chapter. Then we'll get to take a smoke break sooner.'

During the smoke break following the pot lecture, we all stood around in the parking lot talking about pot. I couldn't believe I had to explain to the instructor that it's the flowers of the marijuana plant that are smoked, not the leaves. She was genuinely surprised.

Really, you don't smoke the leaves?

Not if you can help it."

You learn something new everyday!

I can forgive her for not being familiar with the finer points of meth or heroin but I thought she'd at least have a rudimentary education about what, second only to alcohol, puts so many butts in seats at Re-Education Camp.

One day, the class split up into three or four groups and we told to come up with a solution to a thorny problem. Seem there's been a nuclear war and only seventeen or so people are alive on the planet. It's up to your group to whittle that number down to ten - the number of people who can survive on the current supplies until it is safe to go outside.

Do you keep the 65-year-old white guy with three heartattacks but he's a doctor? Or do you keep th
e black guy with militant tendencies who may or may not be gay but he's got a lotta fix-it skills? Or the ex-stripper with a kid? What about the Spanish-American lady with the baby? Is Spanish-American code for Mexican?

I succesfully lobbied to save the only Jewish woman - even though I agreed with killing off her husband and special-needs child. She had nothing to offer the future of mankind other than being of breeding age but my argument was that I didn't want to be responsible for killing off the world's last Jew.

After we'd chosen our survivors, everybody rearranged their chairs back into a big circle and discussed who their group saved and why. Most everybody picked the same people. Only one group saved the baby. Everybody killed off the old white doctor in favor of the younger breeding age black nurse. Everybody killed the militant black homo.

The instructor asked us what we thought the purpose of this test was. Nobody knew. Finally, she told us
When you drink and drive, you don't get to choose who lives and dies.

Seriously? We just spent half an hour on this? Really?

Well, fuck it. I'm cured. It's all crystal clear now!

In addition to the 4-day class, I was sentenced to a standard six months of monitoring/drug testing. Again, let me remind you, illegal drugs played no part in my DUI arrest. Every person with any sort of alcohol charge has to go through this. Every month I have to make a 50-mile round-trip to pee in a cup. And pay $20 for the pleasure. Plus $20 for the "monitoring," which is nothing more than being asked questions like
Do you live at the same address? and Have you been in trouble with the law since your last visit? and Did you bring the money?"

Last month, the only question I was asked was about the money. They
didn't piss test me, only charging me $20 for the monitoring. Sometimes they don't bother testing you. I think it means they're either in a hurry or someone forgot to reorder enough tests. The short story is a I bummed a ride to a town half an hour away so I could hand a lady twenty bucks.

The only other thing that
occurred during April's meeting was the woman told me they were releasing me from the program one month early. Apparently, if you complete the class, attend five monitoring sessions and successfully pass the drug tests, you can be released a month early.

It was one of the few times anything seemed to go my way in this whole mess. One less trip to town. Grocery money I wouldn't have to turn over to an irrelevant program with no purpose except to perpetuate itself through court-mandated user fees.

I was looking forward to putting this pain in the ass behind me. B
ut when I went into the office Thursday morning, the woman made puzzled faces at her computer screen and said

It looks like someone else wrote you were getting released today. Well, that's a mistake. You have at least one more month.

No. I have this piece of paper that says I'm released today. I've been to five monitoring sessions.

You've only been to four.

Today is the fifth.

No, today is the fourth.

January, Febuary, March, April, May - that's five.

January doesn't count.

Why not?

That was just evaluation. When we decide which program best fits you.

Why did that other woman tell me I was going to be released today?

She must've made a mistake. We all sometimes make mistakes. Haven't you ever made a mistake?

I wouldn't be here if I hadn't.

And you want to be sure to complete the entire program.

You want me to complete the entire program. You want my forty dollars.

I put the forty dollars on her desk with unnecessary flourish. I couldn't help it. I was so exasperated with being stuck in a system that was always changing the rules.

So far, the program has squeezed $465 out of me and will extract up to eighty dollars more before it's over. The program has an interest in generating these fees because that's what pays for the program. Without this program, all of these women would be back to telling grade-schoolers
'Just say no.'

The woman behind the desk leaned back in her chair, arms folded, grinning a grin that conveyed no warmth - only the possibility of a swallowed canary.

