Remembering Overdoses for Overdose Awareness Day

Aug. 31 was International Overdose Awareness Day. The day was commemorated with events of solidarity and awareness across the globe. Here, lest we forget them, is a list of 15 drug overdoses that haven’t been in the news in a long while. (Side note: this was my first story for the New York Daily News.)International Overdose Awareness Day


How Medical Marijuana Users Are Treated Like Criminals

Steve Green has epilepsy. His wife, Maria, has multiple sclerosis. Since 2011, they’ve been growing cannabis for medical use.

Everything they do is perfectly legal under state law in Michigan, where the couple resides. Maria is a registered caregiver—meaning that she’s allowed to grow 12 plants per patient—and both are qualifying patients.

Nonetheless, in 2013 Children’s Protective Services came in and removed the couple’s six-month-old unweaned infant, Bree. According to Steve, “Bree was ordered removed from our home because the judge said it was an inherently dangerous situation, that people could break in to steal the marijuana and steal the baby.”

The removal came despite the fact that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act notes, “A person shall not be denied custody or visitation of a minor for acting in accordance with this act, unless the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.”

Sara Arnold, the director and co-founder of the Massachusetts-based Family Law and Cannabis Alliance (FLCA), a national nonprofit organization founded in 2013 and dedicated to advocating for medical marijuana parents, said that the Greens’ story is not unique. “It is extremely common,” she said.

She knows a thing or two about it because in addition to being an advocate and policy expert, Arnold is a medical marijuana parent herself.

“I was investigated by CPS for neglect three times for my medical marijuana use,” Arnold said. “My story is common; I was investigated after the birth of my first child after self-disclosure to my prenatal care provider and twice more from mandated reporters.” By law, people in certain professions—or in some states, all citizens—are mandated to report potential or actual neglect and abuse, which specifically includes drug use. She continued, “One of the mandated reporters had never met my child nor seen me parent her and had only read ‘medical marijuana’ in my medical records mentioned by a (supportive) physician; and the other did not want to make the report but believed they were mandated to do so.

“The outcome of these investigations resulted in the allegations not being substantiated and no further action taken by CPS, but investigation by CPS is still an intrusive, traumatic experience for any family—much less three times for the same thing. It is also a huge waste of limited CPS resources that is taking case workers away from real child neglect and abuse.”

Like Arnold, the Greens eventually got their daughter back—but only after six weeks of expensive legal wrangling.

Although the above cases were in Massachusetts and Michigan, those states aren’t cherry-picked examples. Arnold explained that similar situations happen everywhere: “This is a problem throughout the country. Obviously some states are worse than others (like Texas and Florida) but you might find it surprising that even states with mature medical marijuana programs still investigate their patients who are also parents. Even CPS in medical and legal Colorado still regularly and consistently investigate medical marijuana patients.”

Heather Thompson, a molecular biology PhD who works as the deputy director of a nonprofit known as The Elephant Circle, said that often CPS might get involved before the child is even born. Because the Denver-based organization advocates for new mothers, Thompson has become acquainted with the surprising ways in which legalization has played out in Colorado. Instead of creating a more permissive environment, Thompson said that legalization has created among medical professionals a heightened awareness of cannabis and thus some hospitals are now more likely to drug test newborn babies. She said, “That’s where federal law trumps state law—because it is Schedule 1 it is legal for someone at the hospital to test a baby for THC without the parents’ consent or knowledge. Then if they test positive, because it’s for a Schedule 1, then they have to involve CPS.”

She continued, “If a baby tests positive, it’s automatically a charge of neglect and abuse. There is no evidence to say that drug use equals abuse, but because of the climate in Colorado there’s a very punitive attitude toward parents in general who use marijuana.”

Thompson is not the only advocate quick to note the problems caused by conflicting federal and state laws; it’s something Jennifer Ani is very familiar with, too. Ani is a California-based attorney and child welfare specialist who handles cases where legal medical marijuana users and growers find themselves running afoul of CPS.

To some extent, funding is the source of the problem. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), was originally enacted in 1974 as a federal law to allocate CPS funding to states that meet certain federal standards. Ani said, “That’s where marijuana comes in. How do you reconcile that with medical marijuana laws?”

After a 2003 revision, CAPTA now requires states to have policies in place to report and address situations in which infants are born “affected” by illegal substance abuse. That can be problematic both because cannabis is still an illegal substance on the federal level and because the line between use and abuse can be unclear.

Ani said that, once the child is born, “Just the fact that a parent is breaking a federal law is not enough to remove a child [in California]. Regardless of the substance, in California, a parent can use any substance they want to as long as they’re not abusing it and that abuse does not affect the child.” Of course, whatever the law says, Ani said that the children of medical marijuana users are still being removed on a regular basis.

“It’s a problem,” Ani said, “because there’s so much ignorance as to the fact that it’s not harmful. Not only is it not harmful but it does not cause serious physical harm, as the law requires.”

In fact, according to Thompson, existing literature doesn’t even support the idea that marijuana use is harmful during pregnancy: “There has been research on pregnancy and marijuana since 1982 and Canada has been doing it since 1978, and there are very few clinical effects of marijuana. It does not seem to affect growth. If you take the literature as a whole, it does not seem to affect babies negatively in a way that can be documented.”

In a sense, Thompson said, it’s like the crack-baby myths of the 1980s and 1990s. The crack-baby myth—the belief that crack cocaine use during pregnancy would cause major damage to the fetus—grew out of a lack of well-designed studies and thus a lack of understanding. Now, medical marijuana users are facing a similar lack of understanding.

