Plain Talk: Labeling people is harmful
By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
It is unfortunate that we tend to label and stigmatize people because of unfortunate circumstances in their lives. If someone has gone to jail and served their time, they are labeled by many as useless lowlifes.
They try to get a job and live a normal productive life but the ex-con is marked and not oftentimes given the chance to redeem themselves. So, the ex-con who has been rehabilitated is going to fail because there are no resources to empower them to succeed and move beyond the destructive label we have created for them.
Illegal drug use is out of control within our country. Overdose deaths are at an epic high. Treatment resources are overburdened and unfortunately too often ineffective, if we look at the terrible relapse rates. The numbers are staggering!
There is most likely not a person reading this column who has not directly or indirectly been affected by out-of-control drug use. We are in the midst of a national health epidemic around the abuse of heroin and fentanyl. People of every age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status are dying senselessly every day because of overdosing. Too many people stigmatize those battling addiction. We support people who are battling cancer, why don’t we support those afflicted with addiction?
Believe it or not there are a growing number of people with tremendous support who reclaim their lives and become productive members of our larger community. That road to wellness and freedom is not easy!
JB was born into a wonderful upper-middle-class family. He went to Catholic high school. He went on to college but failed out because of his drug use. His parents spent tens of thousands of dollars on various treatment programs that did nothing. He lived on the streets of Florida, underneath bridges and in shelters.
Finally, JB saw the light and went into a long-term residential treatment program for addictions. He went back to college, graduated at the top of his class and earned a scholarship to law school. A month ago, he graduated from law school as number one in his class. He was the valedictorian and gave his speech to a packed arena. His address was about his journey to recovery and wellness which led him to law school. Today he works for a big law firm in New York City, but also does pro bono work for those who are battling addiction and need law services.
The salutatorian at Five Towns College told his story of hope and transformation as a gay man in recovery. JM hopes to leave for Spain in September to teach children English in Madrid.
People do recover from addiction and do great things. These two men in the midst of all the darkness around us are clearly beacons of light and of hope among us!
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.