movies, TV, videos

Repost: Desperate Lives– a delightfully campy anti-drug flick starring Helen Hunt…

I am reposting this old Epinions review, written June 26, 2012, because I mentioned Diana Scarwid today and she was in this movie about drugs in the 80s. I did recently write about Desperate Lives, but that post didn’t include my review… and I worked so hard on that review! So here it is– as/is– for the interested. I had some fun with this writeup, didn’t I?

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, which means that my childhood was inundated with anti-drug propaganda.  One of the most memorable made for television films from my youth is 1982’s Desperate Lives, starring Doug McKeon, Diana Scarwid, Diane Ladd, and a very young Helen Hunt.  This film has some unintentionally hilarious moments in it, which is why I would ever think of it 30 years later.  Though it has been available on VHS in the past, it eventually went out of print.  I see it’s now being offered for $9.99 on Amazon.com, or you might be able to see it for free on YouTube, which is what I opted to do.  Or, you can just read this review, which will be very snarky and includes all of the major details of the plot.

The plot

Guidance counselor Eileen Phillips (Diana Scarwid) is new blood at a high school where the kids are all stoned.  She wants to do something about all the blatant drug abuse, but the teachers and administrators don’t care.  Can a couple of special students help Eileen convince the kids to stop doing drugs?

A blow by blow… (cuz are you really going to watch this?)

*Spoilers– skip this section if you don’t want them.* Diana Scarwid, who famously played the adult version of Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest, plays Eileen Phillips, a young guidance counselor.  Just eight years out of high school herself, Eileen Phillips has an annoying, odd, southern accent that sounds like it inspired Eric Cartman fifteen years later.  On her first day on the job, Eileen runs into Scott Cameron (Doug McKeon) in the parking lot.  Scott appears disoriented because he and his sister, Sandy (Helen Hunt), have just taken a ride in a van where other young folks are doing drugs.  Scott apparently has a bit of a contact high.

Eileen immediately takes a shine to 15 year old Scott and asks another guidance counselor if she can trade one of her students for Scott.  Later, we see Scott in Eileen’s office and she tries to talk to him about his future.  But he’s coming down from his high and is angry and irritable.   They have a bonding moment when Eileen implores her new young charge to trust her.

At a pep rally, Eileen is enjoying the band and the cheerleaders until she looks around and spots some unruly boys up in the bleachers shoving stuff up their noses and smoking pot.  The football coach stirs up cheer by telling students they “have to get high”.  As everyone roars approval, he quips “That’s not what I mean…”

Eileen corners the principal, Dr. Jarvis (William Windom), and immediately takes him to task for all the druggies in his school.  Having only been on the job two weeks, Eileen sure doesn’t mind upsetting the apple cart.  Dr. Jarvis doesn’t seem to care.  He continues greeting students as Eileen tries to talk to him about trying to stop all the drug use.  The good principal just can’t be bothered.  Later, we discover that Dr. Jarvis will soon be retiring, which explains his apathy.  He warns Eileen not to rock the boat too much.

Eileen is in the pool with the students when she spots one of them floating.  She shouts for someone to call the paramedics because the young lass isn’t breathing.  Miraculously, after a few seconds of CPR, the young girl starts breathing again.  When Eileen asks what happened, the only response she gets from the other kids is that the girl is just a “dumb doper”. 

The music turns sad and ominous as we end up at Scott and Sandy’s house, where their mom, Carol (Diane Ladd), is setting up for dinner.  Scott starts complaining to his mother, who tells him he hangs out with “a bad class of people”.  Scott gets p!ssed and storms out of the house as Carol calls to him to come back.  But Sandy tells her to let Scott go out and blow off some steam… or maybe just to score some blow.  Later, when Sandy tries to talk to Scott, he calls her a b!tch and accuses her of being a doper, too.  But Sandy says she only “experiments”; she’s not a drug fiend.

