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Mandatory Guilt

I received a call from the attorney the next day, it was brief, very direct, and expensive. I told them the information that they asked for, and received a dialogue of what my next steps were, what to expect in the process and what I should start doing right away. I liked hearing that there was something that I could do while I waited to hear what my blood test results were. I thought that getting a lawyer would mean I had a better outcome than someone who didn’t have a lawyer. They acted as a guide through the whole process, and I was grateful to hear what I should expect, and that I had some time until I would actually be sentenced. On part of sentencing would be Drug and Alcohol abuse classes and group therapy. I was told to get started on these because it would help me to have hours logged by the time I was sentenced.

I was to sign up for 52 hours of level 2 alcohol education classes and Alcohol therapy, 48 Hours of Community Service, a MADD panel, in other words, Mandatory guilt.

I signed up with one of Denvers Alcohol substance abuse centers, and started attending my classes abut a month after the accident. I was required to go in and fill out an intake form which took about an hour to complete. It included full family health history, mental health history, it was basically their way of gauging if my parents were alcoholics or addicts, so they could detect my level of risk. Did it run in my blood? Was I an addict? They took a picture of me to use on my file, to ensure I couldn’t have anyone attend classes for me. It felt like another mug shot.

The intake form must have been 20 pages double sided, some yes or no questions such as; do you suffer withdrawal symptoms? Do you feel pressure to drink from friends or family? And then there were several questions about past drug use, do you currently use any drugs? At what age did you start drinking? Do you drink because it helps you loosen up? The questions were re-worded in a rigorous attempt to see if you would slip up about your history. The intake forms made me angry. I wasn’t an alcoholic, I didn’t think I had a problem, and yet these questions were degrading, personal, invasive, and standardized to bring out the worst in you. I felt as if the forms were a deep dive into my habits, it made me reflect on my past, all that I have done, and how many nights in a row I went to happy hour with the team, or came home and had a glass or three of wine. It made me feel bad, and above all, it made me feel guilty.

The classes felt like a high school detention room, the walls were brick and displayed a strange array of “art”. The paperwork stacks were piled high on the two desks in the reception area, and as I looked around I saw pictures of people who had been badly injured in DUI car accidents, scattered business cards for community service work, lawyers and therapists. It was gloomy and depressing and I knew I would be spending 52 hours of my life within these walls.

The staff that worked the reception desks were polite, but you knew they were always thinking of you as some sort of criminal, even if they didn’t know your story. The counselors could see through any bullshit, and they took their time warming up to the attendees. They needed to hold authority, and they wanted us to be engaged and remorseful..

The clientele were from all walks of life, from the server at 24 hour café, earning minimum wage, to a 6 figure earning financial advisor, from a high ranking leader in the Armed forces, to a 18 wheel truck driver. I remember calling it the breakfast club, because it seemed we all had such different ways of living, yet we were all sitting in the same room, having committed the same crime, whether it be our first DUI or the 5th, we were all in that room for the same reason. We drank and drove, and got caught.

The classes were 2 hours each, once a week. Missing class was not accepted, which required me to ask for special provisions at work, being able to leave early to make it across town in rush hour traffic. It cost $50.00 for the “workbook” which was an over copied version of what I assume to be an actual book dating back to 2000. It had been copied several times and had been bound with plastic binding to make it a book again. Which by the way, I think I opened once.

Each class was $25.00, paid before you entered your assigned room, and attendance was taken at the beginning of class and in the last 15 minutes to ensure no one checked in and then left without attending class. The first few classed were comical, mostly it was the counselor trying to tame the wild ones, like the pot head who always defended weed when it came up in discussion, to the point that was just annoying, and made our counselor mad. Or the younger rebels who were trying to show their tough shell and talked back to the counselors.

It was like I was in a reality TV show, all I had to do was sit there and soon enough the two hours were over and I got to observe some humorous arguments and at least one lash out from our counselor trying to re-gain control of the group. The same people were in the class each week, so at least I got to make a few friends, or at least we were friends within the 4 walls of the tiny, non air conditioned room for two hours a week, for the foreseeable future. Each class there would be a topic we covered, and after about the 5th class, the guilt started to sink in, the classes became less comical and more personal. It was as if my actions and decisions I had made my entire adult life, were examples used in the lessons learned each week.

Each class moving forward got a little more personal, and I started opening up, seeking help from the others. It was a great place to hear what they were going through as their DUI cases progressed. After my first hearing, I became especially interested in what everyone was going through. My personal guilt was building like a mountain, and as the guilt grew my anxiety became a constant battle, my mind was filled with “what if’s” that would go unanswered for months.

I would listen to the stories being told, and constantly analyze them and compare them to my own story, to see if I could figure out my fate. There was a young girl who only had .08 in her system and still got a DUI and sat in jail overnight, she had the same punishment as me sitting in this class plus community service. There was an older man who was on his 4th DUI and blew a .39, he knew he was going to jail just based on state laws, it was a felony conviction so he got a lawyer, and was basically buying himself time to save up money. I tried to find the cases that were most like mine (first DUI, high BAC, Car accident) to determine what my sentencing would be, but it seemed no matter what someone did, the sentencing was different in every case, in every county, and in every courtroom. The judge had the ability to handout any type of sentencing they wanted. So I spent the next 5 months playing scenarios through my head of what was going to happen to me…

I felt guilty, and knew I would look guilty to the judge too.

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