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Why Would Anyone Want To Be A Criminal And An Addict?

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There are parts of my life that I’m not proud of; parts that I wouldn’t tell anyone about except those I could be guaranteed wouldn’t look at me funny for the rest of my days. Even though most of it’s long in the past, and I have reached a certain level of internal peace on a personal level, they are not events I’m going to be trumpeting from the rooftops.

In recent articles I’ve alluded to some nasty things that happened to me during my childhood and how that led to behaviour on my part that would at best be called antisocial. But the details are nobody’s business but my own, and those who had direct involvement in the matter.

I will sometimes cite my own case as an example of how things in this world are not as ideal as they should be, but I don’t consider myself, or my behaviour at the time, as anything special or interesting. It was just another sorry tale of somebody making the wrong choices when push came to shove, and proving too weak to resist temptation.

Escape from pain and fear are the hardest temptations in the world to resist. If you were to scratch the skin of many an addict, you’d find someone who was running away from something in their past they didn’t want to deal with. The absolute hell that you go through when you finally confront those dark places in your soul is nothing you’d want to wish on anyone.

In the last fifteen years or so, I’ve gotten to know a number of men and women who have served a great deal of prison time. Some of them have been “lifers,” people who were in jail on murder charges, but have since been released. They will spend the rest of their days on parole, knowing that if they make one small mistake, they can look forward to finishing their sentence.

Some of them had served ten years, some fifteen, and some even longer, but all of them are just grateful for having survived and being given a chance for quiet. They don’t seek attention; in fact that’s the last thing they want. After more than a decade where everyone knows your whole life; where people can watch you go to the bathroom and shower; and the concept of privacy is as alien as freedom, who wants the spotlight.

Some are thrust into the spotlight because of their notoriety, or because they have done some amazing thing to reform themselves, but for the most part they are left alone save for having to report to the police station and their parole officer. These so-called hardened criminals and violent men just want some of the quiet that they deprived themselves of through their own actions.

The one thing that is consistent about anyone I’ve known who has done long time is that the last thing they want to do is talk about what they’ve gone through. As a very short timer my experiences pale in comparison to theirs, but I share the same reluctance to speak, except, as I said before in broad, general terms.

The person who is eager to speak about what they did, and how, and why, is usually viewed with mistrust, and as someone who is probably bullshitting. Anyone who needs to talk about what they’ve done that much is trying to make themselves out to be something they aren’t.

Why would you want to boast about having a criminal record? Why would you want to boast about being addicted to drugs and alcohol? Why would you lie about such things? What kind of asshole goes to great lengths to convince people that he is all of those horrible things? Especially when those of us who have been in some of those hells wish with all of our hearts it never happened.

An author named James Frey has made himself a small mint out of telling about his life of crime and addiction. If he wants to put himself on display like some sort of freak show for the public to look at that’s his own business. One can only wonder at the people who want to read it, but like they say: there’s no accounting for taste.

But what raises my ire is the news reported over at The Smoking Gun that Mr. Frey may have not only exaggerated the incidents portrayed in his book, but completely fabricated them. Of course Mr. Frey and his lawyers have denied this accusation and threatened the folk over at The Smoking Gun with all sorts of legal trouble if they published their story.

The Smoking Gun seems to be certain enough of its research and facts to risk it and has gone ahead and published their story anyway. In the litigation happy world that we live in now, being confident enough to publish in the face of a threatened lawsuit is testimony itself to the legitimacy of their claims.

It’s one thing to exploit yourself like a cheap hooker to turn a quick buck, it’s another altogether to fabricate the means to that end. If these accusations are true and his book is a mix of lies and exaggerations; James Frey, his publisher and anyone else complicit in advocating this book as factual content, have a lot to answer for.

One wonders why, if Mr. Frey considered it so important to reveal his soul, he first tried to peddle this as a work of fiction. According to The Smoking Gun article it wasn’t until his current publisher suggested it would be better as a work of non-fiction that lo and behold it turned out to be just that.

Where were the fact checkers for this publisher on the day they accepted the manuscript? It wouldn’t have been too hard to do, as The Smoking Gun has done, turn up an arrest report that contradicts what Mr. Frey refers to as the pivotal scene, sorry, moment, in his life of crime.

Of course now that Mr. Frey claims to have gone around and expunged all his criminal records, because they are nobody’s business but his own, (a bit rich coming from the man who has made a fortune telling everybody about them) it will be hard to prove or disprove whether they existed or not. With no proof to either substantiate or refute his statements, all the witnesses to his so-called crime sprees seemed to have died, it looks like the credibility of those involved will be what decides the truth of the matter.

The interesting thing about Mr. Frey is that, based on how he’s depicted in The Smoking Gun report, his current behaviour has a lot in common with that of an addict. He believes he’s the centre of the universe, that nobody else’s problems are as important as his, and that he’s completely justified in everything he does.

If a man wants to pretend that he has a sordid past, he’s perfectly entitled too. It’s sort of a pathetic way of garnering attention, but too each their own. But there’s a difference between talking yourself up in a bar to impress the locals, and writing a book about it.

That sort of fraud is insulting enough as it is to the countless men and women who have legitimately reformed after serving time. But to compound the matter by claiming to have been an addict and have some sort of secret to recovery is not just insulting it’s close to being criminally negligent.

