Here in Buncombe County, socioeconomic disparities are determinants of future health. In 2023, the most concerning health issue to plague us is something we are all too familiar with: the effects of addiction. Drug use and addiction continue to touch us and our loved ones. By letting addiction go on without comprehensive community action, we systematically allow it to continue.
Addiction binds our citizens to a lifetime of fighting for recovery and sometimes fighting a way out of the justice system. Yet, with the stigmatization and disheartening belief that is all too common against the criminally convicted, we often forget about those of us whose addiction has hit the hardest: the formerly incarcerated.
The most substantial effects of hard-on-drugs laws in North Carolina are the socioeconomic disparities they cause for the formerly incarcerated. Upon release from the Department of Corrections facilities here in Buncombe County, the formerly incarcerated face impairments to housing opportunities, vocational and occupational limitations and, worse, distrust and stigmatization.
Yet, as community members, many of us sit here and wonder why drug-involved and justice-involved individuals cannot “find a job” or “get a life.” While we continue to bar and imprison these members of our community through hard-on-drug statutes, the formerly incarcerated population upon release seeks basic needs. This includes the right to shelter, the virtue of connection and the pursuit of social acceptance. The formerly incarcerated cyclically too often return to the sense of stability that once housed them within penitentiary walls: drug use and distribution.
The end to Buncombe County’s drug epidemic takes conversation, understanding, compassion and removing one’s ingrained societal ideas of crime. Incarceration without proper drug rehabilitation perpetuates mass incarceration. The Department of Corrections maintains a prison system that strips individuals of civil rights as well as dignity. Due to the oppressive structure that the Department of Corrections enforces, recidivism, revocation and reoffending have systematically become the new reduce, reuse, recycle. Only this time, the formerly incarcerated stand within the cycle of incarceration.
Without restorative justice systems, lack of support and housing resources remains one of the reasons reoffending rates are so high. The state of North Carolina currently upholds hard-on-drug laws that stem from the drug prohibition days of the war on drugs era. Buncombe County instills this system of drug laws that put imprisonment before rehabilitation, especially by revocating the formerly incarcerated for dirty urinary analyses. Not only have the DOC’s substance abuse treatment programs in Buncombe County become a means to an end, but the programs have become a wash cycle for the formerly incarcerated to keep reentering the system.
According to the Buncombe County Community Health Assessment (2021), substance misuse is a health priority area because, between 2015 and 2019, there have been 405 Buncombe County residents who have lost their lives due to opioid overdose. In addition, 48% of survey respondents in the assessment identified that their life “has been negatively impacted by self or other’s substance abuse compared to 36% for the United States” (WNC Health Network, 2021).
The wash cycle repeats as the formerly incarcerated complete treatment in detention centers, relapse on the streets, revoke their right to community supervision and reenter the system.
Compassion and restorative justice are the keys to breaking the cycle of addiction and disrupting the cycle of mass incarceration. Whether or not we believe that justice stands tall in the light of crime, the need for second chances and recovery is more significant than any belief held against it. By continuing to disregard the needs of the perpetrator, we also uphold the cycles of the victims.
In pursuit of justice reformation, the citizens in the state of North Carolina must support the reentry systems of Buncombe County. Every month, Buncombe County holds a community meeting at one of our local community buildings. At gatherings like these, the public is free to come and maintain support for reparations, restoration and reentry services.
Reentry systems like Operation Gateway out of Asheville are led by trusted community leaders who not only strategically know the ways to end reoffending but, against all odds, have beaten the system themselves. By supporting reentry services like Operation Gateway, we are supporting the end of addiction. When every odd is against the formerly incarcerated, every act of compassion that restores their sense of connection aids in restoring the community. Let us end the cycle of incarceration; let us end the cycle of crime; let us end the cycle of addiction.
— Tess Monty
Certified community health worker