The familiar strains of an 80s era arcade play and I hear the sounds of Donkey Kong.  Scott’s there to pick up a stash from his dealer, Ken (Sam Bottoms).  Ken apparently sees himself in Scott and recruits him to help him sell drugs.  He shows Scott his car and apartment, offers Scott a beer, and tells him to open a briefcase he got handmade in Italy, which Scott pronounces as “gnarly”.  The dealer doesn’t drink or drug, but he likes his money.  He sees the same qualities in Scott as he introduces him to a lucrative life in designer Jordache jeans!   

There’s more ominous music as the scene shifts.  Poor Carol is in bed with her husband, John (Tom Atkins), lamenting about how crappy Scott is.  The parents are losing control of their kids and hating it.  Dad can’t reach Scott, but he can keep a 16 hour a day job at the post office so he can pay the bills.

Scott is soon approached by a pretty 15 year old girl named Susan (Tricia Cast) who’s heard he sells drugs.  He doesn’t want to sell her any drugs, but she tells him “everybody else is doing it”.  Ahh… famous last words.

Eileen busts a group of b!tchy teen girls in the girl’s bathroom, who are sitting in there getting high.  They tell her the same thing… that everybody does it.  But Eileen isn’t having it.  Her voice is low with disapproval as she reminds the teens that she’s been around and knows what’s going on. 

Next, we see Sandy in the chemistry lab with her boyfriend, Steve (Grant Cramer) a cutie pie football player.  He’s got some PCP and wants to celebrate their six week anniversary.  Sandy tries to resist, but Steve lays on the peer pressure.  She snorts; he kisses her.  Then we flip back to Scott as he asks out Susan, the cute girl who wanted to buy drugs from him. 

Suddenly, we hear ungodly screams and shattering glass as we see Sandy jump out a second story window!  Under the influence of that PCP, Sandy has landed on the ground, screaming and writhing, miraculously with no apparent broken bones, cuts, or even bruises.  Scott wrestles Sandy to the ground and she goes limp as she passes out.  When a student says that only the crazies act like this, Eileen screams that she’s glad everyone’s so sane.  Yes, this is one of the unintentionally hilarious parts of this film.

Eileen Phillips is now lamenting that the problem is overwhelming.  Her boyfriend, Stan (Art Hindle), is annoyed because Eileen is too much into her job.  He’s especially irritated when Eileen asks Stan if he minds if Scott joins them on their bike date that weekend.  Eileen wants to show Scott a “new way to get high”.  And Stan reluctantly agrees to being cock-blocked by a drug addicted adolescent.

Eileen takes Scott fishing and finds out that Scott has a sense of humor.  Then they’re with Stan as appropriately cheesy 80s music plays while they ride their bikes without helmets and take crazy risks doing stunts.  They have a good day, but Scott still has a dark side. 

In the very next scene, he’s snorting a couple of lines of cocaine just as he’s about to practice swimming.  He does a lap, then his cute little girlfriend, Susan shows up.  They talk about drugs and Scott is annoyed that she’s on something.  It seems the young lady has a complex about being like “Little Bo Peep” and thinks drugs will help her grow up.   

Next Ken, the nasty drug dealer, is shown roughing up Julie (Michele Greene) one of his female teenaged clients, who begs him to supply her with something.  But he heartlessly shoves her aside, refusing to hook her up.  Then, just as Ken is about to leave, Scott shows up and confronts the drug dealer, telling him to stay away from his girlfriend.  I’m wondering if Scott is just hoping there will be more for him.     

Eileen Phillips, still taking her job very seriously, tracks down the drug dealer and confronts him.  I can’t help but think Eileen is a dummy, messing with a drug dealer without any backup.  These were the days before cell phones after all.  But the dealer is surprisingly mellow… until the two of them find Julie, the shrieking young girl the dealer had kicked out, dead on the floor of his apartment.  She has committed suicide.

At swim practice, Eileen pulls Scott aside and reads him the riot act.  They have an argument as Eileen tells Scott that he’s a doper.  Scott finally breaks down and tells her he has to do something to get away from “all the crap”.  And Eileen, in all her wisdom, tells Scott to try a movie or a book.  Somehow, I can’t imagine that advice is going to go very far with the average drug addict.