As Ani put it, “Families are being separated because of idiocy and incompetence and a failure to understand cannabis.”

As of now, some states—like Michigan—have language that should theoretically protect medical marijuana parents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way. As cited above, the law says that medical marijuana should only affect custody if “the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.” However, Arnold explained, “There is no definition of ‘unreasonable danger’ or ‘clearly articulated and substantiated.’ What this has often been interpreted to mean (including in Michigan) is that a) investigation is required of any parent found to use marijuana to ensure that there is no reasonable danger and b) that it can be widely subjective, to the point where the marijuana use itself…can simply be a sign of ‘unreasonable danger.’”

Despite the struggles medical marijuana parents are facing, Arnold remains optimistic. She explained that FLCA offers model language for parent-protective initiatives, such as one that has already been proposed in Massachusetts.

“Marijuana reformers,” she said, “are waking up to the fact that parental rights for patients matter, and social workers are waking up to the fact that it shouldn’t be their job to continue the war on marijuana to the detriment of children and families.”

This story originally appeared on The Fix.

With Loved Ones in Prison, Women Become Leaders in the Fight Against Solitary Confinement in New York

Jessica Casanova speaks in support of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act at a press conference in 2014.

Jessica Casanova’s nephew wrote her a letter: “I’m here in a steel coffin. I’m breathing but I’m dead.” Casanova recounted, “I didn’t know what that meant so I got on a bus and I found out.”

That was in 2012, and three years later, she’s still finding out. As it turned out, Casanova’s nephew, Juan, was in solitary confinement. He was spending 23 hours a day alone in a cell and deteriorating quickly.

Juan had entered the New York State prison system as a teenager with mental health issues. Casanova said, “He suffered from antisocial personality, borderline personality, severe depression, and addiction.”

His first trip to solitary was in 2001, for allegedly smoking a joint. Although Juan was only isolation for a matter of months, Casanova said, “He’s never been the same after that.” While his first stay was brief, at this point the 33-year-old has now spent a total of about 10 years in solitary. Casanova went on to explain that her nephew now suffers from extreme bouts of depression, paranoia, and mood swings. She added, “Sometimes in the letters it seems like he might be hallucinating.”

“Seeing someone in solitary confinement,” Casanova said, “is like you’re watching them die right in front of your eyes. … I have never in my life experienced another human being being reduced to nothingness.” She added, “I just don’t understand how this can happen in the world.”

Although her nephew’s experience opened Casanova’s eyes, the 43-years-old East Harlem resident is not the only one coming to such realizations. Nationwide, there are at least 80,000 people in solitary confinement on any given day – and most have families who watch them suffer.

Leah Gitter, a retired New York City schoolteacher, is another of those suffering relatives. Her godson, Robert, has spent time in solitary both in Attica and Green Haven, maximum security prisons in New York State.

Gitter said that, during the time Robert was in solitary confinement, “I saw him becoming more unstable and more isolated and sicker. It was like he was withdrawing.” She added, “You get into this mindset where you can’t function because of all that isolation and he wasn’t well to begin with.”

As is perhaps evident from Casanova’s and Gitter’s stories, despite the documented mental health impacts, individuals with existing mental health problems are routinely placed in solitary confinement, a practice which may be counterproductive to any perceived public safety goals. Gitter observed, “I don’t know who benefits from punishing people like that.”

Robin Goods can relate. Her son, George, has spent more than a decade in solitary confinement in California. She said, “I have been visiting with my son George E. Jacobs for the past 10 years behind a glass window. When I look into his eyes I can see the progression of the effects of torture. The first year George had a distance look in his eyes. After the second year in the SHU he had a vague look in his eyes. Now after ten years in the SHU, George has a hollow empty look in his eyes.  I am witnessing my son being slowly and deliberately tortured to the point of … devastating mental health deterioration.”

Initially, her son was isolated for a small infraction – Goods said she was told that he refused to take out his shoe laces before a visit. He was sentenced to two years in solitary, but prison officials gradually extended his stay longer and longer. She said, “When he goes for the review they say it’s small infractions like refusing to eat, sharing food.” Recently, George was let out of SHU, but instead of being moved to general population, he was just placed in another type of solitary confinement know as Administrative Segregation.

Goods said, “The deterioration is so profound that it almost affects me. You feel like you want to scream at the top of your lungs, because how can you help? What can you do?” Answering her own question, she continued, “I felt so depressed and helpless and anything I tried wasn’t going anywhere. Then I became angry and decided to stand back up and fight.”

That urge to fight is something Goods has in common with Casanova and Gitter. As a result of their family connections, all three women have become crusaders against solitary confinement.

Gitter said that, knowing about the conditions of her godson’s confinement, “I was so frustrated. This was the only way I could survive — to think that I could do something, to save his life.” She became active in Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement (MHASC) and “fought like hell” to get the SHU Exclusion Law passed in 2008.  The law is meant to bar most people with serious mental illness from being placed in isolation in New York’s state prisons. Gitter said, “We had press conferences and lobby days. We were relentless, even though it took eight years – a human rights bill [took] eight years to get passed.”

Jennifer Parish, the director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project, said, “Leah in some way is the godmother of the movement. She’s been a force for speaking to policy makers at all different levels … She had really done so much to gather people around addressing the problem of people with mental illness in our prison system and in solitary confinement.”

