Thank you, Joe Biden
In what could end up being the most significant contribution to their administration’s legacy—and possibly the last piece of legislation from their 8 years in office—President Obama and Vice President Biden signed into law the 21st Century Cures bill on Tuesday following a Monday night vote dramatically presided over by the VP himself, a move indicating just how close The bill focuses on increased resources and initiatives targeting cancer research and drug treatment, specifically for the opioid addiction crisis currently ravaging communities across the country. In the wake of this momentous occasion, and with the encroaching end of his second term as our nation’s favorite Uncle Joe–a kindly and charming figure, though sometimes gruff and rough around the edges, whose commitment to and love for all of us, his countless nieces and nephews, was never in question—it seems a fitting time to say “Thank You, Mr. Vice President”.
An Open Letter to Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Dear Mr. Vice President:
First and foremost, I am sorry for the death of your son. The magnitude of such an unfathomable loss goes beyond political affiliations, cuts through the chatter of 24-hour news cycles, to a nation unified in its shared grieving. When an adult son dies, parents are forced to endure the memories of a fully-realized life cut tragically short, haunted perpetually by the chirping little boy’s voice seeking his parent’s attention to the warm familiarity of the grown man’s voice seeking his parent’s advice. Amidst the full spectrum of emotion is the fear that one will forget how he sounded, that details of his life will recede as his friends and family move through the trajectory of mourning. With the passing of the Beau Biden bill—in the form of the 21st Century Cures Act–on Tuesday, December 13th, 2016, you have honored the memory of your son in the best way possible and ensured that the passing of Beau Biden–cherished son, husband and father–on May 30th, 2015 will not soon be forgotten.
By way of introduction, my name is Robin Shellow. I practice criminal defense law out of Milwaukee, WI and, for the last 29 years, my practice has centered on helping Courts find a public health solution for clients throughout the country whose addiction has brought they and their families to the doorsteps of America’s Courtrooms, and entire communities to the threshold of utter ruin. In June of this year, I wrote a series of pieces titled “Heroin Holocaust” where I said if there is a cure or a way to live with addiction, I bet whoever discovered it would be welcome on your rocket ship to the moon. For reasons known and unknown, I have always associated you with hope. That elusive condition, part blessing and part curse, which Emily Dickinson described as “that thing with feathers”, and which Woody Allen proposed, by extension, taking “to a specialist in Zurich” in search of curing it. However, before the cure, there is mourning. The business of mourning is complicated. Some days the pain inspires an eloquence we scarcely knew we possessed, while on other days the grief is terrifying, isolating, and steals our very breath like a thief in the night. I have spent many long nights grieving in private along with my incarcerated client-addicts. Yet, on Tuesday the 13th, upon reading the headlines on the day’s Journal-Sentinel, for the first time in a long time I felt as though I had some allies in my three decade fight for alternative sentencing for addicts where oftentimes my clients and I have felt surrounded on all sides by nothing but adversaries.
Cancer and Addiction are at once different and the same. By combining addiction management and cancer management in the same bill, you and a quietly empathic congress elevated the disease of addiction. You could have just as appropriately named the bill the 21st Century CARES Act, as you have gone a long way towards erasing some of the stigma attached to the illness of addiction. While it may not visit upon as many households as cancer, the insidiousness with which addiction infects lives and the present opacity of its root causes is every bit as dire for sufferers and their loved ones. Whereas there is a level of dignity conferred upon those facing down cancer, the same cannot be said for those engaged in an equally unrelenting battle with addiction-based illness, who often must confront their disease on one front while fighting on an additional front against the public scorn stemming from misinformation and ignorance. Would we tell a teenager with leukemia to “suck it up and stop complaining” because we believe they brought it upon themselves? Would we close the door on someone with brain cancer in need of a warm bed and a safe place to spend the night?
Often times, when I write, I do not know how I know what I know or why, on a particular day, I take pen to paper. I certainly had no way of knowing that the 21st Century Cures bill would contain the potential for a cure to a disease that, in some places, claims a frightening amount of lives, according to data released Thursday by the CDC. What I do know is that my clients count every day as a blessing—a blessing they are not holding their breaths in the back of courtrooms as I try to guide judges through the maze of dizzying statistics where prosecutors often argue if users didn’t use, dealers wouldn’t deal. A specious argument if there ever was one, which I have come to call the theory of trickle down addiction.
The twin demons of cancer and addiction impact millions on a daily basis, and it is my most ardent hope that December 13th, 2016 marks a turning point on both fronts. Perhaps, in the years to come, it will be called Beau Biden Day, a national holiday where everyone takes off work to spend time with someone battling illness, or simply takes a quiet moment to remember those we have lost.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You will be missed in the coming years, though surely not forgotten.
With gratitude, I remain
Very Truly Yours,
The Shellow Group
324 West Vine Street
Milwaukee, WI 53212
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