Tag Archives: rehabilitation

I Got Another Puzzle For You*


Software has been developed to assist school principals in policing the online behavior of students; online behavior outside of school facilities and hours that is. Pointing out the folly of such a pursuit or the obscene waste of resources of such an endeavor is disheartening. As our public education system is eroding in rigor and well roundedness, do we really need yet another distraction? At what point are we Willy Wonka warning of yet another bad decision with hushed weary intonations of; “No. Stop. Don’t”?

The notion that a child’s behavior outside of school is the school’s business/problem is absurd. Unless the school is part of an orphanage it is not the school’s problem. The very idea that there could ever be any software program that could police all the children, in all electronic realms is simply science fiction. Children do stupid stuff. Kids can be mean. How they do this stuff is beside the point. Generations ago principals did not police finished basements, railroad tracks, bowling alleys and soda fountains. No doubt some principals at some point have cleaned graffiti off a bathroom wall, but they didn’t crouch in a corner ready to pounce upon the scribe (or at least I hope they didn’t.) Most of us of voting age were either bullied, a bully or a mix of the two at one point or another. It’s what kids do. Siblings torment siblings, classmates tease classmates, and kids terrorize neighbors (Boo Radley anyone?) It’s not nice, it’s nothing any adult is proud of, but it is part of growing up.

The issue is how children and the adults around them respond to such goings on. Bullying and extreme response to bullying both come from the same place; insecurity. Children are trying to find their way in the world and to feel some sense of control. A bully feels better about him or herself when they lord over someone. Being bullied feels crappy but should not feel like the end of the world. It becomes the end of the world when the bullying is unrelenting and perpetrated by many OR when the bullied is fragile. Fragility can take many guises but should be recognizable to parents. A fragile child does not have close (age appropriate) friends, reacts disproportionately to disappointment, and demonstrates excessive anxiety or (inward or outward) rage. Children who have trouble connecting to their world around them can be devastated by the sense that their world hates them. Children, particularly fragile children, are best served by having their world expanded. Multiple social networks (e.g., scouts, dance class, religious school, relatives, etc.) are an insurance policy against ostracization. Feeling good about one area of his/her life can be the light at the end of the tunnel for a bullied child.

The very idea that a principal should spend money and time trying to police the (often elusive) behavior of children is absurd. If there is that kind of time and money available perhaps we could get the arts back into the school? For decades arts, particularly theater, has been used with vulnerable populations to explore issues of empathy and self-esteem. Prisons and juvenile detention centers have changed lives with their theater arts programs. Children engaged in writing or visual arts projects learn about each other and find common ground. A school experience not based on physical agility or extroversion creates a more realistic environment for children. (Few adults have to make their way through every weekday by being popular.) Bullying and extreme response to bullying is about a response to lack of control. Adding more external control (which has no hope of being effective) completely misses the mark. Strong children are not built with surveillance systems. Strong children are built by a sense of accomplishment and mastery. Schools can play a part in that but to do so they need to focus on education not on in loco parentis.

*Oompa Loompa Song (1971) – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Childhood, Education


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Let The Punishment Fit The Crime*


When is a person simply too old to pull off a prison jumpsuit? Is an orange onesie, or perhaps a stenciled; “Property Of” best left to the young? When did older age become synonymous with harmless or pitiful? Age does matter of course. It is a biological fact that our reflexes, cognition and general health tend to decline as we age. But how does our responsibly for past acts diminish?

This week both a 94-year old and 89-year old man are facing prison time, and the reports of this fact are tinged with a hint of public shaming. Do decent people really lock up men who look like great-grandpas? (This thought by a culture whose predominate infrastructure for the elderly are nursing homes.) This perspective might make sense if our penal system was designed to prevent further criminal activity, but it’s not. In fact one could argue that a stint in prison is equal to a graduate education in crime. The intent of prison is punishment, and in a perfect world, rehabilitation.

