Thursday, May 27, 2010

Once a Homeless Drug Addict, Man now Helps Others

Milwaukee Journal

For too many years, Daviene Smittie was lost in a haze of drugs, crime and homelessness.

"The drugs," he knows now that his mind is clear, "were doing me. I allowed drugs to take over my life."

Not anymore. The man with the last name that doubles perfectly as a nickname is now working as a substance abuse counselor himself. He has a home and a college degree and a valid driver's license. He has a wife.

At age 49, Smittie has his dignity back.

How did he do it? He points to several factors.

First of all, he was lucky to come from a functional family. Growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark., he was the youngest of eight children born to loving parents who took him to church and stressed the value of education and hard work. He finished high school and two years of college.

Second was a stinging statement spoken to him by a fellow inmate during one of the many times he went to jail, mostly for misdemeanor stuff such as drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct and battery.

"This young man, I helped him with his case a lot. He said to me, 'Mr. Smittie, it seems like every time I hear you talk, you talk about drugs.' Right then and there, I didn't want drugs to be part of my life anymore."

That resolve was interrupted by a few more stumbles on the way. But then the third fortuitous thing happened. About six years ago, a raggedy and unshaven Smittie was walking down an east side street in Milwaukee when he met Jim Salinsky, who was working in his front yard.

"I said, 'Hey, what are you doing?' He said, 'I'm doing a flower bed.' I said, 'I need to make a few bucks. Would you mind a hand?' I really don't know what was in him to say, 'OK, c'mon,' " Smittie said.

Salinsky, 47, a global Webmaster at GE Healthcare, said Smittie told him he was homeless and needed money to rent a room.

"As I ran out of projects for him, I got to know him as a gentle and intelligent man. I learned about his drug abuse background and many run-ins with the law," he said.

Salinsky helped him get a job as a custodian at his synagogue, Congregation Sinai. But Smittie had one more setback in him. He was arrested for selling crack cocaine to an undercover police officer on the city's north side. Back to jail he went for six months.

He got out in 2006 and headed back to see Salinsky, who recalls, "Soon after he was released, we were sitting at my kitchen table, and he told me that he wanted to help others in his situation as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. We researched what training he would need, what the different levels of certification were, etc."

During one of Smittie's own trips through drug rehab in Wisconsin, a counselor told him he needed to be in a job where he could help people. He learned about addiction the hard way, starting out drinking and smoking pot in his teens and moving on to crack cocaine.

He moved to Milwaukee in the early 1990s, and brought his bad habits with him.

"It cost me a lot. It cost me some good relationships. It cost me some jobs. It cost me some friction in the family," including a sister who lived in Milwaukee and sometimes had to use tough love and turn Smittie away from her home. He would stay at a homeless shelter or live on the street.

In 2006, Smittie met a woman, Sandy, through church. Both had just lost a sibling to illness. They were drawn together. They married in 2007, and they now live in West Allis.

Sandy Smittie doesn't drink and says she never tried street drugs. She's assistant manager of Chuck E. Cheese in West Allis, and she hopes to open her own bakery someday. She has watched her husband blossom, especially in his profession.

"He's very passionate about it, passionate with a capital P," she said. And if anything at work frustrates him, it's that he can't fix everybody right away.

In the early days of their relationship, he would want to drive through the old neighborhoods to remind himself how far he had come. But that urge passed. He's dedicated to his recovery. "He's clean for a day, that's his mantra," Sandy said.

Smittie has worked and trained at a variety of agencies. These days he does counseling and assessment at M&S Clinical Services, ironically one of the places he came to for help for his own crack addiction treatment. Now, he has an office there. He's careful about mentioning his past to clients; sometimes it raises his street cred, but it also can cut into the respect he gets.

After three years of weekend classes, he just earned a bachelor's degree from Springfield College School of Human Services, which has a campus in downtown Milwaukee.

Smittie is licensed by the state as a Wisconsin substance abuse treatment counselor in training, and he's studying for the next level of certification. He's thinking about shooting for a master's degree.

Salinsky, or Dr. J as Smittie calls him, is proud of what his friend has accomplished.

"The easiest thing in the world," Salinsky said, "is to write a check and imagine that you're making a difference in someone's life. The more challenging thing is to get involved, get informed and learn what might motivate that person to help himself."

For too long, Smittie had nothing to show for his life, he said. But he's modest about his success.

"People do this every day, man. I'm not doing anything spectacular. I'm just doing what I need to move on with my life."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hank Haney tells Golf Channel that Tiger Woods is a Sex Addict

USA Today

Tiger Woods has admitted to being in therapy — but not to sex addiction. On Sunday, Woods' ex-swing coach Hank Haney told Golf Channel's Jim Gray the world's No. 1 golfer is a sex addict.

