23 Aug 2014
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The Human Face That Goes With Nicole Wiesner

We need to understand how difficult it is for families and the courts to deal with those who repeatedly make bad choices about substance use.

The Human Face That Goes With Nicole Wiesner

Before the story ran, Rick asked me which photo I would choose to go with the article about 20-year-old Geneva resident Nicole Wiesner’s recent arrest for aggravated DUI: her mug shot or a file photo of the crash.

I said the mug shot.

In my mind, a decision to run the head-and-shoulder shot had nothing to do with making the young woman more sympathetic or whether it might embarrass the young woman or her family. I said I'd go with the mug shots because those photos would remind readers that, despite her exceedingly poor judgment, there’s a real human being behind this sad series of events.

To recap, Geneva police arrested Wiesner for that seriously injured passenger, Lindsey Vanderheyden, 22, of Batavia. Vanderheyden told police that Wiesner had fallen asleep at the wheel before running a stop sign and hitting a series of trees at North Bennett and Dodson streets.

Eleven days later, off of North Kirk Road. She told police she was fixing her shoe when the vehicle left the roadway and was ticketed for driving on a suspended license.

After a Kane County judge issued for the May 4 crash, Wiesner turned herself in and was released after posting 10 percent of the $5,000 bond. She will return to court on Aug. 9.

As I read the inevitable and somewhat heated Patch commentary, I once again realized how dysfunctional we are when it comes to dealing with addiction.

It started with a family member or close friend’s misguided attempt to ward off the inevitable negative comments. That worked about as well as waving the red flag in front of the angry bull.

I’m not sure I would’ve used the term “messed up” when describing Nicole’s driving track record, either. When most of us “mess up”—and we all do—it typically doesn’t rise to the level of a felony.

But while I certainly understand some collective reader anger over what appears to be a certain level of enabling, it troubles me that so many ostensibly Christian folk can so easily dismiss a troubled 20-year-old.

As some not-so-eloquent readers pointed out, it’s in our best interest to keep this young woman off the road, but as others also noted, those who drive under the influence don’t always consider logic when making their next move.

Remember, all a suspended license really means is you’ll get in more trouble if you get caught driving.

Sure, the family has a responsibility not to put the car keys in her hand, but you cannot force a 20-year-old to seek help. So you’re left with two options. Either you engage in the delicate dance to guide them into treatment, or you kick them out of the house in the hope that hitting rock bottom will finally wake them up.

That’s a lot like having to choose between Scylla and Charybdis because the journey to those depths can be a long one, fraught with perils like unconscious enabling and friends who are ready, willing and able to abet that behavior.

An intervention? It could work. But more often than not it won’t.

Can, as some readers suggested, sitting in a jail cell be the catalyst for hitting the necessary low? Possibly. But I could fill the rest of this column with recidivism rate studies that would curl your toenails.

Using the threat of jail to get the offender to accept the idea of treatment isn’t a bad idea, but even that has its limitations. Treatment only works if you’re ready for treatment, or if you realize there's a pattern of behavior that requires change. Admitting that some substance has that kind of power over you is always a difficult step.

So the answer is, there is no good answer. The family can only do so much, the courts can only go so far, and a jail sentence just pushes the problem down the road. The treatment option, which is far from a sure thing, is the only reasonable alternative.

The bottom line is this. We, the people of this free society, by the laws our duly appointed representatives have passed, understand and willingly assume the risk of giving people like Nicole Wiesner the opportunity to get better.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be serious consequences, but we’re not in the practice of locking folks up and throwing away the key. As the Good Book taught us, at least at first, we need to err on the side of redemption.

So our best bet is to avoid the knee-jerk condemnations which only make a difficult situation worse. Instead, let’s add our prayers and reasonable, but firm support to the family and the courts as they do their best to make the best thing happen.

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