“In the space between yes and no, there’s a lifetime. It’s the difference between the path you walk and the one you leave behind; it’s the gap between who you thought you could be and who you really are; its the legroom for the lies you’ll tell yourself in the future.”
― Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart
I was 17 years old the first time that I was offered drugs. I was at a party, a little too tipsy from the vodka’s that I wasn’t meant to be drinking. ‘It’s just pot’ they told me. ‘Nah’ I said. ‘I don’t do that shit’.
I was 18 years old and on my first night out in a nightclub when I was offered a pretty little pill. It rested in the same brand of sandwich bags that I kept my lunch in when I went to school each day. ‘Come on, don’t you want a good night?‘ the checkered shirt goaded. ‘Fuck off’ I said.
I was 19 years old when I went to the pub with a few friends. I stumbled and was confused, knowing I wasn’t drinking. I quickly realised that I had stumbled across the half naked body of a woman whose bones were the same age as my own, completely unconscious with her knickers missing her dress pulled over her head.
I was 20 years old when I was at boyfriend’s house, having a dinner party with his sisters and their partners and friend’s. At a quarter to twelve they pulled out various joints and I blanched. ‘I’m not fucking doing that shit’. My boyfriend’s two year old nephew slept in his cot in the bedroom next-door.
I was 21 years old and volunteering for a local charity which provides food and bedding for local people who are homeless. I watched a man explain to me that he had not eaten in three days, all the while a needle still stuck in his arm.
I’m almost 23 years old, and I’m pissed off.
On Wednesday morning, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and 6 other faceless, nameless men were executed by firing squad, all convicted of drug offences of a varying nature. I am completely and utterly against the death penalty. As the world would have it, I am currently studying the death penalty and it’s processes in my forensic psychology class. I simply fail to understand the logic in saying ‘Killing or attempting to kill people through your actions is wrong. Therefore we will kill you to show you that it is wrong’.
Yeah, you read that right.
In a press conference, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop labelled the executions as ‘cruel and unnecessary’. They are not incorrect. To calculatedly, coldly and systematically end another life is both cruel and unnecessary. This phrase was adopted by all and sundry on social media, and spread virulently. There were Facebook statuses, blog posts, Instagram posts and hashtags. Mamamia website claimed that our nation was in mourning, and the media collectively referred to Chan and Sukumaran as ‘Our boys’.
Here are some definitions for you.
Chan and Sukumaran were not boys at the time of their execution. Rather, they were aged 31 and 34 respectively. They were, in every sense of the word, fully grown men, both chronologically and circumstantially. More importantly, they were aged 22 and 24 years of age at the time of their arrest in 2005. There is no denying that these men were young men, but they were not boys by any stretch of the imagination. To attribute them the title of boys is to somehow lessen their responsibility for their own actions, creating them into a childlike, caricatured version of themselves. At the time of their arrest, they were not 16 year old boys who found themselves to be victims of a pre frontal cortex that was yet to develop. The pre frontal cortex, responsible for decision making and impulsivity, is developed in young men by their early twenties. In other words?
These men were entirely responsible for their actions.
To blind fold human beings, to affix them to a wooden cross, and to shoot them is cruel, and it is unnecessary.
But I can also think of another thing which is both cruel and unnecessary.
In 2012, nearly four Australians died every single day from drug overdose. In 2012, 1,427 people died from a drug overdose (Australian Bureau of Statistics). In the same year, drug overdoses outnumbered deaths from road trauma. This means that every single day, someone’s child, Mum, Dad, Brother, Sister, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend died. Four times over. 365 days in a row.
But we did not light a candle for these people. We did not start a hashtag #istandformercy. We did not write Facebook statuses, and we did not pray for them. Why? Because we say that they made a choice to take drugs. And therefore, they need to be personally responsible for their own actions.
This week, Guy Sebastian has written a song for Chan and Sukumaran. He didn’t write a song for all the people who died from drug overdose. Chan and Sukumaran were caught attempting to smuggle 334 grams of heroin, a deadly and highly addictive opiate.