While Gitter has been involved in solitary confinement activism for over a decade, Casanova got into it more recently. In 2013, she joined the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) and in 2014 spoke at the first press conference announcing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. The HALT Act, which is graduallygaining momentum in both the Senate and the House, would ban solitary confinement in New York’s prisons and jails to 15 days, the limit suggested by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture. Individuals requiring more secure housing over the long term would be placed in new Residential Rehabilitation Units with increased therapy and programming.

Parish said of Casanova, “She’s a tremendous advocate. When she talks about what her nephew has gone through it’s just incredibly powerful.”

Though Goods lives in New Jersey, she’s also been active in CAIC, a New York-based group. Parish said, “Robin has a leadership role within CAIC she’s one of the co-chairs of the legislative committee. She’s been part of taking trips to communities upstate to help form branches of CAIC. She’s done presentations upstate. Her son is in California so the fact that she’s working so strongly here is amazing.”

Goods said that, if there’s one thing she’s learned through her activism, it’s that if you’re a family member of someone in solitary, “You are the extended voice on the outside and you should use it as loudly as you can. There’s nothing worse going to happen than what’s already happened.”

Although Casanova, Gitter, and Goods are all important figures in the movement against solitary, they aren’t the only ones – there are wives, girlfriends, parents, siblings, and children scattered throughout activist groups.

“I think,” Parish said, “one of the most important roles that family members play in the movement is reminding everyone who’s involved about the urgency of changing these policies. Because every day their family members are facing solitary or have the potential to face it, and it reminds us that this is not an abstract problem. I think that for people are in the movement it can sometimes be far away. Prisons are closed institutions. But the families constantly keep the fire burning in all of us to make the changes.”

Note: This article, by Keri Blakinger, originally appeared on Solitary Watch.

Ban the Box: When Do You Admit That You’re a Felon

There are around 70 million Americans with an arrest history or a criminal record. For that portion of the population—one in three adults, according to the National Employment Law Project—getting a job can be tough.

In some cases, private employers, such as Target, Home Depot, and Walmart, have chosen to make it a bit easier by not asking questions about criminal background on their applications. In some cases, cities, counties, and states have actually passed legislation prohibiting such questions. These so-called “Ban the Box” laws don’t mandate that employers must hire felons. They simply require that criminal background inquiries occur later in the hiring process, typically after an in-person interview or conditional offer of employment.Ban the Box

Among the county’s major employers, Ithaca College, Borg Warner, and Cayuga Medical Center all either declined to comment or failed to respond to questions about their policies regarding the hire of individuals with criminal backgrounds. Cornell University, Tompkins County, and the City of Ithaca all said that they do inquire about criminal background, but that it is not an automatic bar to employment.

Although neither Tompkins County nor any of its included municipalities has banned the box yet, nearby Syracuse has. Alan Rosenthal, an attorney with the Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse, helped see that law through. However, the Syracuse law does not apply to all employers, but only to the city and its contractors. He said, “As we’ve seen [Ban the Box] implemented around the country there have been basically three versions. The first is the one that is the most narrow, the one in which the governmental entity—city, county, or state—bans the box for government employees only. The second is the one which applies to government entities and any business that contracts with government entities. Then the third, the one that is the broadest and gives the best of protections, takes the two that I’ve already mentioned and adds to it any private business within the locality.”

While none of the Tompkins County businesses interviewed for this article were willing to comment on Ban the Box, in some areas business interests have vocally opposed it. In an article for, Director of Labor and Human Resources Policy for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Sean Chichelli wrote, “Businesses ask candidates about their criminal histories on job applications in order to reduce liability and costs. Preventing them from doing so at the point of application only delays the necessary information they need right away.” Typically, Ban the Box advocates argue that delaying those questions allows applicants to be judged on their skills and experience rather than being summarily rejected for their pasts.

Rosenthal said that those with criminal backgrounds are not the only ones to benefit from the passage of Ban the Box legislation: “The benefits that flow from that are that if a person [with a criminal background] gets a job they now are a taxpayer, so there’s a benefit to the municipal entity in which they live. Now they’re paying taxes, they’re no longer in need of public assistance. There is the additional benefit that employment reduces the recidivism rate.” He added, “The Koch brothers have banned the box. Liberals shouldn’t be running away from this.”

Mayor Svante Myrick said that the city has talked about Ban the Box legislation in the past, but the matter never came to a vote. However, he voiced his support for the concept, saying, “If we deny people meaningful employment, we’re all but guaranteeing that they’ll go back to prison.”

One group of Cornell students, the Prison Reform and Education Project (PREP), has been actively raising awareness on the issue in recent months and one of the group’s leaders, Garrison Lovely, said that PREP has plans to address the Common Council about it during their regular May meeting. Lovely said, “We believe if you are sentenced and serve your time, you should not be punished repeatedly. It contributes to high recidivism.”

Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D-Ithaca) said that, like the city, the county has briefly talked about Ban the Box legislation, but she did not recall where the conversation ended.

Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) said, “I think we should give serious consideration to this idea. The number of people in prison, and how they integrate back into society when they are out, is an issue that affects everyone. Ban the Box legislation could help with this problem without causing any difficulties for employers or restricting their rights.”

On the other side of the aisle, Legislator Dave McKenna (R-Newfield) said, “I’m not totally in favor of it, but I don’t know enough yet.”