No. I don't want your forty dollars.

She placed her fingers on the edges of the two twenties, as if she really didn't want to touch those dirty things, and pushed them towards me across the desk.

What do you mean?

It means, you can keep your money. I don't want it.

I'm perfectly willing to pee in the cup and pay you $40 but I just want to know why someone told me this was my last time but now you're telling me I still have to come back for one or possibly two more months. Was it her first day or something?

When is your next court review?


It's the second week of June right?


Let me digress for a moment to explain court review. Once a month, everyone in community service has to go to the courthouse to face Judge Hard-Ass. If you have been coming every week for community service and your fines are up to date, he tells you to come back the following month. You're name is called and you walk in front of the the judge but it all happens so fast that you don't actually stop in front of the judge. You just walk by as you're told to back next month. And you keep on walking right out the door.

If you have not been compliant with the court's rules, you can be thrown in jail. If you don't show up to review, even if you have been compliant in everything else, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and the cops will come get your ass and throw it in jail.

I heard a story from other community service workers (the main source of information since no one in any position of authority will tell you anything) about a woman who missed court review because she was in the
hospital across the street but sent her mother to explain her plight to the judge. The judge issued a warrant and sent a couple officers to bring her from the hospital to the courtroom.

I was not there. I'm just repeating what I heard.

So when the woman behind the desk asked me when my next court review was, she was basically telling me
'I have the power to throw your insubordinate ass in jail. And I'll do it too.'

The woman who told you you were supposed to be released will be there at court review. I will make sure that you both get to explain your story to Judge Hard-Ass. (Translation: Don't fuck with me, bitch. I hold all the power.)

Missing a monitoring/piss test would make me me non-compliant. It says right there on my very first piece of Re-Education Camp paperwork "FAILURE TO COMPLETE AND PAY FOR ALL YOUR PROGRAM WILL RESULT IN A NO-COMPLIANCE REPORT TO THE COURT AND POSSIBLE RE-ARREST." The capitalization is theirs.

Why won't you let me pee in the cup? I'm willing to do it. I have the money. I just want to know why one person told me one thing and you're telling me another. Who's right?

I'm the director of the program and it's ultimately my decision. We don't have to let you out early. But if you pass all your tests and do what you're supposed to, we can choose to let you out a month early. You want to be sure to complete the entire program. Now, if you're willing to be calm...

I am calm.

I'll give you the test and I'll make a note here so that your release is discussed at your court review. (Translation: This'll teach you to give me lip, missy.)


I bit my toungue
, assenting with silence. (Translation: Just let me the fuck out of here.)

She passed me the cup. It was different from the other tests I've taken. Every month, it's a different test. I don't know if they're trying to change it up to prevent cheating or they're just buying whatever is on sale that month.

I was disappointed that this particular test had a screw-on lid for the cup. None of the other tests had that. How would the woman know I had asparagus for breakfast if the odor of my steaming piss didn't freely waft over her desk?

I went to the bathroom and peed in the cup. I carried it back to her office, only to find her furiously typing away on her keyboard. No doubt making notes about my bad attitude.

She printed out my
receipt and we waited for the results of my test. I already knew it would be negative but that doesn't mean they don't like to make you sweat it out a little bit. 'We'll be back with the drug test results right after the jump!'

After my appointment was over, I went across the county border to get a case of cheap beer and a bottle of wine. The wine was supposed to be celebratory - to toast the finish of this fuckery. Even though there was nothing to celebrate, I still got the wine. Just because. I even bought some prosciutto and stinky blue cheese because I still have a little timber money left. Woo-hoo! Do I know how to walk on the wild side or what?

A guy I'd seen waiting in the shabby little lobby was also at the liquor store. Something about that place really makes you want to have a drink.

So, I thought I was done - but I'm not. In truth, they can keep me in the system as long they damned well please. Whether through non-compliance in monitoring or missing a week of community service or violating one of the myriad of rules that no one tells you about until one of them is broken. The rules change every week. The only rule that doesn't change is rule number one: You can never know all of the rules.

I have ten days of community service left. At my current rate of one day a week (you can do more than one but you have to do at least one), I will be done by the first week of August. That's assuming I don't manage to commit some infraction or run into any trouble at my next court review.