The System is Broken

*All of this is shared with consent*

The system is broken.

So many systems in our world, but this blog is specific to our criminal justice system.

You all know that I met Westly on March 7, 2021. The "20 words or less" on how our relationship came to be was on this Distribution Day, someone had donated a cot. This isn't something we ordinarily have, and as such, it was snapped up pretty quickly. Westly quietly came over to ask if we had any more, or a tent, and when I told him we didn't, he hung his head low, looking forlorn and beaten down. He stepped back and hung around for awhile. After about 20 minutes, I went over to ask him if his tent had been taken out in the demolition of the tent city behind the Haven of Rest. We talked for the next 2 hours and he has since become a part of our family.

What I didn't know then was that he had an outstanding warrant. In full transparency, it honestly would not have made a lick of difference to me. After that conversation, I was moved. I saw the good inside of him that I venture to say most people haven't seen. A light that hasn't shined in a long, long time. He was excited. To get his life on track, to have someone who genuinely just wanted to listen to his story and share it, the good and the bad, and to be in his corner.

When we left the park that day, Westly cried. He said he had tried over 20 times to take his own life because he had just lost all hope of ever getting things together and didn't know where to start. I have 2 sets of business cards: One that I give to colleagues and one that I give to every person who receives a blessing bag. The later has our social media handles and email address on it in case they need anything specific, so I can try to source it for them, but no phone number. Westly was the first person I ever gave my number to.

And we've talked nearly every day since. We met for lunch in the park, discussed a path forward, steps to take that made sense putting one foot in front of the other. I got him a journal so he could keep his thoughts in line. When he needed help doing his unemployment, we spent an afternoon at the library. When his gallbladder was acting up and he refused medical care, he called me and I was able to talk him into going to the hospital. "As long as you'll take me," he said.

On the first warm day of Spring, I was leaving Walgreens after my first COVID shot when he called me in tears. He suffers from a variety of mental health issues, so I immediately asked where he was and told him I'd be right there. I picked him up, we got lunch and sat outside, enjoying the fruits of the day. It was March 22. We chatted over our Chinese food and throughout the next few hours he told me he had an outstanding warrant. This is nothing I've ever dealt with before outside of Law and Order or NCIS, so I was pretty naive to anything happening. But what I did know was that we cold not accomplish anything as far as a clean slate was concerned until he put this business behind him.

The next week we were gong to have a huge pizza party and distribution prior to my really big surgery the following day, as I wouldn't see the crew for a week or two. Westly was pumped. He talked about having a circle of trust, where everyone could go around and apologize for their misgivings. Giving each other hugs. He was always coming up with ideas, trying to be my voice on the street. "I can't wait until I can work WITH you" he was always telling me.

Unfortunately, he never made it to the party. (Side note, it rained cats and dogs and the pizza was donated to the Domestic Violence Project in North Canton).

On March 26, Westly was picked up and arrested. He called me that night, and the first thing he did was apologize. For letting me down, not making it to the party, being a disappointment. And the first thing I did was tell him I was proud of him. For not being disorderly, for being cooperative with the officers, and for finally paying the price for whatever his misgivings were so that he could move on with his life and do all the good he talked about.

That's a lot of back story to tell you what I never knew, and unless you have ever had a loved one in the system, you may not either. That our criminal justice system is supremely broken.

And before I touch on that, I want to say this: I in no way am saying that people who do things they shouldn't don't need to pay the price for those mistakes. They do. You do the crime, you need to do the time, as they say.

But we need to treat people better than we treat our pets. Criminals or not.

Another thing I quickly learned was that jail is not like it is on TV. It's very expensive, and not just in the sense of our tax dollars.

A phone call is $5.70 for 5 minutes. If you don't add money to your loved ones account, they get one free call (30 minutes) added to it on Sunday. It cannot be divided up. This means you have to choose between your parents, kids, wife, or advocate. Every Sunday Westly uses this time to call me, as I am his Power of Attorney, and I take copious notes with what needs to be taken care of for him. I do those things and fill the rest of his family in on what they can handle mentally as the burden is heavy and his parents are not well.

Basic necessities such as hygiene products are not provided to you. During his first 2 weeks, which just ended, he spent 23 hours a day in his cell on quarantine. He was not provided soap, shampoo, or anything of the sorts. A trip to the commissary to purchase said items cost us about $70. Hygiene, 3 envelopes, a notepad and coffee. This meant 15 days without a shower.

Healthcare is all but a joke. I had taken him to the emergency room, and he was seen several more times, where they deemed his gallbladder needed removal. Due to the timing of his incarceration, the surgery did not happen prior to and won't unless it "explodes and is then emergent." The food they serve is clearly not of the highest quality, so when it upset his stomach and he asked for meds, there was some sort of altercation. I won't speculate as to what that was because I wasn't there, but I do know this resulted in 4 days in "the hole" or solitary. Upon his release to his cell, Westly told me he hadn't eaten in 4 days. When I asked why, he told me in the hole they serve "nutraloaf", which is essentially all of the left overs ground up and baked into a loaf of food. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't feed that to my cats, never mind a human being.

I spent 3.5 hours this morning trying to get his mental health medications straightened out to no avail. And for every time he tries himself, for anything, he is docked $5 for a nurse and $3 for a RX off his account. The account that only has money on it if we, or his family, put money onto it.

I can honestly say the last two weeks have been eye opening and exhausting. Maybe it was my own naivety, but I honestly thought the prison system was paid for with our tax dollars. Everything that has transpired has led me to believe that it's an entirely for profit based entity. And again, while I fully believe Westly, and all law breakers, need to do their time, they are still human beings. You can pay for your crime while still being treated humanely.

He goes to court tomorrow for his sentencing hearing when he will find out where he will be transferred to prison for the duration of his time. He asked me to share his story with you because he is lonely. He's sad, depressed, and tells me each time he speaks to me (which is as often as we can afford), that he has no one else. I consistently remind him that this time does not have to be in vain, and it can, in fact, be a positive thing. That he can use it to get his GED, get his glasses back (he is legally blind), disability services, etc. And when he gets out, he can be an example to his children that just because you made a mistake doesn't mean you ARE that mistake. You can in fact make something of yourself and do good in the world. And that no matter what, as long as he doesn't break my one rule (do not lie to me) I will not leave him. I will stand by him, help him, and he will get through this because he has someone on his side who loves him and won't stop fighting.

There isn't a day that goes by that I am not supremely aware of how blessed I am. I'm eternally grateful for this life I've been given, and I also have a newfound appreciation for social workers everywhere.

If you would like to write to Westly, I will be happy to share his address once I know where he is headed. He would love letters of encouragement. He truly is a great kid who made a bad decision. Like I told a few people this his shoes, sleeping on the cold ground not knowing where my next meal was coming from, I'm not sure any of use wouldn't have made the same bad choices.

If you would like to send a monetary donation to be used for his commissary account (food or phone calls), please notate that on your PayPal or Venmo donation. I will track his fund and deposit them weekly. Currently he is at Summit County Jail, but will be moving, so I don't want to put a lump sum on the account in the event it isn't transferable (again, this is my first rodeo). I also try to moderate his account as he tends to get phone happy when there's too much on there, which as you can imagine is easy to do when you're scared and alone.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support. I hope some of you will consider writing to him. I know it would mean the world to him.