Filed Instructor Spotlight

 

Ann Benson is a board member of Parents Helping Parents, an organization which has chapters in Norman, Tulsa, and Edmond. This non-profit is comprised of parents who are concerned about drug/alcohol use in their adolescent or adult children. The organization is 100% volunteer-based with a mission of providing education, resources, and support for parents. So that she could be more impactful in bringing her experience, strength, and hope to parents, Ann earned her MSW from the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work in 2013.

In February 2011, amid her frustration of seeing so many felonies published in her local newspaper (The Norman Transcript), Ann shared that she began to cut out the listings and staple them to a roll of raffle tickets. In four years (ending in February 2015) her “felony chain” grew to be 2/3 the length of a football field (206 FT) with over 3300 names listed. Each last name is scratched out to preserve anonymity, as the purpose of the display is to bring attention to the widespread impact of substance use disorders rather than contributing to misunderstood shame. Ann pointed out that the tape would be even longer as these listings are limited to:

  • Cleveland County
  • Adults (no juveniles)
  • Felonies (no misdemeanors)
  • Offenses that specify drugs or alcohol (no felonies where substance use/addiction may be the underlying cause but not the specific offense)

Ann explained, “The original intent of assembling the chain was to provide a visual for parents to remind them that they are not alone. Addiction is a very isolating disease, both for the addict and for the family. One thing that keeps parents in their denial and shame is the misguided feeling that they are the only ones going through this with their child. However, as the felony chain grew and grew, it spoke to many of us on how many people are being caught up in the criminal justice system for offenses related to addiction. We all need to be accountable for our actions, and addicts are no exception. However, addiction is the only disease where victims are processed through the criminal justice system rather than the health care system. Image the public outcry if we punished and shamed those who suffer from cancer or diabetes for their disease.”

Ann also shared that when Commissioner Terri White from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services recently spoke at Parents Helping Parents and saw the chain, she appropriately dubbed it “the red tape”. Commissioner White spoke to the need for more diversion programs such as drug court. She shared that four people can participate in drug court for the cost of incarcerating one person, with substantially improved outcomes for reduced recidivism rates.

 

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