Robin Shellow Attorney | Drug addiction can become a bigger challenge around the holidays
What do you do when someone is arrested for drug addiction during the holidays.
drug addiction, holidays, arrested, jail
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thoughts on current issues

Holiday Emergencies

Holiday Emergencies

Holidays are particularly excruciating for the families of addicts. It is not that law enforcement targets your adult sons and daughters struggling with addiction during the holiday season. But, to a loving parent it seems that way. But, the reverse is sort of true. The expectations felt by those sons and daughters who have not yet found themselves, who have not gotten married or started a family, who took a year off before college that turned into a decade, or who dropped out of school altogether and now feel the disappointment tumbling down on them. The stress mounting with the approach of every holiday gathering with family members eager to ask questions. The feelings of inadequacy felt in the shadows of more successful siblings. Let’s face it, the holiday season is often a stressful time for anyone, but for a family member struggling with an addiction it’s more than just stressful, it can be downright dangerous.

Everyone feels a financial strain around the holidays, and for addicts in the underground drug economy it is no different. Their regular suppliers may be out of drugs, or charging high prices for what little is available. Their connections may be out of town, with their own families, or unwilling to answer the phone or meet up during the holidays. Maybe your son or daughter misused your credit card the last time, or sold off the presents you asked them to buy, or maybe they rummaged for money through the winter coats and purses piled on top of the bed in the spare bedroom.

As the addiction grows bigger, the risks which the addict will take to feed the addiction also grow bigger. Borrowing turns into stealing, perhaps from their employer or unlocked cars in the neighborhood. Shoplifting turns into robbing someone at a mall with a fake gun, and going into unlocked cars turns into breaking into houses. When the inevitable call comes in, every parent of an addict wants to believe they have arrested the wrong person. But deep down, those parents know that it was their child, and part of them is relieved to hear that their child is in custody and not dead. While the rest of the family finishes dinner in the other room, the question becomes: what do I do now? Who can I call?

Addiction is a mental illness and why some young people are predisposed and others are not is a question for neurobiologists, not lawyers. But, there is a singular truth that parents of adult or near-adult addicts need to know, which is that addiction is only insurmountable when those around the addict give up, burn out, lose faith, stop trying or give air to the false notion that our criminal justice system will achieve what you have not. At best, holidays are a trying time for families with addicts, a time spent waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Release After Jail — FAQs

I have an emergency—my son/daughter has been arrested. Can you help us?

Help begins with getting your son or daughter out of jail. As quickly as possible. The name of the game is speed, and first we have to get them out of jail — and it is the holidays.

Our son is addicted to drugs. Maybe this arrest will wake him up. Should we just let him sit?

You have to remember about the biology of addiction. The lack of access to drugs doesn’t turn off the receptors in the brain which crave the drugs. Two or three days in a county jail, while terrifying, will not break the body’s neurological need for the drug. Jail is not the place for your son or daughter to withdraw from a long-term addiction, as such facilities are ill-equipped to handle such medical emergencies. For a person with prolonged addiction to substances such as pharmaceutical or illicit drugs (i.e. Percocet, OxyContin) or benzodiazepines (i.e. Xanax, Clonazepam), going “cold turkey” on the floor of a jail’s holding cell can be potentially life threatening.

What is the next step? What do we do when they are released from jail?

During the hours or days it takes to get the system to release your son or daughter, I will work with families on a plan for their release — a plan that meets the ultimate goals of extracting your child from the criminal justice system, and addressing their addiction in both the short and long term.

My child was arrested on Friday night before the holiday weekend? Can we get them released right away or do we have to wait until Monday after the holiday?

Depending on the place of the arrest, getting your child released requires persistence, a plan and a lawyer who, with over her 30 years of practice, has spent most Christmas holidays trying to make this arrest the last arrest for many long-suffering families struggling with addiction. In Milwaukee County, my home jurisdiction, the courts work seven days a week. So yes, it is possible to get someone to bond court on a weekend. Other counties have bail schedules. Sometimes it is possible to reach a judge or prosecutor in the event of a medical or other emergency.

When will we know what their bail/bond is going to be?

The words bail and bond are often used interchangeably. In most federal jurisdictions, the magistrate who is going to decide whether your son or daughter is going to be held with/without bond will be hearing the case within 24 hours of their arrest. But do not panic, as the federal laws permit a temporary short-term detention and will, upon request, review it in greater detail within days. Do not panic if your son or daughter is temporarily detained. If your son or daughter is a traveler passing through and arrested in transit on an old warrant from these courts, or was arrested doing something illegal while in transit, then the attorney arguing for release needs to submit a careful plan in writing to show the magistrate assigned to the case that they will be satisfactorily supervised in the jurisdiction where they live and will return to Court for every court appearance. Whether the arrest is in state or federal court, the question of whether money will be required to secure their release depends on how tight the supervision that his or her lawyer proposes to the Court. However, sometimes a money bond is the most expedient way to get your son or daughter out.

What are the benefits of posting bail/bond for my child’s release?