I don’t care if Mr. Frey is telling the truth about his life or not, but to reduce recovery from substance abuse addiction to the simple catch phrase of “Hold On” is inappropriate and misleading. It may stop you from taking a drink or sticking the needle in your arm for a while, but it does nothing to fix the behaviour that caused those symptoms.

You never actually lose the physical cravings; they just get easier to deal with. Ask anyone who has successfully stopped smoking cigarettes; they’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s been eleven years since I’ve taken a drink, yet last week I was walking down the street and passed a liquor store and felt an actual physical craving in the pit of my stomach for a bottle of wine.

I could remember, ever so clearly the exact sensations and tastes of drinking wine, and my whole body craved it for one tiny moment. Eleven years is an awful long time to just “Hold On.” You need something a little more substantial than that. Now I’m not a big advocate of Alcoholics Anonymous for my own reasons, but the key thing is to seek help from a therapist of some kind or another.

As an addict in recovery you are not going to be honest with yourself. You’ve been lying to yourself for years; why’s that going to change now? You cannot throw off years of conditioned behaviour without outside help.

Have you ever heard the expression “a dry drunk?” It refers to people who’ve stopped drinking but still act like the same person. They’re the ones who keep falling off the wagon because they haven’t done anything to address the reasons why they were drinking in the first place. Simply stopping is only the first step in a long arduous journey.

Not only is Mr. Frey’s claim misleading, it is insulting to all the men and women who have done the real work required to free themselves from the chains of addiction. Unlike the substances we used to abuse, there’s no quick fix involved here; there never is to real problems.

There are a lot of troubled people in our society. People who have had run-ins with the law, and problems with substance abuse. Very few people who have gone about the business of trying to rehabilitate and recover have ever felt the need to write a book about their lives or their struggles. The majority of them just want to forget it ever happened or they regard it as nobody’s business but their own.

Mr. Frey has written a book where he regales his reader with tales of his misadventures and problems with drugs. The book has been a big success with the middle class women who watch and worship Ophrah. They are as far removed from the world of drugs and crime as one could possibly get and still be living on the same planet.

They’ve been titillated by his descriptions of carnage and self-destruction, and thrilled by his redemption. He’s a real life desperado there for their reading and listening pleasure. Isn’t he such a sensitive man because he’s revealed all these intimate details of himself? Reading his book allows them to show how compassionate they are because they are able to forgive him for the misdeeds of his past.

But I want to know about his misdeeds of the present. Who’s going to hold him accountable if this all turns out to be a lie? Who is going to apologise to all the real people out there who have been ignored by society for years as they’ve struggled to rehabilitate themselves, for letting this man steal their dignity by masquerading as one of them?

Whose going to help all those people he’s duped into believing he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to addiction recovery? I started out angry when I was writing this article, now I’m just sad. If this was all a lie, what kind of pathetic life has this man had up to this point that he felt that he needed to pretend to be notorious?

There are many people out there who would give anything to have those moments back in their lives that took them across the line into criminal behaviour. It is simply beyond my comprehension why anybody would publicly pretend to have been down that road.

There’s nothing glamorous about crime and drug addiction. To see James Frey being lionized for his book is bad enough; to have it turn out to be a pack of lies would only serve his champions right. His book’s trivialization of the people who have made a real commitment to change, is more criminal than anything he may or may not have done.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://unifiedtheorynothingmuch.blogspot.com Diane Kristine (deekay)

    Actually, the fact that he was an addict isn’t in dispute – he really did go through rehab. And the reason why he would claim to have hit even further rock bottom than he actually did seems pretty simple to me – memoirs like that sell.

  • http://www.pippensqueak.blogspot.com gypsyman

    Your right I was too ambiguous about the addiction thing, sorry. What had really peed me off was his claim to have a simple remedy for recovery and I let that be my focus. I thought I had left it that I was only questioning his criminal record, but it could be interprated as questioning his time in rehab as well.

    But on the other hand I’ve known people who’ve spent time in rehab who wern’t addicts, but passed themselves off as them to get some softer time…being in rehab doesn’t made you an addict.

    Since the incident which he claims to be the one which was the most important in his life turns out to, according to the records dug up by The Smoking Gun, to have been exagerated beyond recognition, and other events supposedly involving drugs never happened. I have a hard time taking his claims of true addiction seriously.

    But that is only my opinion.

    gypsyman

  • http://unifiedtheorynothingmuch.blogspot.com Diane Kristine (deekay)

    Have you read the book? I don’t necessarily recommend it, especially now, but I’m curious about that assertion that he reduced recovery to a catchphrase, or made it seem simple. He credits the philosophies of the Tao Te Ching with being his replacement for AA, and the book talks about what he learned about his addiction in rehab (mostly due to his fellow addicts, but partly the program – he did go through therapy, both alone and with his parents), and how that helped him understand it and conquer it. I didn’t think he made it seem simple, any more than “one day at a time.” Besides, making it seem simple would have lessened his attempt to seem heroic.

    I also think it’s very insulting to talk about the middle aged, middle class women who embraced the book because of Oprah – for one thing, she has a huge following among disadvantaged women, too, and I’m not sure why you think her audience doesn’t contain people who have struggled with addiction or crime. And the book was popular and embraced by many in the addictions community and elsewhere before Oprah came along to give it a tremendous boost.

    I know this is your opinion, but it’s not written with a lot of respect for what is actually in the book or what is being alleged in the Smoking Gun article.