Paula Ioanide, an Ithaca College professor who has been active regarding issues of incarceration and race, urged action on the issue. She said, “I keep wanting to hold Tompkins County accountable to their supposed promise to be at the forefront of alternatives to incarceration, and I think this county’s openness to reentry into formal labor markets would be a huge gesture in that direction. Less talk, more action.”

This article was originally published on Photo and story by Keri Blakinger.

The Incident at Danby: Standoff Between SWAT and David Cady

According to Ithaca Police Department (IPD) SWAT Commander Jake Young, there have been 34 barricaded suspect situations in Tompkins County since 1998—when the IPD tactical team was formed—and none of the others lasted nearly as long as the one at Hornbook Road between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing, in an interview conducted weeks after the event, expressed surprise that the confrontation with David Cady on Hornbrook Road in Danby went as long as it did.

What actually happened and when on Hornbrook Road? What is known about David Cady?

House at Hornbrook Road, Danby
David and Melissa Cady’s home after the barricade. (Image by Tommy Battistelli, from The Ithacan)


The DWI arrest that ultimately led to a standoff on Hornbrook Road occurred in November 2013. While traveling to a friend’s house in Danby, Cady was pulled over. He failed a breathalyzer test and admitted to drinking five beers at home before driving.

Cady pleaded to a “Driving While Intoxicated” charge, in this case a Class D Felony, since it was his third DWI.  The prosecution requested one to three years in state prison, but instead, in December 2013, Cady was given interim probation pending sentencing. Lansing said that Cady had already spent 20 to 25 days in the Tompkins County Jail for his earlier DWIs; he had served the time on weekends.

The following timeline is constructed from reports made to the Public Safety Committee (PSC) of the Tompkins County Legislature on Jan. 12 by Young, IPD Investigator and CINT member Michael Gray, State Police Lieutenant Todd Keister, and District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson and the interview with Lansing on Jan. 22.

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014

A bench warrant was issued after Cady missed a court appearance. Over the months that followed, according to Lansing, deputies repeatedly attempted without success to serve the arrest warrant. “Since October, we’d been there well over a dozen times,” said Lansing.

Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014

7:46 p.m.: Two officers arrived at the 127 Hornbrook Road residence and made contact.  Initially, his wife Melissa said that Cady was not home, but the officers insisted that they heard him inside. Eventually, Melissa Cady admitted that her husband was at home. She also told the deputies that her husband was armed.

8:33 p.m.: When the reportedly armed David Cady refused to come out of the house, the decision to request a SWAT deployment was made and SWAT Commander and Ithaca Police Department Sergeant Jake Young was notified of the situation.

8:47 p.m.: Chief John Barber texted an email approval authorizing the activation of SWAT. The SWAT was activated  because officers on scene were told that David Cady had a loaded gun.

Shortly after 9 p.m.: Melissa Cady and her sons exited the premises.

Lansing said that Young made the calls for mutual aid on Tuesday evening, in part because of the weather. “Some of my officers were starting to feel that they were feeling hypothermia after half an hour,” he said. “That’s why he would call, not knowing for the weather.” Throughout the course of the standoff, a total of more than 100 officers were on scene (usually 30-40 at a given time), but Lansing said that had there been better weather it is possible that it would not have been necessary to call in so much help.

11:17 p.m.: Cady fired a shot out of an upstairs window. In his report to the Public Safety Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature Young said that at this time Cady insisted that the lights aimed at the house be turned off or “someone was going to get shot.” At this time the Elmira SWAT team was on its way and Young requested deployment of armored personnel carriers (APCs or “BearCats”) from Syracuse city police and the Onondaga County sheriff’s department.

Midnight: By this time negotiators had spoken with Cady 14 times and had attempted to get in contact with him by phone 44 times.

Morning, Wednesday, Dec. 31

2 a.m.: APCs owned by the New York State Police arrive. Over the next several hours the state police Special Operations Response Team (SORT) arrives at Hornbrook Road from around the state.

3:35 to 6 a.m.: At 3:35 a.m., Lansing said that officers prepared gas canisters for deployment.

4:16 a.m.: According to Lansing, the last direct contact with Cady was by phone at this time. Lansing said, “Cady stated that he’s armed up and come get him.”

5 a.m.: Melissa Cady said she heard a shot at this time. Lansing said that it could have been the police using of flashbangs—a non-lethal explosive device intended to disorient the subject—which began around 4:30 a.m.

5:45 a.m.: District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson arrives at the scene.

6 a.m.: Lansing arrives on the scene.

No one attempted to contact Lansing in earnest, he said in a Jan. 22 interview, “because they didn’t know they needed me. These incidents usually end within hours.” According to department protocol, the sheriff said, “The SWAT team is initiated by our people on the scene. It’s housed in the city, so they contact [IPD Chief] John Barber and the mayor. Jake Young, the SWAT commander, called for mutual aid. They know all about this stuff. I don’t.”

The sheriff was a mile and half from Hornbrook Road on Dec. 30, but he was in a location that was out of cell phone range. No one tried to reach him via a land line. He was checking his cell phone on his way to work at 6 a.m. on Dec. 31, saw the message and went immediately to the scene where his under sheriff, Brian Robison, was acting as “incident commander.”

The first gas deployment occurred at this time. There have been differing accounts of how many canisters of gas were deployed, with the lowest number being around 70. Young reported to the PSC that the gas was ineffective because the canisters were fired into the ceilings per procedure. The house had dropped ceilings, which, Young said, “caught” much of the gas.