Then at a faculty meeting, Eileen delivers a sermon about all the druggie kids at the school, and poor dead Julie is a good way to raise the issue with the kids.  Here, we see Dr. Joyce Brothers in a cameo, playing Mrs. Watson, a woman who couldn’t care less about the drug problems and wants to discuss band uniforms.

Over Thanksgiving dinner, Scott’s family is trying to engage him.  But he passes out, his face landing in his plate full of turkey and mashed potatoes.  Then as Eileen and Stan have a picnic, they argue because Eileen is too hung up on the druggie teens and doesn’t care enough about their relationship. 

Sandy, now sporting black eyes and casts on her arm and leg, takes Scott out for a walk.  He tells her he’s taken Quaaludes and that’s why he passed out over dinner.  Sandy tries to talk Scott out of using drugs, but Scott takes off on his skateboard, leaving poor gimpy Sandy standing there.

As Scott is angrily skateboarding down the street, the music turns hopeful.  Susan pulls up in her car.  She’s fifteen, so she’s clearly driving illegally.  The window rolls down and Scott calls her “Sandy” instead of Susan.  Oops!  She invites him to get in the car with her.  They decide to go up to the mountains.  While they drive, Susan tells Scott to open the glove compartment, where she’s stashed some primo angel dust.  Susan reassures Scott that this angel dust is “clean” and they can enjoy it without worrying about freaking out like Sandy did.  The two have an annoying conversation, peppered with some very contrived sounding teen lingo.  They light up while Susan is driving and the two of them are completely out of it as the road grows curvier.  Finally, Susan is stoned out of her mind and still driving… neither is wearing a seatbelt, mind you, as Susan’s car goes through the guard rail and down an embankment.  Another unintentionally hilarious moment happens as we see a very cheesy special effect.  The windshield cracks, but it looks like it was done in cartoon rather than for real!

Eileen comes to the hospital.  Thunder rolls and it’s pouring outside.  Eileen introduces herself to Scott’s parents, who have gathered around their son’s hospital bed.  We see Scott looking out of it, his hands restrained in leather straps.  Scott has a nasty concussion and doesn’t even ask about Susan, his darling girlfriend who has perished in the crash. 

It’s Christmas time, two weeks after his Thanksgiving accident.  Scott still doesn’t know what’s happened.  Eileen visits him at his home.  Scott asks what happened.  Eileen tries to change the subject, but he presses her for details.  Eileen tells Scott that “God has a way of blocking painful memories from our minds so that we don’t replay them over and over again…”  Not sure God has a lot to do with it, but it sounds good.  Eileen talks to Scott’s mom and I have to say, Diane Ladd does a good job playing the anguished mom, wondering how she ended up with two druggie kids.  Later that night, Scott wakes up screaming like a banshee as he realizes his cute girlfriend, Susan, is dead.  He’s hysterical as he throws a chair through the window.  Is it the drugs or grief?  The paramedics come to take Scott away, presumably for a shot of Thorazine.

Eileen reflects on what’s happened to her favorite student.  She has finally had enough.  During a Christmas assembly, Eileen goes through a bunch of lockers and collects a bunch of drug stashes.  She puts it all on a cart and pushes the cart into the gynmasium, where she proceeds to burn the drugs in front of everyone.  I can’t help but wonder how the burning drugs don’t make everyone high,  but I guess the writers were going for a dramatic effect.  On another note, the fact that there’s a Christmas assembly and the choir is singing a religious song really shows how dated this film is.  In any case, after Eileen collects all the drugs, I’m left thinking this was one stoned school! 