Woods never confirmed receiving treatment at a sex-addiction clinic in Mississippi. When Gray asks Haney point-blank what Woods is in therapy for, the golf teacher candidly said: "Well, the only thing that I knew about was his, you know, issue with the sex addiction."

But Haney, who stepped down as Woods' coach last Monday, said rumors Woods used performance-enhancing drugs are "100% false."

"People that say otherwise are just starting rumors," said Haney. "It's based on no facts at all. There's a lot of jealousy."

Woods' blood-spinning treatments with Canadian doctor Anthony Galea were also above board, he added.

Gray told USA TODAY: "I think what the public is interested in knowing is whether or not Tiger was in there for prescription drugs, or other drugs, or alcohol, or was it sex addiction because so many questions have been left unanswered. … Tiger says it's all in the police report. But clearly it's not."

Woods withdrew from the Players Championship because of a neck injury. Haney said Woods would be "better off if he was just was a little more forthcoming" about his injuries.

As for Woods blocking tee shots to the right, Haney said his former pupil "has a fear of hitting shots to the left and, as a result, he misses a lot of shots to the right."

Gray said he's "never seen anything like" Woods' swift fall from grace. "We were watching Picasso paint. It's just very sad. Nobody was against Tiger Woods. He had no enemies. He's become his own. The only enemy has been himself. … You can only hope he can go about his life and regain his stature."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Robert Munsch Admits to Depression, Cocaine and Alcohol Abuse

Winnipeg Free Press

TORONTO - For more than 30 years, Robert Munsch has fascinated young readers with his unique stories that have made his books staples of any child's library.

But it is his latest story, one of admission to cocaine and alcohol addictions, that has become the most shocking and captivating one, a story not intended for his young "Munschkin" fans.

In a message titled "Note to Parents" posted on his website, the bestselling author admits he's been diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive.

"Those challenges have led me to make some big mistakes," Munch says, without providing further details.

But in an interview with Global Television aired Saturday, Munsch admitted he is recovering from cocaine addiction treatment and alcoholism, adding he has been clean for about four months.

In his note to parents, Munsch, 64, wrote that his mental health and addiction problems are not a secret to his friends and family.

"They have been a big support to me over the years, and I would not have been able to do this without their love and understanding."

He goes on to say that he hopes that others will also understand and that "everyone will talk to their kids honestly, listen to them, and help them do their best with their own challenges."

In August 2008, Munsch suffered a stroke that briefly affected his ability to speak in normal sentences, a big challenge for a man who used to do about 50 storytelling gigs a year.

In an interview with The Canadian Press four months after the stroke, Munsch said he was unable to create new stories.

"I try to do poetry and make up stories and it doesn't work, and (the doctors) told me that I should probably wait for a year for that to come back,'' he said at the time.

Munsch also said that he planned to edit the whopping 51 book drafts he had on the go before his stroke.

Born in Pittsburgh, Penn., Munsch studied to be a Jesuit priest before he decided to work in preschools, where he got his start as a storyteller.

He moved to Canada in 1975 and four years later wrote his first book titled "Mud Puddle''. He's since written more than 50 books, including some best-known titles like "Love You Forever'' and "The Paper Bag Princess.''

His latest books are "Down the Drain" and "Roar" published in 2009.

He has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

Munsch was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999 and was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame last September.

Monday, May 17, 2010

College Threatened with 'Crack House' Law

Everyone knows drug use happens on campuses, but can administrators be held legally responsible for it?

On the last day of classes at Reed College, the prestigious, small, liberal-arts school in Portland, Ore., placards go up on the borders of campus, announcing to outsiders that for the next two days, the general public is not welcome here. That's to allow "Reedies" (and their invited guests) to celebrate in private the end of their notoriously rigorous classes by blowing off steam at the college's annual "Renn Fayre" event, held this past weekend. It's a hedonistic display of shiny spandex costumes, glitter, painted breasts, lube wrestling, over-the-top public makeout sessions, neon, theses torched in a giant bonfire outside Hauser Library, fireworks, and screaming that can be heard from blocks away.Think of Renn Fayre as higher education's Burning Man; or Woodstock, without the legendary rock acts. It's a raucous, raging outdoor party, replete with current and former students hoisting one another upon their shoulders and tackling their giggling classmates to the champagne-soaked turf.

And it's no fun sober. To be a teetotaling bystander among the blotto masses at Renn Fayre is to feel like one of those kids lining the walls at the junior-high dance, desperate to exude that "I am having a fantastic time" expression that only looks authentic if you are actually having a fantastic time.

That's why some Reedies are less than stoked about U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton's best effort to clamp down on drug use at the affair, a case made so forcefully in a recent meeting with Reed president Colin Diver that it left Diver wondering whether he might wind up in jail, prosecuted under a federal statute that was enacted by Congress to stiffen penalties on the proprietors of crack houses.

