The rock pile of punishment has a stone for every sin and enough stones to kill every sinner. Were we to cast these stones unto the addict, whose sins defile the temple of his own body and demean the body politic, were we to cast out the drunkard and the dope fiend—were we to justify our actions by enforcing the letter of the law—we would be righteous in our indignation but wrong about the spirit of the law. We would be wrong to mistake the hardened earth of the heartland of America as too rigid for us to write a five-letter word of our Jewish ancestors and our Christian forefathers: mercy.
If any good can come from the opioid epidemic, aside from saving the lives of the afflicted, perhaps we will change our outlook on addiction. Perhaps we will look the addict in the eyes, not to condemn him but to see how familiar he looks—because he is the veteran who fought valiantly but now struggles in vain, poisoning his veins to numb his pain; because he is our neighbor who suffers in silence but greets us with a smile; because he is our brother, and we his keeper, who says he is fine but is obviously sick.
If we learn nothing else, we can at least learn to see the faces of addiction. The faces are more white than black, which matters only to the extent that we not color our judgment with negative stereotypes.
It is not racist to associate poor African Americans with addiction, but it is bigotry to believe those we do not see—be they black or brown—are less worthy of mercy. It is unjust for us to continue to imprison persons who look like criminals, while we cry before judges and beg for mercy on behalf of those who look like role models.
I am a recovering addict, with enough tattoos to look like a street gangster and enough family wealth to look like a movie star.
I am alive because of the mercy of men and the love of God.
I ask you to be merciful, too.
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