7:40 a.m.: A BearCat armored vehicle was used to pry open the back door of the house, and two reconnaissance robots was sent in. They provided views of portions of the first floor, but stopped transmitting data after a short time.

Attorney William Furniss
Bill Furniss (by Tim Gera)

8:30 a.m.: After getting a voicemail from Melissa Cady, Bill Furniss—David Cady’s long-time attorney—arrived on the scene. He said, “I identified who I was and asked if I could try to speak to him. So the trooper called his sergeant and they said they’d keep it in mind. I gave them my contact information and went home.” He lives only three miles from Hornbrook Road. Furniss said that he asked four more times—three times by phone, once in person—to make contact with Cady.

“They turned me down,” the attorney said. “They kept saying that they didn’t have any way to communicate with him. I said, ‘Don’t you have a bullhorn, don’t you have a speaker system? The guy trusts me and I can help talk him out.’ The last time I talked to somebody they said, ‘We have made concessions for Dave, and he has not followed through on his part.’” IPD Investigator and negotiator Michael Gray has verified that concessions were made to Cady. Gray did not disclose the nature of the concessions, but said that he departed from training when he made them.

Afternoon, Wednesday, Dec. 31

1:30 p.m.: Lansing said the state police SORT wanted to enter into the house. “I looked at them and said, ‘Gentlemen, I’m not comfortable with that,’” Lansing recounted. In the Jan. 22 interview the sheriff said he didn’t believe that the SORT team could complete the operation before dark, which he thought made it too dangerous. Wilkinson was consulted in this decision, and she concurred with Lansing.

5:47 p.m.: Although the last direct contact with Cady was early Wednesday morning, Lansing said in the evening of that day officers using binoculars saw him through the windows at this time.

7:43 p.m.: A “throw phone” was launched into the house. It was equipped with a audio monitor, which picked up the sound of Cady’s movements. At 9:30 p.m. police hear him coughing. (Throw phones provide a direct connection to the negotiator in the absence of a working cell phone.)

11:11 p.m.: The electricity to the house is cut off. The land line telephone remained functional; the throw phone monitor picked up the sound of its ringing when negotiators attempt to contact Cady.

Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

7:52 a.m.: Police heard Cady coughing and clearing his throat.

Morning: Pennsylvania State Police arrived with a Rook, an armored vehicle that was used to create large openings in the home’s exterior. (The Rook, manufactured by Ring Power, Inc., a north Florida Caterpillar dealer, is an armored BobCat with several attachments, including a hydraulic breaching beam and a grapple claw.)

Afternoon: Police heard the sound of a washer and dryer being moved. It was the last sound picked up by the throw phone monitor in the house. Wilkinson left the Hornbrook Road scene having been there since Wednesday morning.

Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing
Ken Lansing (photo by Tim Gera)

Evening: Lansing said officers began using the Rook to remove the carport for better access to the home.

8 p.m.: The removal operation is stopped for the day.

Morning, Friday, Jan. 2, 2015

8 a.m.: Removal of the carport was resumed.

8:27 a.m.: The Rook removed a wall of the house and officers were able to see Cady, who they quickly realized was deceased.

What We Know About David Cady

He will now forever be known for the unfortunate series of events leading up to his death but, before all this, who was David Cady? We don’t really know.

According to Furniss, “I knew he was married with two kids, was a hardworking guy.” He added, “He worked at the Auto Salvage right next to the house until they closed up. I knew through the grapevine that they loved him.” Furniss said he’d known Cady for at least seven or eight years, maybe longer. In fact, they lived near one another, which is why Furniss was so easily able to come to the scene during the standoff.

After Auto Salvage of Ithaca closed, Cady went on to work at Willcox Tire and Auto on Elmira Road in Ithaca. Tom Shea, a mechanic at Willcox, said that he and Cady had worked together for about two years. “He was very outgoing, liked to fool around and have a good time,” said Shea. He added, “We miss him a lot. He was great.”

Danby Supervisor Ric Dietrich said that he knew David Cady, in part because Cady had been regularly attending town board meetings. Dietrich, who described Cady as “very polite, very respectful” explained, “He was in the process … of starting a business venture in town.” Cady, along with his friend and business partner William Kuhns, was planning to open a new automotive shop, Eagle Automotive. “They had already started construction, right across from the old Danby market in the center of town,” said Dietrich.

In her statements to the Danby town board on Jan. 14 Melissa Cady said, “My husband needed help. I told the police from the beginning that he was suicidal. He needed someone to help him, and all they did is bring in more and more and more police.”

Lansing said, due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws, he was not privy to any information about Cady’s mental health, but he would “assume probably” there were mental health issues. (The sheriff noted that he did not consider alcoholism in and of itself a mental health issue.)

The arrest that led to the Danby standoff was not Cady’s first brush with the law. He had previously been arrested for DWIs in Chemung County in 2004 and in Tompkins County in 2008. While the first DWI was not a felony, the second was—and he was on probation for the second one when he was arrested in 2013 for the DWI that led to the standoff in December. Since the third DWI was a D felony, the maximum sentence would have been 2 ⅓ to 7 years.

What Is Being Done

Danby Town Supervisor has called for an independent investigation. Tompkins County Legislature Chair Mike Lane (D-14th) said, “As far as launching any kind of an independent investigation there are currently no plans to do that.”