Eileen delivers another unintentially hilarious speech in front of the student body as she lists all of the students who have been maimed or killed thanks to drugs.  She’s presumably sober when she does this.  Just say no, kids!  And shockingly, Eileen’s speech seems to get through to everybody!  One by one, the students come up to the burning cart with drugs on it and drops more into the flames, apparently just because of Eileen Phillips’ speech.  A round of applause erupts as the kids decide to go straight.  I wonder if they’ll still be straight tomorrow or the next day, but the ending does at least allow this film to end on a triumphant note.

My thoughts

Desperate Lives was obviously meant to be a very serious film.  I know it was shown at schools in the 1980s as a way to dissuade students from taking illegal drugs.  But I have to say, Diana Scarwid’s performance is pretty trippy.  I was impressed by some of the other actors, namely Doug McKeon and Helen Hunt, who are clearly much too talented for this tripe. 

I don’t think this film is particularly effective, despite its strong anti-drug propaganda bent.  The dramatic moments go way too far, which makes this movie too over the top to be taken seriously.  Yes, it’s true that some people ruin their lives over drugs.  But Desperate Lives only shows the most drastic and dramatic pitfalls to drug abuse peppered with the Valley Girl speak that was so popular in the early 1980s.  From the moment we see Helen Hunt jumping out of a window, screaming her head off, it’s very clear some of these scenes are intended to shock and scare straight.  And what they ultimately end up doing is making viewers laugh.  Or at least they make ME laugh.  At least we’re spared seeing these kids in rehab.

Overall   

This is your typical 80s era movie of the week.  I watch this and wonder if people were really that simple in the 80s.  I can’t imagine today’s teens taking this movie seriously at all.  If you watch it, you will probably laugh.  I certainly wouldn’t spend money on this film, but it’s fun for a laugh on YouTube.

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bad TV, good tv, movies, nostalgia, TV, videos, YouTube

Angel Dusted, Desperate Lives, ended with a Final Escape…

Happy Saturday to everyone. It’s cold and grey here near Wiesbaden, Germany. Good news, though. My new Thunderbolt cable just arrived, so now I don’t have to hang around the house waiting for the delivery guy. Or maybe I do. There is one more package I’m waiting for before I declare my Christmas shopping done for 2021. It could show up today. It probably won’t, though.

It’s been quite a dramatic month so far, and it’s really flying by. Pretty soon, it’ll be 2022, and people are already noticing…

Yikes!

Actually, I’m not that afraid of 2022. Being fearful of the future isn’t productive. It will happen no matter what. Besides, we’ve already survived 2020 and 2021. How much worse could it be? Don’t answer that!

I’ve decided that today, I’m going to write one of my “fun” (for me, anyway) TV nostalgia pieces. I don’t feel like ranting about irksome behavior from strangers, opining about people who are in court, or writing very personal stuff about my life. Nope, today I’m going to write about some stuff that was on TV when I was a child. I love to watch old crap from the past on YouTube, and I’m grateful to content creators who are there for me with an impressive collection of that stuff. It’s always a bit unsettling to realize how long ago the early 80s were. It seems like yesterday.

Over the past 48 hours or so, I’ve watched some 80s era TV that was universally entertaining, but for different reasons. It’s easy to forget that the 80s were very different for a lot of reasons. For one thing, for a good portion of the decade, there were only three major networks, plus public television. If you had access to cable, you might have had 20 or 30 channels. I think when my parents got basic cable in 1980, we had about 12 or 14 channels, which seemed like a lot at the time. Consequently, there were a lot of movies of the week and TV shows that everyone watched. Some of the TV fare available in those days is truly laughable today.

In 1981, I was 8 or 9 years old. I was 8 until June of that year, anyway. And one movie that aired and I missed was called Angel Dusted, which premiered on NBC in February of that year. In fact, I had never heard of that movie until I stumbled across it, totally by chance, yesterday morning. It starred the late Jean Stapleton (aka Edith Bunker) and her son, John Putch, as well as the late Arthur Hill. Helen Hunt also has a role. Gosh, she was so pretty when she was a teenager!

There are a couple of videos with this movie on YouTube, but I’m uploading this one, because it also includes ads from 1981. They are a hoot to watch, especially since I remember them well and realize how strange they are 40 years later!