We have heard many times in the media this week as to how Chan, Sukumaran and the 6 other men would have died. But we have not heard how a person dies of a drug overdose. So I am going to tell you. There are different ways that a person dies of a drug overdose, dependant on the class of drug. So for the sake of relevance, I will explain to you how a person dies of an opiate overdose, such as heroin.
The person will become very disorientated and not be able to comprehend their surroundings, or even the fact that they are about to die. Their arms, legs and fingers will go very floppy and lax, and they will be unable to stand, sit or physically support themselves. The person will begin to have shallow breaths, and will soon make gurgling or heavy snoring sounds. This means that the person’s airway is obstructed, and they can no longer breathe adequately. As a consequence of this, they will begin to turn blue. Finally they may vomit, and consequently drown to death in their own sick. Alternatively, their breathing will become more and more depressed until they cease breathing completely, enter a cardiac arrest, and die. They will usually die on their own, laying in a pool of their own vomit, piss and shit. Sometimes they are found with a needle still stuck in their arms.
It is a completely cruel and unnecessary death, and it’s happening multiple times a day in Australia, every single day.
So why do we care as a society for the individuals who supply society with drugs, but not the people who die from overdoses? There are many factors, and not enough for me to adequately explore in just one blog post. But I suspect it’s a lost easier to feel empathy for two young men who do not slur their words, are well groomed and articulate, than it is for the homeless, dirty, staggering person in front of you in the street, covered in sores and scratching their own flesh off.
Here is the thing about empathy; we do not have the right to be selective in who we feel empathy for, and we do not get to be selective in who we take a stand for, and who we don’t.
It is a mark of an uncivilised society to think that we have the right to pick and choose empathy.
Here is a last definition for you.
This week, did you write a post about the Indonesian executions? Have you recently signed a petition in relation to it? Did you post an Instagram photo? Did you write a really angry status? Did you take a photo of a candle? Did you write a hashtag?
More importantly, do you honestly think that you actually made a difference?
Because here’s the kicker; you didn’t do shit.
Yes, you read that right too. You have not saved a life. You have not changed government policy. You have not changed lives. You have not helped people affected by drugs, on either end of the scale. You haven’t actually done a thing, and the greatest problem with this whole sorry mess is that you genuinely believe you did. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were still executed. And another few Australian’s would have died again today from drug overdose. And the world keeps on spinning, ever propelled by our pervasive drug culture.
On Sunday night, as I do once a month every month, I will be volunteering 5 hours of my time for a local not for profit organisation which works with local people who are homeless or living in poverty. The majority of our clients are living with substance abuse. I recently provided dinner to 8 and 10 year old siblings, because they heard that they could get food there. I asked them where Mummy or Daddy was. Their silence answered for them. I offer to put clients in touch with local services which can provide them with emergency housing, financial support and drug and alcohol counselling. Sometimes they accept the offer. More often than not they don’t. We do not judge, and we as a team do not claim to be changing the world. We are just making sure that an average of 30 people per night are getting food, water and bedding. We show them that people care about them, and hope that maybe for some of them, that will be enough to know that they deserve to receive help and treatment, and that rehabilitation is possible. Our youngest client is 5 years old. Our eldest is 92. More importantly, they are all human beings who deserve just as much empathy, support and assistance as Chan and Sukumaran.
And the difference is, these people still stand a chance.
I am going to post a list of various services and resources below that provide drug education, support and help to rehabilitate from substance abuse.
Maybe you could volunteer for them. Perhaps you could make a financial donation.
Or you could just post a Facebook status, and tell yourself that you stand for mercy and justice.
Family Drug Support- Supporting families affected by alcohol and other drugs. http://www.fds.org.au
Salvation Army. http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/get-involved/Volunteer/
Self Help Addiction Resource Centre.http://sharc.org.au
Youth off the stress.http://www.youthoffthestreets.com.au
Australian Youth Mentoring Network.http://www.youthmentoring.org.au/program_listings.php?selstate=1