Of course it’s always crucial that the punishment fit the crime. If an elderly person has committed a victimless crime or a crime of compassion, prison probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But if a 94-year old man is (allegedly) an SS commander and has gotten away with his crimes for 60 years? Well, for starters shame on us (and doesn’t it make all this current talk on immigration seem like child’s play?! Seriously! In the late 1940s and 1950s wouldn’t you think that there was some sort of heightened screening/security?!) By all reports this man is quite robust and has been living in Minnesota after not declaring that he was an SS officer upon entering the country. No kidding. That’s the reason given for his unencumbered pursuit of the American Dream: he didn’t say that he was in the SS. (Where are you when we need you Mel Brooks?) In case there are any hair splitters out there; it is alleged that he was a commander. That is, he was issuing orders to kill. I think we can agree that there is no amount of jail time that would be sufficient punishment but surely anything is better than nothing.

Probably the only thing that would make an 89-year old man who abused, neglected and robbed his centenarian mother seem not so bad is a Nazi officer. But that’s not fair; no one can really compete at that level. The 89-year old spent years fleecing and orchestrating his mother’s neglect. His resources and the legal system itself have delayed his punishment. What’s most relevant in his story is that he committed his crimes at great-granddaddy age. He was way past the discount movie ticket age when he embarked on his mustache-twisting plan.

So why is it exactly that we are supposed to be overcome with compassion for a man who committed some of the worst atrocities of our time and got away with it for 60+ years, and a man who committed his wretched crimes in old age? Which is it we’re to be rewarding exactly? Is it laudable to get away with something (let alone doing so for 6 decades)? Or is it that we’re impressed that anyone past retirement age can perpetuate a complex and brutal crime? There are a lot of people in prison who are not physically or mentally up to the challenges. If we really believe that prison is only for the strong and vital we have a lot of rethinking to do. If instead we believe that after a fair trial criminals should serve time, than that is what they should do.

*The Mikado – (1885) Gilbert & Sullivan

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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Childhood


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What Would Bill W. Do?

Not too long ago, there was some media buzz about the efficacy of addiction therapy.  This is not a popular subject.  If one works in the rehabilitation (rehab) industry one is understandably resistant to any metric devices that might prove the methodology ambiguous.  Addiction is a very resistant phenomenon.  There are occasions, when a society of thinking people can agree, that lacking a 100% guarantee, erring on the side of empathy and care is optimal.  For some addicts, the simple act of stopping something in motion, is enough to change their lives.  Rehabilitation can be that barricade.

Addiction to alcohol, drugs or eating disorders has never seemed quiet or private to me.  I recognize someone in the throes of the phenomenon (whether they are using or not.)  People with a Faustian relationship with food are very obvious to me, and I completely understand the entertainment value of metaphorically playing with one’s food.  Of course, when it spills into passive suicidal tendencies, all bets are off.  It is torture to be in the life of an addict.  Addicts can be very unpredictable and by definition, not reliable (their primary relationship is to their addiction.)  Empathy can wear thin after multiple incidents.  It is helpful to remember that people use drugs, food, and alcohol to the point of personal destruction, NOT because the substances or processes are so tempting, but because without them, life would be unbearable.  In other words; drugs, eating disorders and alcohol work.  They numb and distract from an inner pain that for some people is devastatingly crippling.

Posh rehab centers are part of the American lexicon.  Most of us can rattle off one or two without thought (Hazelden, Betty Ford.)  Colleges and universities now address eating disorders via education campaigns, marketing (‘all you can eat’ dining have been replaced with ‘all you care to eat’ dining) staff training and additional counseling staff.  Certainly excessive/binge drinking (which can be an indication of alcoholism) has been the bane of higher education for some time (drug abuse, because of its inherent illegality poses more of a conundrum.)  Employers contracting with treatment providers has become de rigueur.  Clearly, there is treatment available for some.

But what of the veterans?  Veterans are returning, and mercifully will continue to do so in even greater number now.  They will come back to what kind of treatments and where?  This week it was reported that 1 in 5 suicides is that of a veteran.  Now, I’d be the first to say that NOT screening people for mental illness before enlistment is absurd.  But regardless, we have a problem here.  I don’t mean to imply that veterans (or anyone) who commits suicide is an addict.  Not at all.  But there is overlap.  Suicide, most often, is not a well thought out end of life plan, but an act of someone who feels they have no options.  Addiction is also the result of feeling there are no feasible options.  Teaching people to recognize their pain for what it is, and providing them tools to pull themselves out of that pain, is effective.  Rehabilitation, at its best, does just that.

So what’s our plan?  If rehabilitation is accepted by the wealthy, the educated and corporate America, as viable treatment for addiction, shouldn’t it be available to all?



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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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