Back in the 80s, there was a lot of press about drug abuse. That was the “Just say no!” era, championed by Nancy Reagan. Drug abuse is a serious problem, but some of the films put out about them in the early 80s were truly ridiculous. I’m happy to report that Angel Dusted is actually a very well done film, save for the hokey title. I never saw Jean Stapleton in much besides All in the Family, so it was a pleasant shock to see her in this film with her talented son, John Putch.

Putch plays Owen Eaton, a high achieving college student who attends an excellent university and is under pressure to make top grades in a demanding major. One night, Owen smokes a marijuana joint laced with PCP– angel dust– and it makes him have a psychotic breakdown. The doctor at the infirmary where he attends school calls Owen’s parents, Betty and Michael Eaton (Stapleton and Hill), and they rush to the other side of the state to pick up their boy. They arrive at the infirmary to find him strapped to the bed, screaming and wrestling. The doctor at the infirmary, played by familiar and prolific character actor, Jerry Hardin, tells them that Owen needs to be hospitalized.

Betty and Michael soon find themselves plunged into a crisis, as their son is put in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks, completely unable to function and surrounded by people who have organic mental illnesses. Betty is the dutiful doting mother. Michael is ashamed and withdraws. Their other three children, Mark (Ken Michelman), Lizzie (Helen Hunt), and Andrew (Brian Andrews) are forced to deal with the shifting focus in their family as Owen recovers from the psychotic reaction.

Parts of this film are very 80s and make me feel older than dirt. It was weird to see nurses in white dresses and caps, remembering that in those days, that’s how they looked. I also noticed things like the house, with all its wallpaper and big boxy televisions. This was all normal when I was a child, but now it’s different. We have flat screens, textured walls, and people don’t necessarily have dinner in the dining room. A lot of newer houses don’t have dining rooms! Some of the dialogue is also pretty dated, too.

But– I really thought this film was well acted and had a compelling story. I also liked that touch of early 80s cheese and over the top drama that made it interesting and entertaining in 2021. There’s a lot more to Jean Stapleton than Edith Bunker, that’s for damned sure! I don’t know how common it is for people to smoke PCP laced marijuana joints these days, and we certainly have a very different attitude about marijuana nowadays. But I do think Angel Dusted is well done and worth watching if you have a couple of spare hours and enjoy movies of the week circa 1981. The cast is excellent, too.

MOVING ON…

The next film I would like to mention is another one from the same time period. It also featured Helen Hunt. This time, she wasn’t playing a put upon sister who was inconvenienced by her brother’s ingestion of PCP. This time, Hunt is the one who goes a little crazy!

The film is called Desperate Lives. In the past, the whole thing was posted on YouTube. Nowadays, it looks like only a few of the funnier clips are available there, although I did find the whole film here. I’ve seen that movie enough times to comment on it, though. It aired in March 1982, and it was very entertaining, but for very different reasons than Angel Dusted was. Desperate Lives was also about the evils of drugs and the terrible things they do to young people. But instead of realistically focusing on what can happen when someone gets on a bad trip, this film employs really stupid special effects and bad acting to get the point across. Below are a few clips I’ve found on YouTube.

A song by Rick Springfield, who was big at the time.
Diana Scarwid, who played the adult version of Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest, is a high school guidance counselor who tries to shave everyone’s buzz.

It’s the beginning of a new school year in California. Young guidance counselor, Eileen Phillips, has arrived all bright eyed and bushy tailed for her new job. She is newly graduated and enthusiastic for what she expects will be a rewarding career, shaping young people’s lives as they embark on adulthood. But the school where Eileen works has a terrible drug problem and all of the adults who run the school are turning a blind eye. Eileen is determined to straighten everybody out and, in the meantime, entertains viewers with some truly ridiculous scenarios.

