WHY ETHAN COUCH SHOULD GET A CHANCE
I don't know Ethan Couch, and I'm not sure whether Affluenza exists. But I do know something about drunk driving and coming from affluent roots.
In late summer of 2008, I was seriously addicted to alcohol, marijuana and whatever else happened to be available. After partying hard one night, I decided to get behind the wheel drunk and stoned on weed and Xanax. A friend accompanied me on that fateful trip. I remember his ominous words, "You're swerving."
The sky gave way like a low-budget dam. Rain pounded the windshield. My wipers were old, and nodding in and out of a blackout, I said 8 words that saved our lives. I think we should put on our seatbelt.
I Hit Someone Head-On at 55mph
Call it divine intervention or dumb luck. Seconds later, the impact jolted me sober. It was a head-on collision at 55mph. I was, ironically, the only person who remained conscious. Spine-tingling terror washed over me as though I'd been drenched by water from the Grim Reaper's well. I just killed someone. That was my first thought.
But luck showed favor in my darkest moment. The only party seriously injured in the accident was the guy who was partied out - me.
I spent months in a wheelchair and developed an intense love affair with opiate-based pain medication. I was a foul-mouthed garlic lover and opiates were my tic-tacs. The drugs helped me forget. The consequences didn't.
My Punishment Was More Severe Than Ethan Couch
My attorney looked me in the eye with a cigarette in one hand and a scotch in the other. It was early afternoon. One of the best DUI lawyers in Nashville said, "Wait until I finishbefore you say something." That's when I knew the plea bargain didn't go my way.
Months in jail. A year on the SCRAM bracelet. Probation. Community Service. Fines. I graduated college, and I reported to jail the next day. Talk about a graduation present.
I blame others for the accident, specifically my friend who was a passenger that stormy night. I wasn't man enough to accept responsibility for my actions. For my addiction. I thought some time in an addiction treatment center might excuse my incarceration sentencing. I was wrong.
Maybe you see where I'm headed with this. Now Ethan's crime is indefensible. Johnny Cochran, rest his soul, couldn't justify killing four people and seriously injuring two others in a drunk driving accident. Whether Ethan suffers from Affluenza doesn't interest me. Here's the shocker, and I don't say this lightly. We should rejoice that a judge gave a criminal a chance.
Addiction Treatment in Lieu of Jail
Too many people with alcoholism and addiction spend time in jail. Too many drunks and junkies cost this country billions of dollars due to unnecessary incarceration. I've done time. And I can assure you, there's a reason it's called "Con College."
Today, more legal communities understand people with addiction and alcoholism need treatment, not incarceration. I don't agree with the judge's decision to send Ethan straight to a luxury treatment facility. He should do time. I am elated, however, that he'll get a chance to reorient his life's compass for the better.
He could become a powerful advocate for the dangers of drunk driving at high schools and colleges across America. America's most hated teenager of the holiday season could counsel other teens and young adults experiencing similar circumstances. Does American genuinely want to cultivate a reputation for harsh punishment? Or should we work towards criminal offender punishment designed to transform broken souls into productive members of society?
I vote yes to compassion and second chances. The kid is young enough to make some serious changes. If he works towards recovery, I can envision a powerful advocate for the pitfalls of teenage substance abuse. He could prevent accidents. He could prevent deaths. He'll get that chance in treatment. He wouldn't in jail.
I still think Ethan deserved incarceration. But he'll get the chance I got. I can't imagine what it's like for the families of the victims, and my most heartfelt prayers go out to them.
On November 24th, 2013, I celebrated one and a half years of sobriety. I hope Ethan Couch will be able to experience the miracle of recovery like I have someday. If he slips up, however, I hope the judge locks him up for years.
Interview with the Treatment Center Where Ethan Couch Will Stay for One Year (video) via CNN.com