There's a brand of clothing called "Life is Good." They make T-shirts and flip flops and pajamas and lots of other clothing and accessories. My niece likes to wear them and my sister likes to buy them for her because they're colorful and happy, with cute images and sayings.
Indeed, it's a company with a fairly inspiring story, built by two young men dreaming big dreams, who started off hawking t-shirts at street fairs. Their web page is littered with bright sayings, like "spread the power of optimism" and "face the bumps with a smile" and "the world is yours." It's a feel good, success story. If you buy something, your purchase helps kids in need.
I see the clothes around a lot, and I can't help thinking of all the people I represented for drug problems.
When I moved from St. Louis back to my small, rural, southern Illinois home town, I started doing public defender work because it seemed like it might be more interesting than the divorces and land disputes that were the meat and potatoes of a small town law practice. I anticipated defending DUI's, batteries arising from bar fights, and the occassional more serious crime usually attributed to outsiders coming into a town that sat on the edge of an Interstate highway.
I didn't anticipate the crime wave that was about to overwhelm the two counties I served as a result of the meth production and addiction that swept through the Midwest.
In less than a year, criminal courts in my counties were inundated, seeing case loads double and then triple and then quadruple. Jails were overflowing, Children and Family Service caseworkers were overworked, and drug rehab facilities were overwhelmed and without the resources or knowledge to treat the strong additcion of meth. Public defenders found themselves in lock up rooms with neighbors as clients, trying to understand it.
The idyll of small town life that I had returned to seemed to have gone the same way as the small family farms that used to be enough to support a family. As I looked around, I saw that jobs were scarce. Opportunities were rare. Schools were providing access to college to students who went that route, but little to those who didn't. The end of high school all too often became an entry into a world of additction, criminal courts, jail and prison.
Across the table from me, the clients I represented over the course of a decade had lost weight, lost teeth, lost families, and sometimes gained paranoia. They didn't always provide much insight into how they had gotten there. Or why. But, over time, and listening to individual stories, it became clear that the turn towards meth was a reach for a slice of "life is good."
At a time, and in a place, where opportunities were lacking and time was long, they tried meth. And all of a sudden, life was good. Not for a long time usually. But for the length of a high, they forgot that they were unemployed, with no good prospects and no dreams. And so they tried it again. It's not a defense and it's not a solution.
But it helped me to understand. We all want it.
"Life is good." Unless it's not.