Lane said an investigation isn’t off the table though. For now, the next step is waiting for the full report from the Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff is still waiting for the full autopsy results, although Lane said that information may not necessarily be included in the full report. Although Lane said that some things in it may not be public record, the report will come before the legislature’s Public Safety Committee.

For his part, Lansing said that he is not opposed to an independent investigation: “To be honest,” he said, “if it would put people’s minds to rest that we weren’t covering up something … I have no problem with that.” •

Note: This article, co-authored by Bill Chaisson and Keri Blakinger, originally appeared in The Ithaca Times.

Me and My Mugshot

If there were awards for Worst Mug Shot Ever, mine would certainly be in the running. In 2010, while enrolled as a student at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, I was arrested with a large amount of heroin and sentenced to two and a half years in state prison. At the time of my arrest, I was using—as is pretty apparent from the picture—and also selling to support my habit. In my mug shot, my face is blotchy, my hair is all over the place, and I have scabs where I picked at my face while high. It’s pretty horrible.

When news outlets ran my mug shot in their coverage of my arrest, some of the comments that it inspired were pretty horrible, too. Certainly I did not expect sympathy, but even so, some of the comments surprised me. People called me a “whore” and “slut” and riffed on the “Ithaca is Gorgeous” slogan, writing, “Ithaca is Whoregeous.” These comments obviously did not stem from the fact that I actually looked like a prostitute; it should have been abundantly clear from the picture that absolutely no one would have paid to sleep with me at that point. The comments were intended as sexist, stigmatizing insults.

Part of that is due to a sexist nature of commonly used insults, and part of it is due to the nature of bad mug shots. But the most pernicious part of it is a reflection of the way our society generally views addicts.

When a man is arrested for drugs and has a horrible mug shot, people may insult his appearance but they usually won’t insult him sexually. That is, they’ll say he’s ugly, but they won’t say that he’s got a small penis. With a bad female mug shot, though, it seems OK to make the insults sexual in nature.

Mug shots like mine are dehumanizing. And when we see people as less than human, it becomes easy to lob insults with impunity.

Terrible mug shots are a dramatic appeal to our basest instincts. They’re fascinating in a sort of train-wreck-you-can’t-stop-watching way. The thing is, those mug shots are not of trains, they’re of real people. People who need help. You certainly don’t see that image of me and think, “Wow, we’re so much alike. That could have been me. That could have been my sister/mother/daughter. I hope that person gets help.” You think, “Eww, that’s gross! That would never be me or anyone I know.”

Some people commented that my picture was “the face of addiction.” Although my face clearly was the face of someone entrenched in an addiction, this should not be what we think of when we think of the face of addiction. Most addicts don’t look like this. The true face of addiction runs the gamut—there are beautiful models addicted to cocaine, mothers addicted to painkillers and mayors who smoke crack. And although none of them may have the dramatic “face of addiction” that I did, we are all struggling with the same demons.

Nonetheless, the “face of addiction” has become its own genre of image. Google the phrase and you will find thousands of faces like mine. The widespread “faces of meth” pictures are the most popular of the bunch. They’ve been used as the basis for fear-based prevention campaigns, and over time they’ve also come to do much harm as stigmatizing clickbait. Sometimes, these images come with a “before” and “after” picture so that viewers can marvel at how disfigured and inhuman a drug addict can become, almost as if addiction were a demonic possession. The truth is that the face of addiction can also be much more subtle, but no matter what it looks like we are all struggling with the same demons.

At the time of my arrest, it made sense that news outlets would run that picture. The thing is, five years later, it still appears in articles about me.

Since my release from prison in 2012, the Cornell Daily Sun, Mic News and, as recently as last week, the Washington Post have all published articles that included that mug shot. I’ve accepted that this picture is something that will continue to hold a somewhat morbid fascination for some people. I don’t hold it against the editors and writers who ask to use this picture. In fact, I get it. Most of the time, they have good intentions; they want to offer a visceral representation of how bad addiction can be. The problem is that they are unwittingly contributing to the stigmatization of addiction.

Usually, the picture is contrasted with a picture of me now. Although that comparison offers a moving comparison between how badly I was doing then and how much better I’m doing now, it also plays on a dramatic visual contrast between “normal person” and “ugly, addicted criminal.”

It’s true that addiction is ugly—but when we contribute to the stigmatization of people with addiction, we make it harder for them to seek help. For most people in an active addiction, it is difficult to admit to the seriousness of the problem. By stigmatizing addiction, we only make it more unlikely that addicts and their families will recognize the need for, and seek out, help. After all, nobody wants to admit that they or their loved ones are part of this seemingly reviled demographic.

Every time I see that mug shot, a part of me wilts. It brings back all the shame, remorse and regret I associate with who I was then. I have to constantly remind myself that that’s who I was then. To avoid obsessing over that image, I have to dissociate myself from the person it depicts.

Living with the shame of a past addiction is something that every recovering addict has to deal with—some more publicly than others. Although the continued use of that mug shot will probably always bother me on some level, one thing it has taught me is that I have a truly wonderful group of friends.

When people I know shared the column I wrote for the Washington Post on Facebook, they all—every single one—chose the “remove preview” option so that the picture doesn’t show in the post. I didn’t ask them to do this. They just did it. To them, I am a real person, not an abstract representation of the face of addiction. Consciously or not, they chose not to contribute to the stigmatization of one face of addiction—the face that they know personally. To them, it wasn’t that I could be their sister, daughter or friend; it’s that I am. Nothing helps defeat the stigma of addiction like actually knowing someone who’s overcome it.

