I want to find something of my own


Andy checked himself into the emergency room, telling doctors he wanted to kill himself. He did this not once, but four times. In every case, it was a desperate cover. Suicide wasn’t really what Andy wanted. He just wanted to get off the streets, to get some direction in life, and to get some help escaping the clutches of a pitiless drug addiction. 

This morning, Andy is explaining his ruse to a social worker for The Bridge Center. She’s been worried about him. But, as a trained professional, she recognized the frightened pleas for help behind Andy’s suicide threats, and she hopes to give him what he really wants most: a chance at rehab and a productive life beyond.

You can’t help but feel bad for the kid. And that’s what he is, even at 24. His truck-driving father was also addicted to drugs, sending money home to the family. His mother, who held the family together, died of heart failure when Andy was in his late teens, untethering him from anything like a normal youth. Lost, he soon became homeless and hooked. That’s when he started spinning through the turnstiles of emergency rooms and jail cells, only to end up back on the streets again each time. When Andy said he wanted to commit suicide, that was the life he wanted to end. 

Now he sits in the fingerprint room of the parish prison. Inmates amble in the background, with only the jingle of their shackles and chains to mark their passing nearby. Andy is preparing to throw off his own chains.

The Bridge Center social worker sits across from Andy, asking him questions as part of the screening process. He could be anybody’s son; she can see that. Her job is to make sure that he really wants help, she explains, because recovery will be tough, and the halfhearted don’t make it.

He’s used to living on the streets and breaking the rules just to get by. Now, she says, Andy is going to have to learn to follow the rules of a rehab center and a tough recovery program. Can he do it? she asks him.

“Yes, ma’am,” Andy replies, his eyes reddening and nearing tears. The social worker studies his face for a moment. She’s checked his background, made sure he has support, and spent hours with him to make her decision. She believes he can succeed.

Andy is like too many addicts shuffling through the East Baton Rouge prison system. Prisons have neither the expertise nor the mission of helping the addicted and the mentally ill. People who are sick need treatment, not incarceration among violent offenders— one sure way of driving them only deeper into their disease. It’s simply cruel. And people like Andy have had their share of cruelty from life. 

Andy’s father is trying to help him, and so is his older brother. Family support is important. The odds of success rise when the people you love are on your side. 

What does he want to do with his life? He’s unsure. “My mother cut hair. My daddy drove trucks. I want to find something of my own.”

Satisfied with this answer, the social worker reserves a room for him at a rehabilitation center.  When his spot opens in a week or so, Andy will leave the prison for several months of rehab and recovery before proceeding to a halfway house for transition back into society. 

“Are you ready?” she asks him. He is.

 “It will help me learn to live again,” Andy says of rehab. “I just want to go home.”