Aside from the obvious reasons, so they can get treatment, so they are not kicked out of graduate school, so that they are not fired, etc. The terrible truth is that, if your son or daughter is incarcerated before the case has concluded, the odds increase dramatically that a Court will keep them incarcerated and sentence them to jail or prison. For all judges, it is more difficult for them to justify a prison sentence if the client has complied with all of their release conditions and really, really gone over the top in demonstrating that they been able to successfully manage their addiction, but have also made recompense for how their addiction has hurt other people—both known and unknown. But an incarcerated client cannot show demonstrable, extraordinary change.

When I got arrested my life was about taking it easy and, since I was released, there has been nothing easy about what I have done. I have told everyone in my life I am an addict and you, my family and friends are the eyes and ears of the community, all of whom I have hurt and disappointed. If you see me starting to slip, I am begging you to tell someone. I am so grateful to the entire treatment community that has led me through the daily hard work of managing my addiction.

Demonstrable change such as this cannot be accomplished inside of a cell, however, and perhaps more importantly it cannot be presented to a sentencing court if you child has spent his/her time between arrest and court inside jail.

How much will bail/bond cost?

The amount of a cash bond primarily depends on the severity of the offense and any prior criminal record. Some states have bondsmen who guarantee a criminal defendants appearance when a family gives the bondsman a percentage of the bond set. Wisconsin has long outlawed bondsmen. If the bail/bond is $35,000 dollars, then that is what must be posted to get your wayward child out of jail. Judges, magistrates and court commissioners are all authorized to set that initial amount to get your child released. Again, coming in with a plan for the safe release of your incarcerated loved one is the key to reducing that amount. So, when the call comes in that your adult child has been arrested, it is an emergency. It is time to hire a lawyer now.

Can you post bail/bond on a credit card?

Most jails accept credit cards.

Does The Shellow Group accept credit cards?

Yes. We accept all major credit cards and can process them at our office or over the phone.

If I hire a well-known lawyer, won’t the court think my arrested son or daughter is a really big-time criminal or assume they are guilty?

That is a myth. Whether it is state or federal court, in this jurisdiction or far away, the Court already knows – or will find out very quickly – that I work for real and long-term outcomes that prevent my clients from being arrested again. There are other factors that prey upon the minds of families with recently arrested family members. Some of these potentially mitigating factors are very important, both to you and your family, but especially to those court officials tasked with making the release decision concerning your child. None of these court officials will know these important details unless you hire a lawyer to shine a light on them before the court and show a way forward.

He is on medication. He is a brittle diabetic. He is finally on anti-depressants that are working. He is the best man at his sister’s wedding and when he got arrested he had the wedding rings in his pocket. His wife is the first chair violinist in the Symphony Orchestra and she will never forgive him if he misses opening night of Handel’s “Messiah”. He is on a transplant list. He has interviews with Apple and Google in Silicon Valley. If he doesn’t finish his term paper over Christmas break he will flunk the course and it will destroy his GPA. His sister has cancer and he is her chemo buddy. His wife is pregnant with twins and is on bedrest.

All clients and their families have their own life stories that, if presented by a skillful attorney and accompanied by an extraordinarily structured release plan, the date of the emergency becomes their sobriety date. Year after year, I get notes and cards and flowers when my clients are celebrating their one year, five year, ten year and even twenty to twenty-five year sobriety anniversaries.

For 30 years I have spent my holidays with the families of clients and clients getting their first foot hold on a drug-free and law-abiding future. The work that can be accomplished in those early terrifying days where the client, the paperwork, the computer generated documents pronounce a newly arrested client is court ready is invaluable. The time that I spend with families, near and far, getting to know my client through the eyes of those who love him and are initially SO disappointed, it is a very special time. I have come to call the process the beginning of Decisional Forgiveness. Small good steps become better choices, better choices are followed by honest truths, and honest truths lay the groundwork for Decisional Forgiveness.

I may not say it but your son or daughter could be anyone’s son or daughter. Judges and prosecutors are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. The judges and magistrates and court commissioner who make the decision whether to set a reasonable amount of cash bond are not monsters. Courts throughout Wisconsin — and the 15 other states and many other federal districts where I have handled cases — they know that, from beginning to end, my clients and their families have a guide in a lawyer who is steering them towards the good.

Every arrest is an emergency

No one ever gets arrested at the right time.

It is always the wrong time and yes, the wrong time is too often the holidays. Since the parents of addicted children cannot erase holidays from the calendar, it might be a good idea to jot down my phone number (414) 263-4488 and email ( in your contacts. It just might be the best present an addicted son or daughter gets this holiday season.

If you are still not convinced, subscribe to our blog that has post after post of how are clients redeem themselves without incarceration.

Thank you for taking the time to read this holiday post. Please call if you think there is something I can do to help. Of course, I do not charge for initial consultations.

Robin Shellow

The Shellow Group
324 West Vine Street
Milwaukee, WI 53212
414 263 4488 (Office with 24 hours answering service)
262 285 4700 (home)

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