Note: This article was originally published by on Jan. 28, 2015.  Also, the original refers to “arrest and trial.” I deleted that here, but the word “trial” was added in by an editor; since I took a plea my case did not go to trial. The vast majority of cases do not go to trial. 


People Who Use Drugs are the Forgotten Victims of Rape

Rape has been in the headlines lately. That’s partly thanks to aRolling Stone expose last month detailing a gang rape of a first-year student at a frat party at the University of Virginia. The story went viral and sparked campus protests. Then discrepanciesemerged in the account the victim told the reporter. Amid aflurry of stories slamming Rolling Stone for setting back sexual assault victim advocacy efforts, the magazine issued an apology.

Despite this problematic incident, the recent coverage has sparked much-needed discussion. Aside from the UVA story, there have been a number of interesting developments regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment, such as California’s controversial affirmative consent rule, the report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and Senate draft legislation that would create tougher penalties for colleges that mishandle sexual assault cases.

Some talk has focused on the interplay between alcohol and sexual assault (including so-called date rape drugs). Although estimates vary widely, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol use by one or both parties.

Yet there has been almost no mention at all about (other) drug use. One might easily conclude that drug users are simply never assaulted. I mean, surely we would be talking about it if they were, right?

Of course, people who use drugs are raped every day, but “drug addicts”—and, by implication, any drug users—are a group that few people are willing to defend.

Think about what the narrative would be like if among the other discrepancies in the Rolling Stone article, it was revealed that the victim had used drugs like heroin, hallucinogens, meth, or even cocaine. Her story would still have been discredited, but instead of criticisms being directed at Rolling Stone, the young woman herself would bear the brunt (along with a fair number of insults).

In fact, she reported that she was sober the night she was allegedly gang raped at the UVA frat party. By not drinking, her status as an “innocent” victim was secure: Whenever alcohol is involved, it tends to complicate the situation if the victim reports it. (Most rape victims—around 60%—never report.) Generally, when a person has been drinking, instead of being seen as more vulnerable to being victimized, she is seen as less likely to have a reliable memory or as possibly having given consent and later regretted it.

And despite decades of anti-rape advocacy, some people still believe that she may have “asked for it” by exercising impaired judgment in placing herself in a vulnerable situation (getting drunk at a frat party, for example). Needless to say, bad judgment on the victim’s part does not justify rape.

Ultimately, though, drinking, even when underage college kids are doing it (illegally), is widely viewed as acceptable behavior—a normal part of the college experience—and not a moral failing.

The same cannot be said of drug use. The impaired judgment of someone nodding out on heroin or tripping their brains out is seen, unlike that of being drunk off your ass, as so reprehensible that it overshadows any need to consider them as more vulnerable to victimization. They are seen as so lacking in moral character that they cannot have the status of victimhood. If something bad happens to a drug user, it was their own fault for making bad decisions—and maybe they deserved it.

I was a heroin addict for almost nine years, a period that included part of my college career. During that time, I was sexually assaulted at knifepoint. In that situation, my being a drug user was a huge factor in why I was selected as a target. In fact, while in the act of assaulting me, the man insulted me for my drug use, as if that conferred on me some complete lack of worth that somehow justified my assault.

Many of the women I met throughout my addiction had similar stories.

One of my friends was sexually assaulted by someone we both knew. Even though she’d said no, she was initially reluctant to call it rape. She felt that having taken drugs, she was responsible for what happened. It was as if she’d bought into the belief that her drug use was a moral problem, and thus, being morally deficient, she was not justified in pointing out another person’s clearly immoral decision.

I talked to the man involved. He acknowledged that they’d had sex and that Jane had been barely conscious. He did not see a problem with that. While he seemed to understand that having sex with someone fading in and out of consciousness due to drunkenness was not OK, he did not seem to think that extended to drug use. The “logic” behind this was not immediately apparent, and he wasn’t eager to answer my questions. Was it simply that he was aware of media coverage of rape involving drunk women and thus understood that this was not acceptable, but had heard of no such taboos involving women who were high?

Neither my friend nor I reported our assaults to the police. No one wants to report a crime when the story begins, “Well, I was doing some heroin when…” Admitting to police that you’re a drug user carries certain risks. They’re probably less likely to treat you with respect, for one. They’re also less likely to believe your story. Although they probably won’t immediately begin surveilling your house, it’s quite likely that your history of drug use will make it into a file somewhere. To police, you’ll become categorized as a known drug user, a fact which could affect any of your possible future police encounters. If the case ever makes it to trial, the victim can reasonably expect her personal history of drug use to become part of publicly available court records and also be included in any media reports.

It’s important to note, however, that if you do report the incident, you can’t be arrested for admitting to prior drug use.

Jamie Williamson of the Ithaca Police Department—located in a town that houses two major colleges, Cornell University and Ithaca College—told me that if a person reports a rape or assault and admits to having used drugs at the time of the incident, she cannot be arrested for that. (If you are reporting the incident to a school, though, you can be punished for admitting to a violation of campus codes of conduct.) But for many victims, that still may not change their willingness to report, because many drug users fundamentally view police as being on the “other team.”

