At twenty, I took a sabbatical from my studies at the University of Texas and worked for the City of Houston Municipal Courts. Every morning I went down to the jail to reconcile the bond money, and then, I worked in the court that handled all of the non-traffic Class C misdemeanors, such as petty theft, prostitution, assault and public intoxication. Otis would have been right at home – there were lots of drunks. These men weren’t criminals who purposely hurt other people. They were alcoholics who had nowhere else to go. Jail was the only place that met their most basic needs – food, clothing and shelter. Many of them listed the Houston police trustee dorm as their permanent home address.
Dressed in their white, numbered coveralls, trustees worked around the jail, courts and police department. Sometimes they earned a quarter, sometimes fifty cents, for sweeping the floor or shining shoes. Those quarters added up, and after two or three days in jail, there was the unmistakable jingle as a trustee walked by. Getting out, the men headed straight to the nearest convenience store for the biggest bottle of wine or malt liquor their change would buy. But freedom was short-lived. Just like Otis, they would finish the bottle as they staggered back to the jail, “I’m drunk! Lock me up!”
The men were familiar faces in Judge Ann Green’s court. They marched in each day for the morning docket. Dirty, disheveled and reeking of booze, it was obvious the night was spent sleeping it off in a jailhouse bunk. Judge Green was lenient, but jail was often their only home. “Give me longer, Judge. I haven’t learned my lesson.” During the holidays, when Judge Green sentenced them to time served, they were adamant about jail time. “You need to lock me up, Judge! For a long time,” they pleaded!
Each wasted life was heartbreaking and I never thought incarceration was the answer. These men were homeless alcoholics. Nothing was served by locking them up nor did their lives ever change. It was a bleak cycle of hopelessness.
That’s why I was so excited when I first learned about Star of Hope’s new partnership with the City of Houston Sobering Center. People can” sleep it off” in a safe, secure environment, and when one of them reaches out for help, Star of Hope will be there. Where there once was darkness, hopelessness and bondage, there will now be hope for a better tomorrow.