Oh lord… this scene is particularly infamous. Helen Hunt jumps out a window, lands on her back, and gets up physically fine as she screams.
“I’m glad we’re all SANE!”
An ad for Desperate Lives. Actually, you could watch this ad and get most of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Doug McKeon, who was in On Golden Pond, tries to add some credibility to this film. He’s a special student and a swimmer on the swim team, which puts him closer to Eileen, as she’s also the swimming coach. Helen Hunt, God bless her and her prodigious talent, really gave it her all playing a “crazed” girl on PCP. But this movie, compared to Angel Dusted, just sucks. However, it IS entertaining, just because it’s unintentionally hilarious. I definitely got the point that drugs are bad, mmm’kay? This might have been a better movie with a different leading lady. Diana Scarwid was very attractive in the early 80s, but she’s not a very good actress, in my opinion. Diane Ladd and Dr. Joyce Brothers also make appearances!

And finally, I would like to comment on a 1985 episode of the New Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I remember when this episode, titled “Final Escape” originally aired. I was really affected by it at the time. At 13, I was the kind of viewer television executives loved. I could easily suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoying a TV show.

Season Hubley plays a nasty bitch in prison who has a scary end…

Season Hubley plays Lena Trent, a woman who has been in and out of prison, and has a history of escaping. She’s shown having been convicted of murder, and sent off to a life sentence in the big house, Mojave Prison, where just four hours after her arrival, she gets into it with the prison queen bee. But Lena is very manipulative, particularly toward men. She charms the warden, again played by Jerry Hardin, who was also in Angel Dusted (and also had a couple of memorable turns on The Golden Girls). The warden yells at Lena for getting in a fight, but then inexplicably gives her a job that gets her away from the other inmates and puts her at a level of lower security.

Lena then works in the prison infirmary, where she meets a kindly Black man named Doc (Davis Roberts) who has super thick cataracts and can barely see. Doc helps out on the ward and buries the prisoners who die. The dead prisoners are buried outside of the prison walls. Lena is nice to Doc at first, listening to him moan about how the state doesn’t want to give him the money to get cataract surgery so he can see better. She soon realizes that he has free access to the outside of the prison, when it’s time to bury the dead; this causes her to hatch a new escape plan.

One day, a letter from the state arrives for Doc. In it, Doc is notified that he has been granted the money for the surgery. But Lena has another plan. She breaks Doc’s glasses on purpose, effectively making it impossible for him to see. Then she reads the letter, telling him that his request has been denied. Naturally, Doc is disappointed and pissed! Lena tells him she has a lot of money and will give him the money to get his surgery if he’ll help her escape.

Doc agrees… with tragic and scary results.

If you haven’t yet watched the episode and don’t want spoilers, stop reading here. I do recommend watching the video if this description has piqued your interest.

Lena asks Doc to bury her with the corpse, and then dig her up a few hours later, when the coast is clear. Doc initially refuses, telling Lena that she’ll suffocate. But Lena assures Doc that she can hang for a few hours, and once he’s done her this favor, Lena will pay for his eye surgery (which of course, she wouldn’t, because she’s a nasty bitch). Doc tells her to come to the infirmary and climb into the coffin with the corpse, which Lena does.

Sure enough, she gets buried. It’s never explained how two bodies managed to fit in one coffin. It’s also never explained why no one noticed how much heavier the coffin was, with two bodies in it, one of which wasn’t embalmed.

We see Lena in the coffin, somehow with enough air to talk to herself. She’s sweating and seems uncomfortable, but she has her eyes on the prize– a final escape from Mojave Prison, with Doc’s help. Finally, after a few hours, Lena starts to worry. She somehow lights a match, which would have used up some of that precious oxygen. That’s when she realizes that the corpse she’s sharing the coffin with is Doc! And no one else knows she’s been buried!

Of course, this could never happen. Even in the 1980s, there’s no way someone with Lena’s history would score a job with lower security standards. And there’s no way she would fit in a coffin with another corpse. And there’s no way she would light a match in a coffin like that… But it did make for compelling and scary television, back in the days when people didn’t mind suspending belief.