Yes, crack houses. Holton did not actually threaten to lock Diver up. But he did end a meeting that he insists was more about "What can we do to help?" by referencing the statute, which carries a 20-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine. And when pressed, Holton says he could actually imagine using it, if the college knowingly allowed the kind of open-air drug peddling and usage around which Renn Fayre is long rumored to revolve. "I don't lose any sleep whatsoever at the prospect that I'm going to end up in jail or with a $500,000 fine," Diver told NEWSWEEK. "But it would really, really be unpleasant if either I or the board of trustees were hauled into court on an investigation into whether we were running a crack house. This would not be fun."

Why the tough talk from the feds? Holton says there are three critical factors: two of the college's 1,300 students have died of heroin overdoses in the past two years; federal agents, battling a surge in black-tar heroin use and distribution in Oregon that is increasingly targeted at upper-middle-class white kids like those that dominate Reed's student body, have been hearing rumblings that drug pushers were stocking up in anticipation of this year's Fayre; and, according to some media reports and the word on the streets, the college's annual hoopla has historically been a great place to get lit on any number of different substances. (Willamette Week, the local alternative weekly, has breathlessly covered Renn Fayre in the past—a lengthy 2008 piece quoted Diver as saying Reed is a college known for two things, "brains," and "drugs" — to the dismay of some students and professors, who say there may be drug use on campus and at the event, but it's not anywhere near as blatant as described and certainly not condoned. A NEWSWEEK reporter smelled pot, but didn't see any drug use during several hours spent at the festival last weekend.)

Holton decided to reach out to Diver in the wake of the latest heroin overdose in March, which left senior physics major Sam Tepper dead in an off-campus apartment, at age 22. "Sam's death, plus the symbolic importance of Renn Fayre, created a moment for Diver to seize," Holton said. "We wanted him to seize it." Diver did respond, despite calling the U.S. Attorney's response an overreaction. The president quickly sent out a campuswide e-mail urging students not to use drugs, several varieties of which he specifically named. He's pledged to revisit the school's drug-enforcement policy, which has in the past taken a nuanced, two-tiered approach where "hard drugs" are vilified but others not as much, which Holton is concerned results in a mixed message to campus. (Alumni who attended Reed in the late 1990s say they can remember times when weed was smoked openly in the Student Union building.)

For the first time this year, undercover cops from the Portland Police Bureau mingled with the partygoers, on the hunt for illicit drug use—especially distribution—which is why the grounds at Renn Fayre were plastered with banners bearing slogans such as "Welcome Portland Police Bureau," and there was a booth where undercover cops were invited to check in (this was basically a heads-up to the Fayre's attendees that there were narcs on the premises). There were also flyers taped to buildings that read "Do not antagonize the police. Don't help, don't hinder. Do not answer any questions. Do not approach. Undercover police are not required to reveal themselves as such."

Will any of the changes at Renn Fayre or in the school's policy actually reduce drug use at Reed? There isn't even much evidence that many more Reed students do hard drugs than other college students, and drug-policy experts say enforcement doesn't do much to deter drug use—it's prevention and education that have helped to reduce the percentage of college-age Americans who say they've used marijuana in the past month from 38 percent in 1978 to the 18 percent it’s at today.

Both Holton and Diver say they agree on that point, but that enforcement remains the necessary "third leg of the stool" in combating a serious problem at Reed and elsewhere in Oregon.

But the crack-house statute? Never before has it been used on college campuses, where binge drinking tends to be a much bigger problem than drugs, said Robert MacCoun, a psychologist and professor of law and public policy at the University of California Berkeley. "College campuses are much more orderly places today than they were when I was a college student. There's more supervision, and students are much more worried about getting jobs," MacCoun said. "Whatever Reed or Berkeley looks like today is just a shadow of the kind of drug use that there was in the late 1970s."

Diver looked up the statute after Holton referred to it in their meeting, he said, assuming it specifically applied to crack houses and that it couldn't be used against him. "I have a pretty good sense of what a crack house is," he said, "not from any personal experience, mind you." What Diver was "shocked" to read is that the statute subjects any person who is the proprietor of a place where drug use is knowingly going on to criminal and civil penalties, and he also learned of efforts in Congress to extend the punishments to the hosts of raves (parties, typically at dance clubs or warehouses that feature techno music and drug use). Diver concluded: "These guys [at the U.S. Attorney's office] are obviously thinking the language could apply to us."

Harvard professor Philip Heymann said he thinks going after the college is a great idea, provided there actually is some knowing tolerance of drug use on campus. "In general, we ought to focus more on the people who are responsible rather than the people who are irresponsible," said Heymann, who served as deputy U.S. attorney general under President Bill Clinton. "I wouldn't want to see the president of Reed sent to jail, but if you could fine Reed and embarrass it with prosecution, I would probably do that. It sounds like a very hard case to make, though."

Apparently that won't be a necessary step: last weekend's festivities led to no drug-related arrests.