The end of April marked an important anniversary for me —four years of sobriety.
I was introduced to heroin following an injury. While pain medications offered me relief, they ultimately put me on a path toward addiction. That addiction didn't subside when the prescriptions ran out and I turned to heroin.
Heroin took over my life.
I lost everything — my job, my home and, most importantly, my relationships with loved ones. My disease undermined my ability to think rationally. Like many folks with addiction, I landed in the criminal justice system where I didn't belong.
I wasn't alone. According to the ACLU, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than China, Russia or Iran. In spite of making up 5 percent of the world's population, we are responsible for 25 percent of the world's incarcerated.
These numbers illustrate an analogy I recently heard about our criminal-justice system. It was compared to a bicycle, specifically the gears. We all know that a bike needs to use different gears across different terrains to work effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, for too long, the criminal justice system has tried to deal with a wide variety of situations using only the prison gear.
We need other gears of justice, such as mental health treatment services. These common-sense alternatives often fit the needs of individuals, and ultimately improve outcomes.
In so many ways, the recently passed heroin bill is evidence that the Kentucky legislature and lawmaking bodies across the country are moving away from strictly relying on the incarceration gear.
It was because of access to treatment that I am in a profoundly different place than I was just a few short years ago. I could have been less fortunate, and I fear certain provisions of the new law will prevent others like me from reaching a place of health and happiness.
For example, I could still have been labeled a dealer instead of an addict, even though the bill distinguishes between the two. The compromise and hard work behind passing that historic measure are beyond commendable, but as an advocate I still want more.
Kentucky lawmakers need to understand that even crimes outside of possession are often a result of an underlying addiction. There were a number of bills filed in the 2015 session aimed at helping us switch gears.
Examples include a measure to allow for expungement of certain low-level Class-D felonies and re-classifying certain low-level misdemeanors, to bring savings to jails, reduce court time and bring additional revenue to the General Fund.
I stood with the ACLU of Kentucky as it lobbied for these bills and will continue to support their efforts to bring about criminal justice reform that balances public safety without further derailing the lives of addicts. Lawmakers should support these bills.
Kentuckians will be best served by the General Assembly further considering reconstructing our justice system into one that produces more outcomes like mine. I am a committed student and responsible employee. I am a dedicated advocate for sobriety.
There are thousands of Kentuckians currently struggling with their addiction who are finding themselves in and out of our state's jails and prisons for a health condition. With more bold, inspiring actions like the heroin bill, we will be able to better ensure that these individuals are put on a pathway similar to mine, a pathway that ended not in prison but in sobriety and success.