I am Ronald Crawford, an African American therapist who works in Philadelphia with those recovering frmental health challenges, substance use disorders, and incarceration. Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked with those in diversionary programs and those involved with the Department of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. I’ve been captivated by Meek Mill’s recent legal challenges, so as a fledgling writer who is a member of the hip hop culture, I wanted to give my “two cents.”
I recently posted some commentary on social media, but unfortunately, my opinions may have offended some people I respect and admire. This experience helped me realize that I could probably benefit from a mentor to help me grow as a writer. Having an experienced writer to “bounce ideas off of” could help me balance ‘respectfully disagreeing with someone’ with ‘accepting that as an activist who happens to write, sometimes, I may write things that are offensive.’ It was then that I realized that Meek Mill and I shared a similar problem – we both could have benefitted from being mentored.
“…Had to lace up my boots even harder / Father is too far away to Father / further-more are the kids either smoke reefer / or either move white, there’s few writers in my cipher / so they made light of, my type of dreams seem dumb / They said wise up, how many guys a you see making it from here / the world don’t like us, is that not clear…” – Jay – Z from “So Ambitious” on Blueprint 3
In this song, Jay Z discussed being Fatherless and lacking the guidance needed to avoid becoming a drug addict or a drug dealer. Jay was ridiculed when he discussed his dreams of rapping (writing raps) because there were no writers in his hood who could have mentored him. Jay was discouraged when his friends mentioned that there weren’t many Black males from their hood who were successful because the “world didn’t like them,” which described their rejection from teachers, society, and the media.
I grew up without much guidance from my Father, so I made (and continue to make) mistakes because I lacked a positive example of African American manhood. I’m experiencing a similar situation in my writing career, so I could probably benefit from an African American male writer “taking me under his wing” When he was 5 years old, Meek Mill’s Father was murdered, so he grew up angry and without much guidance. He turned to “the streets” for guidance, and this resulted in a life of crime, drug use, and incarceration. When he was released from incarceration, Meek could have probably benefitted from being mentored by peers that also experienced trauma, Fatherlessness, and incarceration.
Meek Mill being sentenced to 2 – 4 years in prison for violating his probation has divided Black folk in a way that I’ve never seen. Many people feel that Meek deserved jail time for not “following the rules” of his probation, but just as many people feel that he was given an excessive sentence by a racist and unjust criminal justice system. I agree that the criminal justice system is racist and unjust because many of those incarcerated are non-violent Blacks and Latinos who could have benefitted more from treatment than incarceration. Meek Mill could have benefitted more from treatment than incarceration, so I ask, “is it better to be judged by a group of your peers or supported by a group of your peers?”
The recidivism rate in Pennsylvania is staggering, as 8 out of 10 people released from a Pennsylvania state prison with at least one prior will be re-arrested or re-incarcerated within three years. In some cases, those who are released aren’t willing to change and become law abiding citizens. In other cases, returning citizens aren’t given adequate services to support them.
Mentoring has been used when engaging returning citizens, and this concept was influenced by Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America. However, some mentoring programs fail to meet the needs of Black males in crisis because they utilize the wrong mentors. One would think that using Black doctors, lawyers, and businessmen to mentor young Black males would be a good idea. Unfortunately, some of the mentors haven’t lived in environments similar to the ones their clients live in, and if they have, their success allowed them to move. This makes them so far removed from the client’s reality, they can’t “speak their language” or understand their feelings, values, or behavior. This lack of lived experiences also prevents clients from ‘relating’ to the mentors.
Mentoring can be can be effective if its combined with therapy, as many Black males in crisis experience mental health challenges. Mentoring can also work if peer supports are used. Peer support is the non-professional support that people give and receive when helping each other recover, and it provides a sense of belonging to a community. Peer support is based on individuals having common lived experiences, as the shared understanding of the problems faced creates a unique capacity to help.
Many peers that provide support are experientially credentialed – they’ve gained their knowledge through life experiences rather than formal education. Many of them share characteristics and experiences with those they support (e.g. age, ethnicity, prior incarceration, and the hip hop culture). These shared characteristics and experience help those being supported to identify, trust, and confide. Meek could have benefitted from peers who were members of the hip hop culture and who were formerly incarcerated.
In recent years, the United States (US) has grappled with the opiate crisis, the dramatic increase in prescription and non-prescription opiate use in this country. This is reminiscent of the mid 80s and early 90s, when the US witnessed the crack epidemic, a surge of cocaine use in this nation’s major cities. Both scenarios involved public health emergencies caused by drugs, but race (and racism) factored into the responses to these emergencies being different.
The US is grappling with the opiate crisis, as the government is fighting it by offering treatment to opiate abusers, policing doctors who over-prescribe opiates, and charging dealers with murder when they sell drugs that cause lethal overdoses. However, in the mid 80s and early 90s, the US witnessed the crack epidemic, as the government did nothing but watch crack ravage families and communities in urban areas. Let me take that back. The government did do something. It doubled down on its ‘War on Drugs,’ a set of failed policies that instead of locking up drug dealers, incarcerated so many Black and Latino drug users that the prison population ballooned from about 350,000 to 2 million.