Well… it’s been fun writing about these old gems from the 80s today, instead of kvetching about people who piss me off, exploring psychology and narcissism, and dishing about the Duggar family. I suspect this post won’t get a lot of hits… or maybe it will. Sometimes, people surprise me. I know that Desperate Lives is a guilty pleasure film for a lot of people. And I can see on YouTube, that I wasn’t the only one who was permanently traumatized by that episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Angel Dusted is less notoriously cheesy, but is probably the highest quality production of the lot, at least in this post. Perhaps if this post is well-received, I’ll write another. I love watching this stuff.

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healthcare, law

When a miscarriage during pregnancy leads to a miscarriage of justice…

Last night, as the evening was winding down, I noticed an op-ed in The New York Times about a young woman from Oklahoma named Brittney Poolaw. I have gifted the op-ed in the above link, so if you don’t have a subscription to the paper, you should be able to read it for free.

So who is Brittney Poolaw, and why should anyone care about her? According to Michelle Goldberg, author of the op-ed, Brittney Poolaw is a woman who is sitting in prison because she miscarried during her seventeenth week of pregnancy. At the time of her miscarriage, Poolaw was just 19 years old. She was at home when the miscarriage happened, and had presented herself for medical attention at Comanche County Memorial Hospital.

A police detective interviewed Ms. Poolaw after she admitted to hospital staff that she had used methamphetamines and marijuana during her pregnancy. The medical examiner who examined Brittney Poolaw’s fetus cited her drug use as contributing factors in the miscarriage. Also cited were a congenital abnormality and placental abruption.

Poolaw was arrested on a charge of first degree manslaughter. She didn’t have the money for the $20,000 bond, so she spent a year and a half in jail, awaiting her trial. The trial finally occurred this month, and jurors spent less than three hours deciding Brittney Poolaw’s fate. She was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, even though an expert witness explained that Poolaw’s drug use might not have been the direct cause of the miscarriage.

I recently mentioned that I’ve been watching a lot of videos by Jessica Kent, a YouTube personality who has a lot of experience with being in jail and prison. Jessica has done time in several states, mainly because she is a recovering drug addict. She also had the unfortunate experience of giving birth while incarcerated. I have been studying prison reform independently for years, but Jessica Kent’s videos have really opened my eyes to just how unjust and inhumane the U.S. prison system is, particularly for people with drug addictions.

Jessica Kent was pregnant in prison. She’s also a recovering drug addict.
One of Jessica Kent’s videos about her experiences with pregnancy…

I know a lot of people would say that the answer is simple; just don’t do drugs. And I think that advice is easy to follow if you are fortunate enough to come from a supportive family, live in an area where there are many opportunities for work and socializing, have access and the ability to pay for healthcare, and have the will and the drive not to succumb to temptation or peer pressure.

In Poolaw’s case, simply being able to get to a doctor and, perhaps, having an abortion available to her might have prevented her from being imprisoned. According to Goldberg’s opinion piece, Poolaw told the detective that “when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.” Seems to me that it would have been kinder and better if Brittney could have either had an abortion, or had access to a physician and, perhaps, a social worker or other advocate while she was pregnant.

When I was studying social work, I did part of my internship with what was then called Healthy Families South Carolina. It was a program that was affiliated with Prevent Child Abuse America, and it was designed to help people like Brittney Poolaw maintain healthy pregnancies and get very young children off to a healthier start. Those who were enrolled in the program got home visit services from workers who would help them access healthcare and teach them about making safe and healthy decisions for their babies. These families got coaching from trained parent educators and, in fact, that made a noticeable difference in the outcomes for a lot of the clients. That was something I noted in the massive paper I wrote and presented for my MPH/MSW degrees. Wow… it just occurred to me that the babies I saw when I was finishing my degree are now adults! Time really flies!

