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  • Betty Ford is not pleased. She whispers in my ear those familiar threats: jail, institutions, and death – the sole alternatives to following the Twelve Steps.

    I jolt back to conscious awareness. On this sticky hot mid-August evening, I am clawing my mattress, naked except for a pair of ill-fitting boxer shorts and a thin bed sheet. My tiny bedroom is swarming with men in law colored uniforms pinned with badges and armed with weaponry poised for battle. Dread drops my stomach deeper into my abdomen, as it sinks in that I am not in a dream, but the nightmare of reality.

    “I haven’t slept at all in a week. I just need some sleep,” I frustratingly tell the police officers, resuming the verbal confrontation that was interrupted by my micro nap.

    “No, we are taking you to the hospital. It’s for your own health and welfare,” a large officer commands as non-negotiable. He towers over my exhausted body that seeks comfort in the mattress.

    “We’re not gonna wait for you all day,” quickly shouts the second of the five male police officers standing inches from my bed.

    “Which hospital?” I inquire. Silence. I continue, “No, I know my constitutional rights. The Fifth Amendment guarantees me…”

    My bed crashes, imploding the frame beneath it, unable to sustain the pile on of multiple cops. My weakened body is thrown onto the floor, with an audible thud to my brain.

    Viewing my partially naked body from the vantage of the low-rise bedroom ceiling, I am sprawled on my stomach, the only defended flesh. Punches are pummeled into the sides of my face, shoulders, and upper back. Elbows are forcefully jabbed into my lower torso.

    “Stop attacking my son,” my dad interjects as he witnesses the assault occurring in his home, against his child, in his child’s childhood bedroom. “I called the paramedics for possible medical assistance for my son, not for this!”

    “Do not interfere, or we’ll have to mace you,” one of the faceless men in blue indignantly shouts in the dimly lit room.

    During the melee, my cat, Fish, flies across the hallway outside my confined bedroom and leaps down the stairs of my parents’ house, the place that they had made their family home for more than thirty years. The cat escapes past my trembling and tear soaked mom.

    I now sense handcuffs cutting unevenly into my wrists, as Fire and Rescue are freed to enter the bedroom and immobilize me in a Reeves stretcher. The blood streaming down my temples and coagulating on my cheeks does not merit attention. The imperative is not to deliver me to the nearest hospital, but to one further away that is designated by the county to accept involuntary commitments without a judge’s approval.

    In the future, inside a Montgomery County, Maryland courtroom, where I will be facing retaliatory criminal charges for filing an Internal Affairs complaint, a law enforcement witness for the prosecution will testify that I was a threat to the army of police that night:

    “We’re basically now in a fight for our lives” because “he could have been laying on a machete… we had tackled him and he rolls over. I don’t know if there was a weapon underneath there, all I know is that his hands are underneath his chest, his chin area.”

    Betty Ford had previously crossed institutions off her list when I had entered her center seeking treatment two years prior. She can now draw a line through the word jail. More gravely, she can also eliminate the final consequence: death. The death of liberty, individual rights, and due process. She can compose an elegy, not for me, but for the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights – the inclusion of those rights largely due to the efforts of Founding Father Patrick Henry, who once closed a speech with the words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
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