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October 5, 2005 - Drug Policy Alliance (US Web)

"Without Proposition 36, I'd Probably Be Dead Now"

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Forty-eight year old Scott Jaekel never expected his life to turn out the way it did. The nearly lifelong Sacramento resident describes his childhood as something similar to a Leave it to Beaver episode. His mother was a teetotaler and his military veteran father rarely drank. Certainly, neither parent did drugs. By age 12 Scott was a Boy Scout and well on his way to being an Eagle Scout when his life took an unexpected detour.

"My brother got out of the army in Germany and came back strung out on opiates, and that's when it began for me."

Since Scott looked up to his older brother, he was intrigued by drugs and in short order began to experiment. Another relative, a cousin from Oklahoma, introduced Scott to methamphetamine and by high school Scott was selling drugs.

By the 1970s Scott was addicted, not just to heroin, but to methamphetamine, alcohol and other drugs. He was twice convicted for robbery and began a pattern that would see him in and out of prisons and jails over the next quarter-century.

All the while his addiction became deeper and deeper and jail proved no deterrent.

"I got high in jail, I did what I had to do to work it [to obtain drugs]," says Scott.

His life had reached such a low point by 2000 that Scott and his wife, who was also struggling with addiction and in and out of jail, had their baby daughter taken away by Child Protective Services when the newborn tested positive for drugs.

"You'd think that would have woken us up, but sadly it didn't," Scott remembers.

Another drug possession bust in early 2001 made Scott a candidate for a sentence of 25 years to life under California's "Three Strikes" law. Desperate, Scott wrote to the California Attorney General's office asking for information on another law he thought might help him reduce his sentence. The reply he received included unexpected information on a new possibility called Proposition 36.

Though Proposition 36, the treatment-instead-of-jail initiative, had been passed by voters the previous year, it was still a few months away from going into effect. However, Scott saw this as his only chance and informed his lawyer, who determined that the initiative would apply to Scott.

Scott was eventually allowed to participate in a Proposition 36 treatment program and spent 90 days at an in-house treatment facility. He had to make some big changes, even once court-ordered treatment ended. That included going to regular meetings and counseling sessions, which he still attends today.

Scott stopped hanging out with all of his old friends who still use drugs.

"Yeah, I just needed to cut them off and change my patterns. I mean, if you are going to keep going to the barbershop, eventually you're going to get a haircut."

Scott now spends a lot of time with his wife, children, counselors and other people in recovery. Thanks to Proposition 36 and this network of family and positive people, Scott turned his life around and found employment at an environmental construction company, where he is now a foreman. His boss knows his record, his struggle and that Scott travels the straight and narrow road of recovery.

"The treatment program made me see that I could do something with myself."

During the past few years, Scott has realized that recovery is a process, a matter of daily discipline. Scott helps not only himself and his family now, but also addicts just arriving in treatment, referred by Proposition 36 or through other means.

Additionally, Scott and his wife now have a three-and-a-half year old daughter whom they call their "recovery daughter" because she has never seen her parents use drugs. The couple is also in touch with the woman who adopted their other daughter and receives regular updates on her life and development.

If Scott Jaekel had been locked up for the last four-plus years, he would have already cost California taxpayers an estimated $132,000 in incarceration costs. The total burden for a minimum 25-year sentence would have ballooned to close to a million dollars. Today, he's a working man, a father and a mentor to others. He's now a taxpayer rather than a tax consumer.

Scott gives full credit to Proposition 36 for this turnaround in his life.

"Without Proposition 36, I'd probably be dead now."

Please join us at the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, November 10-12 in Long Beach, for a debate on flash incarceration in Prop 36 along with discussions of other issues important to Californians.

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