Judgment Day on the Subway

When I was working as a Substance Abuse Counselor, there were stories told to me and experiences shared that I couldn’t liken to any experience I’d ever had.  Most of the people I saw were court ordered to see me, and the group sessions were an intense mash-up of people who were on waiting lists for County Funded Residential Treatment.  Some of them were awaiting treatment because they were ready to try a different approach to their life, a lot of them were there as a condition of their parole from prison.  I suppose my point is that I was with people who had for the most part, lived pretty hard.


One common thing I found is that each person had a desire to be happy.  It sounds pretty basic, but I think that’s lost in these stories.  When we hear about drug addicts it’s with this detached sense of judgment.  People don’t stop to think or wonder why people are getting high, and I can tell you 99% of the time it is to be happy.  The effect doesn’t last, they typically don’t stay very happy as the world breaks down around them, but truthfully there is a reliable effect from a person’s poison.  How many things can you say that about in life?  I feel like I understood, I could speak the language, and could take their stories in and give the story back.  I was honored to be involved with each person, and I say that with the greatest sincerity.


I had to think about those days yesterday when I was on the subway with Roan.  A seemingly homeless man was on the train and was totally schnackered. (That’s the technical term for wasted.  Trust me, I’m a professional.)   He was staggering around, muttering things and he eventually made his way past us.  After he passed, another mom started whispering explainations to her kids that the man was drunk, and that he was a bad man and that’s what happens when you drink and take drugs.


Off the subway I had to sit Roan down and talk to him.  I was pretty lit up over that mother’s words and had to debrief with my son.  I asked Roan what he noticed on the train that was interesting, and sure enough, he brought up what the mom had said.  He felt a little confused about why he was a “bad man”.  We talked about choices, about how we sometimes make the right ones and sometimes we make the wrong ones.  We talked about how even adults make a lot of mistakes and sometimes we can’t find people to help us make it right.  I also tried to dismiss the notion that people are bad or good, submitting that we make choices that are bad or good.  I believe that, and I really hope Roan will believe it too. 


I do understand where the mother was coming from, trying to take the situation and turn it into a learning opportunity, and maybe that was her best way to comfort her kids.  I just cannot let Roan think that’s where it’s at with me. In the end, even if my only impact is raising one boy who will respect others, and who will have compassion for the suffering that comes with certain circumstances, I’ll feel like I’ve done right by the people who trusted me with their stories and experiences.  


23 responses to “Judgment Day on the Subway

  1. Having been wrapped tight in the arms of drug addiction, I’m all too familiar with the mantra of good and bad choices. While I too would have been blowing flames from my ears over the overheard comment, I have a soft side that can understand where ignorance and inexperience in being stuck in the vortex of such a life can make one slightly idiotic. I get that. It isn’t her fault. What you did was right in giving Roan the whole picture without judgment. Even at five our kids have the capacity to understand differences like these.

  2. Hi Jodi – I’ve been following your writing for a while now, but didn’t want to delurk until now. I am one of the guys who didn’t really want to change, but was forced into it. Two residential stints and one wife later, I now have a job and a place to live.I am grateful that you’re raising your son to be compassionate. I found it made me mad as hell when I saw people judging me, whispering about me, when they had no idea where I had been. I also understand Kate having the soft side of tolerance, I wish I had it. Thanks for the work you did. I’m sure you helped a lot of people, more than you know. My counselors were never thanked enough. So take it from me, thanks.

  3. I am so glad to read this! My parents were all about BAD people/GOOD people. Everything was so black and white. Bad people smoke, bad people drink, bad people have sex, good people listen to god. I was so emotionally messed up with trying to be a “good” person and failing. I wasted years on that crap before I was able to start thinking about life in terms of choices and consequences and a little compassion.

  4. I have been lurking since back in the days you did Errorista (sp). I am glad to read about all the great things you talk to Roan about. Today’s was especially poignant in that I have tried to raise my daughter in a similar fashion of choices being bad or good. We may know what choice another person made but we don’t necessarily know anymore than that. If enough parents do this, we will create a world where compassion rather than judgement is the norm.

  5. Jodi, you and your brother both sound like excellent people and even better parents. Your children are very fortunate to be in such good hands.

  6. Jodi – I didn’t get a chance to comment when I read this yesterday. I have also been lurking for a little while here now. I felt moved to comment because you are raising your son exactly how I would hope to raise my children. My boyfriend has long struggled with drug addiction and he is most certainly not a bad person at heart. He does what he does in reponse to his own personal demons and not to intentionallly hurt anyone else. When he’s doing good he’s just the sweetest person in the world. I really appreciate your sharing this story and breaking down the barrier that says people who make poor choices are just plain bad people. Clearly that’s so not true. Thank you for counseling people in the past and helping to raise a child with and open mind for the future.

  7. I agree that the use of Bad Man was inappropriate, maybe a sick man with a disease would have been a better description.

  8. I don’t get why anyone would want to raise their child to be a judgmental harridan. A couple weeks ago I was in a coffeeshop fixing my cappuccino while a little girl watched. It’s a pretty drink, so I get it. As I stirred the second sugar in, her mother proclaimed, “That lady is putting too much sugar into her drink. Sugar is bad.” Her daughter nodded in agreement. (Though I detected quite a bit of envy in the little girl’s eyes.)Who says things like that? Out loud! In public! Where the person you’re talking about can hear you, plain as day! Maybe you’re teaching your kid not to eat sugar (good luck with that), but you’re also teaching her to be a rude harpy.

  9. Loved this post, Jody. You are a magnificent mom.

  10. Ooops. I meant Jodi. I need to go to bed.

  11. Word. Again very well put.

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  22. I am drug treatment counselor too and I know exactly what you mean, it’s really difficult to keep up with these people but when you see the results of your work you get the greatest satisfaction. Also not everyone can be saved mostly because not everyone want to be saved…

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