So in Mid-August, I began volunteering a couple days a week at an outpatient rehab facility whose target population is women on Welfare and men and women who are currently going through the criminal justice system. The issues run the gamut from drug court to DYFS involvement, to being self-referred for a variety of different drug/alcohol addictions. The first couple of days I went to this place, I was a little nervous, mostly because of where it is located. It is located in a town that borders Camden, NJ and half the clientele come from Camden, the other half from surrounding areas. I was told by people who knew I was going, that I should be more concerned about the people than the location. Perhaps I should be. But I figured I needed to go into this with an open mind. They’re just people, right?
What I have realized since I began this is how quick I am to judge and stereotype. I like to think of myself as above doing that, but it came rushing back to slap me in the face the first day or two I was there. But I have realized that I have made judgments based on what clothes are worn, how a woman does her hair, and how they speak (I am known for being a grammar freak). It wasn’t until I sat in on both a men’s group session and then a women’s group session that context was put in place. The stories that were told were in some ways appalling to me because the background that fosters certain behaviors is just so foreign to me. But mostly, they were sad, heartbreaking stories that make you wonder at the humanity of people. And how people live through such shit for so long and are still here. They may be worse for wear and they may be “coping” (or drowning themselves) with various substances, but for many people, they would have completely given up on life itself long before.
Of course, there are always the individuals who come in fighting, and want to battle the entire time. Who think they are entitled to something because they have stopped using. They don’t always follow the rules (as in – don’t bring in urine from someone else and think you won’t get caught), and don’t like to be told something that doesn’t jive with what they think should happen. But those people are everywhere, in every walk of life.
It is easy to dismiss this sub-population of people as unworthy of such substance abuse treatment, or that they are not contributing members of society. And perhaps some of them are not contributing. But hearing their stories help shift that mentality. Because really, who chooses these lives? If they had the option to get out, and were educated about their prospects and their opportunities and their self—worth were above the level of the gutter, don’t you think they would choose something else?