Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Probation Tax

We have a patient whose age, race and other identifiers are inconsequential. Suffice it to say that this client is physically disabled in a major way and has managed to remain substantially independent despite his disability, living on his own, maintaining an apartment,with frequent visits with his children by several different women. This very kind gentleman was on the wrong side of the law as a young adult, was convicted of some small-time non-violent drug offenses, and has been on probation for some time. His Probation Officer seems to be one of those individuals in law enforcement who goes out of their way to make others' lives miserable, and we have gone to bat for this most exemplary of clients several times. Anyone on our team who gets to know this individual cannot help but be fond of him. He's a very magnetic and genuine personality.

Our client has expressed determination and a fierce desire to pursue an education, overcome his disability, and enter the workforce. Eager to help others, he has grand plans for how he would actualize himself and bring his many gifts to others. Through many applications and beaureaucratic processes, my coworker enabled this gentleman to be approved for classes, training, and a free home computer to facilitate his academic success. Our pleasure at seeing his face light up when talking about his future is beyond measure, and his plans for the future only seem to expand.

This week, a huge monkey wrench was thrown into the works in the guise of The War on Drugs. It appears that, due to misdemeanor drug possession charges and mandatory minimum sentencing laws with prolonged probation, this gentleman---who is eager to make something of himself, give back to the world, and contribute to society---is thwarted in his desire by the fact that his past convictions and current probation preclude his ability to receive even one dollar in financial aid. With classes ready to be registered for, a computer ready for delivery, and training all set to commence, his dreams and aspirations are now dashed against the rocks of misguided government action.

While white collar criminals bilk retirees of millions, slum-lords charge outrageous rents for substandard housing, the Big Dig in Boston collapses under its own weight, and members of law enforcement (including the CIA and FBI) appear to profit from involvement in the international drug trade, this promising young man with so much to give cannot receive the education he needs to remove himself from the rolls of Social Security Disability and create a new life. For all the talk of the "rehabilitation" of criminals, the government's denial of financial aid for the education of those on probation for minor non-violent crimes flies in the face of all logic and ethics. If this society was to put into words its goals for the future of non-violent offenders, those words would certainly reflect a desire for such individuals to receive education and training which would make them productive, peaceful, tax-paying citizens contributing to the welfare of the larger society while simultaneously pursuing self-mastery and personal fulfillment.

So, in light of this maddeningly Kafkaesque outcome, our protagonist cannot pursue his dreams, better himself, or otherwise lift himself from poverty and economic reliance upon the state, because his previous actions preclude his receiving financial assistance for training and education. Rather, he should languish in uneducated disability, unable to obtain the skills training needed for advancement and gainful, tax-paying employment. It's just another great example which proves that the War on Drugs is really just a War on the Poor; and the war, my friends, is simply never over.
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