Why didn’t someone direct Brittney Poolaw to a program like that? My guess is because she couldn’t access the healthcare system and never got a referral. What would have happened if she could have gotten to a doctor early in her pregnancy? Maybe she would have chosen to have an abortion, or maybe she would have had her baby. And maybe she would have been able to access support from people who are trained to work with young people with big problems. I know nothing about Brittney Poolaw or her past, but experience tells me that a lot of people who end up in her situation have had some pretty terrible traumas in their lives and experienced abuse.

I know a lot of people think that Brittney Poolaw deserves to be in prison for taking drugs while she was pregnant. But having worked with young people who are poor, disenfranchised, and lacking meaningful mentorship, I can understand why she turned to drugs. It happens to so many people. And I think instead of prison, Brittney Poolaw should have gotten compassionate medical attention and real help from someone who might have shown her that she has worth. Having watched so many of Jessica Kent’s videos, I realize that Brittney Poolaw is probably facing even more abuse and degradation on a daily basis now. I don’t think that’s going to help her turn away from drugs when she is finally released from prison.

But, aside from the fact that I think Poolaw’s community really failed her, I also think that other women have much to fear from this ruling. It really is a slippery slope when pregnant women wind up in legal trouble for things they do while pregnant that lead to a loss of the pregnancy. In Poolaw’s case, the actions that contributed to her miscarriage were illegal, but what if she’d had one too many glasses or wine, or something? What if she’d been in a car without a seatbelt or was wearing it incorrectly? What if she tripped and fell down some stairs?

I think it’s very scary that any woman who gets pregnant might find herself being scrutinized by law enforcement after a miscarriage. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, but it also may cause women like Poolaw to avoid seeking medical care. That might be especially true if she’s doing something like drinking alcohol or using drugs. I know a lot of physicians would prefer not to have to deal with drug using pregnant women, but they are precisely the women who need the most attention from someone who has medical expertise. Moreover, it really is chilling to think that the developing fetuses in already born people are superseding the already born people’s civil rights.

The pro-life/anti-abortion movement has been working tirelessly to change laws so that developing embryos and fetuses are seen as “babies” and “children”. But if you take a close look at what happens during pregnancy, it actually takes a pretty long while before the developing embryos and fetuses turn into anything viable outside of the womb. Until then, they really are part of the mother, and it really does seem wrong to me that we should put pregnant women in a different class–with different rules and civil rights– than people who aren’t pregnant. It’s beyond creepy that some judges, particularly in the South, are using situations like Brittney Poolaw’s to chip away at Roe v. Wade and promote the whole “sanctity of life” movement. It seems to me that life is only sacred to these types of folks when it involves the unborn. Once a person has been born, they’re on their own… and God help them stay out of prison.

Should Brittney Poolaw have had an abortion? I suppose she should have, especially since she clearly wasn’t ready to be a mother and had no resources to help her maintain a healthy pregnancy. I’m not sure how open she would have been to receiving help from a social worker or someone else who works with at risk parents and children. But I do think she should have had the option presented to her. It sounds to me like she didn’t have anyone to go to for help when she got pregnant. Instead, she turned to drugs.

I admittedly haven’t looked at Oklahoma’s social welfare programs and I don’t what is available for young people like Brittney Poolaw, but my guess is that even if they are widely available, Poolaw didn’t know how to access them. That’s not really something that is taught in school, at least in my experience. In my first year of my MSW program, I did my internship at a multi-disciplinary rural physician’s practice associated with the University of South Carolina. My clients were referred to me by a family doctor in a rural community. But it sounds like Brittney didn’t have a doctor, and it looks like she was no longer in school… so where would she have gotten a referral to someone like I was when I was in graduate school?

Perhaps the police could have referred her, instead of arresting her and putting her in prison… Or… the medical staff, who should have advocated for her and helped her with her medical problems could have assisted her in finding someone to help her with her problems. Sadly, it sounds like instead of getting the help she obviously needs, Brittney Poolaw will be wasting four years in a prison cell… along with so many other Americans. I hope someday the United States gets over its obsession with incarcerating people. We’ve got to do better than this.

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