Why was our response to these public health crises so different? Was it because many of those who abuse opiates are white, and many of those who abused crack were Black and Latino? People are still resentful that in the 80s, Black and Latino cocaine abusers were criminalized, but today, white opiate abusers are shown compassion, respect and support in the form of treatment.
Was I the only one who read that Meek had a dental procedure that caused him to abuse Percocet and need drug treatment in Atlanta? I read about that a week ago, and the other day, TMZ reported that Meek admitted to abusing Percocet. If TMZ had access to this information, then I would think that Meek’s legal team had access to it too. If this is the case, why wasn’t Meek’s abuse to Percocet the focal point of his court proceedings?
Using and abusing drugs can affect a person’s thinking, mood, and perceptions, and it can impair their decision making, problem solving, and interpersonal skills. Percocet is an opiate, so if Meek was abusing it, this could have explained his attitude (dissing the judge on a track), his behavior (non-compliance to probation), and his judgement (popping wheelies). Since these were some of the things that he was incarcerated for, Meek Mill’s criminal proceedings were a miscarriage of justice because he may have simply been a casualty of the opiate crisis like millions of other Americans. What I’d like to know is why wasn’t he treated like his white counterparts and shown compassion, respect, and support in the form of (more) treatment?
I’m disappointed about how Judge Brinkley handled Meek’s case. Instead of sentencing him to jail, she could have mandated that he receive (further) treatment for his opiate abuse. Meek could have benefitted from a medically monitored detox (if needed), inpatient substance abuse treatment, outpatient substance abuse treatment, and (mandated) involvement in 12 Step Meetings or another support (Masjid, Church, or non-using friends and family). The judge could have also been more lenient when sentencing him, as 2 to 4 years is a “heavy handed sentence,” especially when he was only incarcerated for 8 months for the original charge of having a gun while dealing drugs.
Although the system “did him dirty,” Meek played a role in his current situation. He could have participated in the recovery process, as “being responsible for your recovery” is a cliché from Narcotics Anonymous that means that the person in recovery, not their family, friends, or PO, is responsible for doing the work needed to recover. Meek may not have known about recovery, or he may have known about it but didn’t think it applied to him. Either way, Meek Mill is responsible for his recovery.
People in recovery should avoid “people, places, and things,” as the failure to do so can trigger a return to drug and alcohol use or incarceration. People in recovery should change their attitudes, ideas, and behavior because if they remain the same people they were before recovery, it’s likely that they’ll return to drug and alcohol use or incarceration. People in recovery should also engage in peer support. “One addict helping another is without parallel” is a principle of NA that speaks to the ability of people in recovery having a unique ability to help others in recovery.
I don’t know if Meek avoided “people, places, and things,” but judging by his music and social media, it didn’t seem like it. People in recovery who don’t avoid “old friends and old lifestyles” usually return to drug use and incarceration. Meek always rapped about drinking and always seemed to have an. entourage of “street buls” around him.
I don’t know Meek, so I don’t know how much he changed his character. I know he didn’t seem very humble, and he could have “turned down” his disrespect towards the Judge (he dissed her on a track). Meek probably could have been more compliant to his travel restrictions and community service. He could have also been more grateful for his ability to “move around” because probation is a privilege that “Brothers behind the wall” would love to have.
I don’t know if Meek was involved in peer support, as peer support involves helping others in recovery. I’ve heard of many instances where Meek has helped others by donating to schools and families in need. However, the NA cliché, “you can only keep what you have by giving it away” speaks to the need for people in recovery who were supported (and mentored) by their peers in recovery “paying it forward” by supporting (and mentoring) others in recovery.
The criminalization of Meek Mill is an injustice, as he should have been given treatment like the millions of whites in this country who have abused opiates. Whites in this country who abuse opiates aren’t treated like criminals. In fact, they’re treated with compassion because they are human beings with a disease that needs to be treated. Meek Mill may be no different.
Many people may feel that Meek is different because many of the white opiate users in this country are intravenous heroin users while Meek “only used Percocet.” What many people don’t know is that 80% of new heroin users started their opiate use by abusing prescription pain pills like Percocet and Oxycodone. Usually, people who take pills develop a tolerance so high, they (physically) need more pills than they can afford, so they start using heroin, which is less expensive and more potent.
It’s unlikely that this would have happened to Meek Mill because he could afford as many pills as he needed. So maybe his “hot urine” was a blessing in disguise, because it exposed his drug use. Had Meek’s usage remained a secret, it could have increased until he met the same fate as celebrities like Prince, Michael Jackson, or A$AP Yams. Then, all the people who came to his rally at the Criminal Justice Center (plus thousands more), would have been at his wake. Just imagine Brooklyn when The Notorious B.I.G. died combined with Bike Life when Dirt Bike Rel died.
Ronald Crawford is a person in recovery, and for the past 27 years, he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol. He’ is also a therapist, an activist, an instructor, and the author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas a book that uses an analysis of rap lyrics to teach social skills. Connect with him on facebook or at [email protected] Books are available at www.amazon.com.