Guest Column: Everyone deserves a second chance

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RBC | I finally achieved a life-long goal of reading “Les Miserables” (actually I listened to most of it on an audio book). Not long afterwards I listened to a fantastic sermon about grace and forgiveness. I concluded my week watching supreme court confirmation hearings. Each of these events caused me to think about whether or not we are a society that values “second chances.”
We could probably all think of a second chance we were given by an employer, a parent, a spouse or a teacher along our path of life. I sure can think of a few given to me that changed my life and turned a negative into a positive.
Why is it that when our society talks about addiction, second chances are only given reluctantly? It saddens me when discussions about Rio Blanco county residents struggling with mental illness and addiction end in negative, prejudiced, non-loving comments. “They need help, but not in my backyard.” “If we provide help to addicts, it entices their addicted family and their problems to come to our county.” “Addiction is just too scary.” “They should have never smoked that first cigarette.”
It sounds safer to send the addict far, far away where their daily struggles are kept out of sight. Where we don’t have to do any work. Where the messiness of mental illness and addiction won’t get our hands dirty. Meanwhile families are fractured and practice at sober living doesn’t happen.
The Vicar in Les Miserables gives Jean ValJean a second chance, and later Jean shows kindness and grace to multitudes. Victor Hugo’s famous novel shakes the readers to the core and forces us to think about second chances, love, pain and justice in a deeper way. The novel is long and I learned patience and focus trying to keep track of the many plot twists and turns. The theme and moral of the story is just as relevant today as it was in the 1860s.
Drug, alcohol and nicotine addicts (maybe even sugar addicts) struggle immensely, even after making the decision to get help. They may need a second, third, sixth or seventh chance to get clean. Personal responsibility is definitely a part of the recovery, but putting that cart before the horse of diagnosing and treating the mental illness is just wrong.
No life should be devalued and tossed away. Professional help, love, grace and boundaries are some of the many tools we need more of in our county!

By JULIE DRAKE | Special to the Herald Times