To the People

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Monday, January 07, 2008

The Crack Reporter: A Drug War Parable

Wa Post veteran reporter Ruben Castaneda wrote a wonderful and harrowing article in that paper's past Sunday Magazine about his addiction to crack when he was, ironically, covering the crack wars of the early 90's in DC for his employer. His account is honest, sad, raw and brave. One vignette:
The Post issued quarterly "comp time" checks for days and hours worked beyond the normal workweek. Employees had the choice of taking the time or the money. I was on a frantic rat wheel, trying to stop using, failing, needing more cash. I always opted for the money. In October 1991, I received a comp check for about $700. I went home and fully intended to wait until the morning to deposit the check at my bank. I started drinking. I got into my car and drove, winding up at a check-cashing place in Adams Morgan. One, two rocks tops, I told myself. I ended up smoking through the night with a friend. Within 24 hours, all the money was gone.
Kudos to the Wa Post for not firing Ruben and instead being sympathetic and helpful.
On December 20, 1991, I showed up for work obviously wrecked. I'd binged on rock and tried to bring myself down with three or four gin-and-Cokes. My eyes were glazed, and my breath smelled of liquor. I was told to go home and come back the next night.

The following night, Milton [Ruben's editor] met me in the newsroom. He said we needed to go meet with the EAP counselor. In her small office, she dropped the bombshell: They'd made arrangements for me to spend the next three weeks in the rehab unit at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.
Ruben defeated his addiction and has been a productive Post reporter in the 15 years since. Had the Post fired him, as most companies would have done, instead of working to reduce the harm of his addiction, we can only guess where Ruben would be today. Ruben's Wa Post online chat today is here.

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