Many people who are in recovery have noted that the culture of modern dating isn’t the most suited to them. The default first-date suggestion is often to meet the other person at a bar. But at least those who choose not to use alcohol as a social lubricant can seek out like-minded people and get to know them in spaces that suit them both. The same is true for people of certain religious upbringings or who otherwise aren’t much inclined to drink in the first place.
But when you’re on parole, the choice is made for you. To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some people are born abstinent, some achieve abstinence, and some have abstinence thrust upon them by the state as a condition of community supervision.
After 13 years of incarceration by the Georgia Department of Corrections, I was released in September. Random drug tests will be taking money out of my pocket for the foreseeable future, and even though in prison I did choose a path of abstinence from other substances like meth, it would be nice to get to know someone over a draught beer. As someone in her early thirties who’s on a sex offender registry (SOR), bars would also be the most natural environment to find romantic partners—even just friends—without having to worry about accidental interaction with minors.
Some beer or wine around a firepit would be nice, or a holiday party at someone’s house. I don’t necessarily mind having a Diet Coke in those situations—what I mind is the position I’m in when explaining why I won’t be needing any rum in it. Abstinence in and of itself can be something that people bond over, but in my case it reflect the state’s values, not mine. I could lie and say I just don’t feel like having a drink. I’d rather be forthright, but that means saying I’m on parole, which means more questions, which means alienating people when I continue to answer honestly. Too much too soon, rather than being able to share things organically and in my own time.
Community supervision does not allow us to actually reintegrate into any communities.
Marijuana poses a separate set of issues. Rather than being the only sober person in a bar I’m compelled to decline invitations to hang out with people in their homes. Marijuana might be a less-harmful substance than alcohol, but since it’s not legalized I can’t risk being in the vicinity of people while they break the law, even if it’s not a law I agree with. Since my release, I’ve found that conversations on dating apps frequently lead to an invitation to “420 and chill,” which I would very much like to do, but not as much as I would like to not go back to prison.
Community supervision does not allow us to actually reintegrate into our communities. Or new communities, for those who like me who were released to an address far from friends and family. Re-entry has been overwhelming, to be sure, but the issue has not been that I struggle to find opportunities to move my life forward—I’ve been finding opportunities and not being allowed to take them.
I’m asked on dates I have to decline because I have a curfew; invited to holiday parties I have to decline because there will be weed on the premises, or the host has kids who will be home. I’m offered jobs I have to turn down because of the SOR 1,000-foot distance requirement, which in addition to cutting me off from income also means that I have no coworkers to get to know. I’m a woman of faith and would like to be able to meet people at church and take them up on invitations to volunteer at events, but this too is off-limits. Parole and SOR restrictions don’t just keep you away from “bad” people, or bad choices. They keep you away from all of them.
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