Paying Attention to People Who Haven't Been Thought About

Dear Harvey,

My name is David Abramson, and I have been wanting to write to you for some time now to discuss your ideas regarding people "targeted for destruction."

First, I am really pleased that these various groups of people that you describe are becoming the focus of RC attention. I am fairly new to Co-Counseling (less than two years), and I see great potential in it for myself and others. I have noticed, though, since I got into Co-Counseling, that there don't seem to be too many of these folks involved, or at least I haven't encountered very many. I would like to do what I can to draw more people with these experiences into learning about (and benefiting from) RC. Let me tell you a little of my story, and then maybe together we can figure out a way for me to do that. 

I am a recovering alcoholic/drug addict and have been in "recovery" in Alcoholics Anonymous for fourteen years. I have also worked in the field of addiction treatment for twelve years and have encountered in my work thousands of the people you describe. Currently, I am working as a project coordinator for the Alameda County Department of Behavioral Care, and I have responsibility for projects that address two main target populations: (1) state parolees who are addicted and in danger of returning to prison, and (2) people with mental, physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments who are also addicted to chemicals and are having trouble accessing treatment and recovery services because of their disabilities.

I have gotten involved in the provision of publicly-funded services because I see many groups of people such as these who are traditionally unserved or underserved in our current treatment system, even among those programs who claim to want to help everyone. It sometimes seems that the more "problems" these people present, the less even those in the "helping" professions want to help them. I see this slowly-growing class of people, who are literally society's "throw-aways," being treated as if they are not even deserving of a safety net. Prisons and jails are the last resort, the end of the line. As our sheriff put it during recent budget battles here in our county, "I can't turn anyone away. I have to take all of the 'clients' referred into my 'program.'" Many of this state's prisons and jails, recognizing this, are finally starting to implement treatment programs for their inmates and parolees. Although we appreciate their efforts, it is a sad reflection on our society when someone has to end up in prison to finally get offered some help.

I was really turned on to read in the recent Present Time some of the letters from prisoners who have discovered RC. My experience working with thousands of addicts and others who have ended up "at the bottom" is that they all have one need in common: someone to just listen to them, to pay attention to them, and to tell them that they are valuable. I have seen the most hardened ex-con break down and cry when someone gives him or her even just a little of that kind of attention. Most of these men and women have unbelievably horrendous stories of child abuse, sexual and otherwise; poverty; poor or no education; an early start to crime; and years in the clutches of the "criminal justice" system, which just reinforces the abuse they have grown up with and "learned" to believe is all they deserve. But it's always amazing to me how resilient the human spirit is, and how quickly these folks respond when treated with a little love, understanding, and respect.

Likewise, people with disabilities are routinely shut out of participation in most of society, and many turn to chemicals to deal with the pain of that reality. Also, many of them became disabled because of their chemical use and exacerbate their conditions by their continued use of chemicals. I have heard many people with disabilities tell me that their disability is not their lack of use of their legs, or their eyesight, or whatever. It is the way society treats them that makes them and keeps them disabled. So while they may learn to overcome the physical realities of their condition, their exclusion and oppression by society continue, and they have to constantly deal with the ensuing distress. It's no wonder they have a much higher rate of addiction than the average population.

I have talked to my partner somewhat about ways that we can reach out and introduce RC to some of the groups of people that you describe, and we have also thought with each other about some of our contacts in the RC Community who might be interested in and useful to this effort. I would appreciate any ideas you may have on how we can do this, and I would appreciate just being able to talk with you more about who these folks are and what their needs are. It is my life's work, and again, I am really pleased to see these people receiving attention from RC. I could spend a whole other letter telling you what a wonderful impact RC has had on my life and how it has enhanced my own recovery, and someday maybe I'll just do that!

Dave Abramson
Berkeley, California, USA


Dear Dave,

I'm very glad to hear from you and assume that I may print your letter in Present Time and put it on-line for the Access List, which is the discussion list for people working on supporting those "targeted for destruction."

I think your experience and your attitude will be invaluable, and you can probably take all the leadership you can stand in moving ahead with this group. We have a problem of finding leadership, since the people themselves will have to have recovered some self-confidence before they can lead. So we will have to make do with a leadership group combined from victims and social-worker types.

I got the beginning of a new idea myself when reading your letter. I don't know how to make it work exactly, but we need some kind of a brotherhood-sisterhood to which people can "belong." A "credo" might contain some statements like:

  1. "I am just exactly the same as the most successful, worthy humans alive except that I have had some very tough experiences which I have not completely recovered from."
  2. "I am working at recovering from the damage that has been done to me by mistreatment (accidental or deliberate)."
  3. "My recovery is my own job, but I can use certain kinds of assistance."
  4. "Don't put me down. You would be acting just the same way I am if you had had exactly the same experiences."
  5. "Do encourage me in every way that you can."
  6. "Don't 'trust' me to not misbehave until I am completely recovered."
  7. "Do 'encourage' me to behave well from this moment on, no matter how many times I slip."
  8. "I need to be listened to, I need to be encouraged, I need to never be given up on."
  9. "I do not deserve to be discouraged, given up on, or reproached. I never deserve to be punished or blamed."

What do you think?
With love,


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00