In any case, victimizers know that drug users are unlikely to report an assault to the police, and they behave accordingly. Even in the rare situations when a drug user does report an assault, it often does not accomplish much. In 2008 a friend of mine at Cornell told a dean that she had been assaulted while taking ecstasy. The student was simply told to get drug treatment. At the time, she told The Cornell Daily Sun, “Cornell is wrongly making this into a ‘drug problem’ and forcing me to get evaluated when the real problem here is that I got sexually assaulted and nothing is being done about it. I am being treated like the problem.”

Often, the nature of drug culture ensures that users routinely place themselves in precarious and unsafe situations. You’re likely to be in a compromised state of awareness while in the presence of people in the throes of addiction who may do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. You’re likely to be around men on drugs that make them horny or aggressive (or both). You’re exposed to predatory people who realize that drug users are essentially outside the realm of any legal protection because it’s not in their best interest to report. You’ll be surrounded by people in a state of desperation and despair. You’ll end up in situations that seem skeevy from the get-go—but you want to get high, so you’ll take the risk. In my experience, things usually turned out fine. But sometimes they didn’t.

What all this means is that addicts and users make “good” targets for rape. At the same time, drug stigma makes many people see addicts and users as “fair game.” Even nonusers who sell drugs frequently see drug addicts as scum.

That was the situation in which I was victimized. For a long time I blamed myself—a belief that was bolstered by a drug counselor telling me that it was my fault. Now, years later, I know that is not true. My bad judgment was not to blame for another’s lack of any moral compass. I was not scum and, more important, even if I thought of myself as scum, it still wouldn’t have been OK to treat me that way.

Of course it isn’t just certain dealers who view people with addiction as scum. recently criticized an infographic produced by a website in the rehab industry for showing an absurd and offensive set of absurd caricatures of drug users and an offensive list of their “traits,” like “lies a lot” and “smells terrible.” It is apparent that these are not the sort of human beings to whom many people attach much value.

If you still have any doubt about that, just scroll through the comments on any news coverage of a drug arrest. (Earlier this year, theHuffington Post ran a piece titled, “Dying of a Heroin Overdose Does Not Make You a Scumbag.”)

This is a problem. This widespread dehumanization of those in the throes of addiction enables even recreational users to be treated in unacceptable ways, including being raped. We should not condone “blaming the victim” with our silence, which we do when the public discussion excludes a focus on sexual assault involving drugs.

Silence fuels the cycle of assault and blame. When we are silent on the topic, a victim often does not understand that she is not to blame. As a result, she does not speak out. Her silence helps ensure that the sexual assault of drug users is not recognized as a serious problem, and, undetected, sexual predators are able to continue acting with impunity. It’s a truly vicious cycle.

Note: I originally wrote this article for publication on

Graduation Behind Bars

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, a group of 13 students looking much like any other group of graduates walked across the stage to accept their diplomas as the Class of 2014. Unlike most college graduates, though, this group was entirely comprised of prisoners, inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility, the state’s oldest prison.

The December ceremony was the second graduation ceremony ever held for the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP). Rob Scott, the program’s executive director, said that Cornell professors first began teaching prison classes back in 2001. Initially, though, it was not an official college program. There was no funding, and the courses were not offered for credit.

Cornell Prison Education Program Graduating Class of 2014
The Class of 2014

Then in 2008, Doris Buffett—the founder of the Sunshine Lady Foundation and sister of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett—got involved and provided funding to create a program that would actually help inmates earn degrees. Now, the students earn Cornell credits. However, because Cornell does not offer a two-year degree program, the credits are transferred to Cayuga Community College so graduates are awarded liberal arts associate’s degrees. In the future, Scott hopes to see bachelor degrees become a part of the program as well.

Commencement speaker Ronald Day, who is both the current director of workforce development at the Osborne Association and also a former inmate himself, commented on the difficulty of making positive changes in prison. He said, “Few people are rehabilitated in prisons. Fewer still are rehabilitated by prisons. But a few rehabilitate themselves in spite of prison.”

Graduate Nathan Powell is one who has done much in spite of prison. Although he was living in New York City at the time of his arrest, Powell also has a local connection: he graduated from Ithaca High School in 1981. Now, in this month’s graduation, he was honored as the valedictorian. In his speech, Powell expressed his gratitude for the CPEP program: “The rest of the world had us tagged and bagged, and you came in here, and you cared, and we will never forget that.”

After Powell’s speech, salutatorian Lucas Whaley took the stage. “Prison’s a funny place,” he said. “Sure, it’s oppressive and depressing, but it’s also filled with amazing things you wouldn’t expect—like brilliance.”

Another graduate, Maurice McDowell, said, “This means a lot. I have had something positive to do with my   time here instead of doing idle time.” McDowell said he hopes to become a social worker after his release.

The other 40 or so inmates currently enrolled in college classes were allowed to attend the ceremony as well. They offered raucous and enthusiastic support at times, but they also offered sober reflection. Dale Allen said he found it inspiring to watch his classmates graduate. He added, “This is the greatest advantage that prison can offer.”

The inmates aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program. As Scott said, “It feeds me to do this work.”

It is perhaps in part because of that tendency to define inmates as “others” that prison education programs have sometimes drawn criticism, a fact to which Buffet alluded during her brief speech. However, Pete Wetherbee, a Cornell professor emeritus who helped launch CPEP, firmly averred the value of prison education. He said, “It’s enriching for the culture of the prison. Some of the best students of the program are lifers. Also, it decreases recidivism, which is a tremendous economic boon to taxpayers.”

I originally wrote this article for publication in The Ithaca Times.