Saturday, December 17, 2011

How legitimate is idea of substance abuse rehabilitation for Blagojevich?

Is former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich really a drunk?
BLAGOJEVICH: Does he have 'a problem?'

Until Friday, writing that sentence likely would have made me susceptible to legal actions, assuming that Blagojevich could scrounge up enough money these days to find an attorney willing to represent him in a libel lawsuit against me.

BUT THAT IS the direction our former governor, who in mid-March becomes an inmate of the federal corrections system (exact location yet to be determined), is going to have to take in coming years.

Which, of course, has many people convinced the whole thing is a scam intended to reduce a 14-year prison sentence (actual time of incarceration 11 years, 10 ½ months) by one year, with another few months spent in a half-way house rather than in a prison facility.

Personally, I’m a little more sympathetic in that I’m willing to trust the judgment of the federal officials who ultimately will review any application by Blagojevich to get into a substance abuse program.

If the Bureau of Prisons believes that Blagojevich has developed a problem with alcohol, I’m not going to doubt them. I would take their word over that of the people on the outside who are now ranting and raging about Blagojevich even considering such an application.

THESE ARE THE people who think it an injustice that Blagojevich got ONLY a 14-year prison sentence, and wish it could have been closer to that nonsensical talk of “natural life” that was bantered about early on. Hence, they don’t want to believe he’s got an alcohol problem.

I’ll also admit that back when I was a reporter-type person at the Illinois Statehouse and Blagojevich was a freshman representative from the Lincoln Square and Ravenswood neighborhoods, I don’t recall Rod being among the “heavy” drinkers of the Illinois Legislature (and there were a few).

So I don’t have any first-hand (or even second-hand) accounts of Blagojevich getting sloppy drunk and tearing up a capital city tavern after-hours.

Now what is motivating this talk of Milorod having a substance abuse problem with alcoholic beverages is the Chicago Sun-Times, where long-time gossip columnist Michael Sneed reported Friday that Blagojevich gets so wound up during the day that he has to drink heavily at night in order to get himself to sleep.

WGN-TV HAS SINCE picked up on the intoxication bandwagon; reporting that Blagojevich drinks to get some sleep.

Their sources went out of their way to say that Blagojevich’s “problem” is limited to liquor – he doesn’t pop pills or use any other substances whose very possession would be a criminal act.

I guess that means Blagojevich is basically a decent person, because alcohol is acceptable whereas drugs would not be. Which is a line of logic I find to be a crock. A substance abuse problem is a substance abuse problem, regardless of the actual substance involved.

If anything, I’m more offended that Blagojevich (if he truly is claiming this, we are relying on a “SneedScoop,” after all) might think that his “problem” for which he is requesting serious treatment is an acceptable one for which he would deserve respect over those inmates whose addictions are to pills.

BUT REGARDLESS, HERE’S hoping that Blagojevich can get whatever form of “help” he needs during his time of incarceration. Because if he doesn’t, then his prison sentence will truly be a waste of time.

Besides, a part of me is inclined to think that if Blagojevich does not have a substance abuse problem right now, he probably will by the time he is finished with his term. Despite the security measures in place, there are too many inmates who manage to spend their time zonked out of their minds on pills or alcohol – even if it is some sort of home-made brew that is more likely to make them sick than relaxed.

Because the oppressive nature of incarceration, even at the minimum-security or work-camp level, is one that few people can handle without being changed emotionally. Many prefer to just go through the experience with a buzz on their brain.

This is the environment that Blagojevich will be entering. It won’t shock me if he will require some sort of treatment down the road – which is when any treatment for alcoholism would come.

HE WOULD HAVE to serve several years of his prison sentence before actually getting the chance to be treated for his drinking problem.

Even if you want to believe that the “problem” is one that didn’t exist until former George Ryan gubernatorial chief of staff Scott Fawell (who used the same tactic to knock time off his own prison sentence for government corruption charges) put it into his head a week ago, you have to admit that a few years in a prison environment will change Blagojevich.

What would happen if we just unleashed Blagojevich back onto society as a 67-year-old alcoholic with no prospects for work to support himself? That situation sounds like it creates more problems than are solved by denying him admission into a substance abuse program.

Because let’s be real. If the currently-55-year-old Rod doesn’t have a drinking problem right now, he may very well have one by then.


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