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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 4.26.07

Lessons in Survival

Some crimes carry their own punishment

BY MARK HARRIS

Hari Dass Baba once wrote, "If a pickpocket meets a saint, he sees only his pockets." If a tweaker breaks into the house of an addictions educator to steal his computer, he sees only the few dollars he can get from fencing it, not the wealth of information that could free him.

I was recently a crime victim. I suspect Tweaker B (TB), known to the police for committing meth-related house burglaries and other mayhem, including assaults on homeless people. TB was identified by the pod of homeless people who roam the neighborhood; he apparently used them for protective cover to scope the house. Clearly he knew who lived here well enough to pry open a window immediately after I left to drop the cat at the vet. I slipped from my usual precautions and didn't alarm the house. TB was able to enter the house, grab my personal laptop, out and visible because I was doing grades (and hadn't backed up the machine yet), and walk out only to greet the contractor, who assumed because TB came out of the front door and said "How's it going?" that he was someone working for me.

The laptop was hidden in his backpack, so as he strolled to where his bike was parked in my driveway and rode off, he completed the illusion that he was harmless.

Imagine my surprise when preparing to record more grades — the machine was gone! This is the machine that had all the pictures of my recently deceased grandson, family pictures, class and television show PowerPoints, personal music projects and poetics — in short, a creative and personal life.

Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch wrote of being mugged in Portland by black people. In my 23 years in Oregon, only white people have committed crimes against me, leading to thoughts of self-blame: "You're in enemy territory, you never let your guard down, because there is always someone willing to steal that which is precious to you."

 

To forgive is not to forget, but to let go of your attachment to anger. After the initial rage wore off in the first few days — fantasizing slow torture, "Russian detox" comes to mind (an actual practice: handcuffing a person to a metal bed and letting them go through drug withdrawal), I made the rounds of pawnshops and the like, offering rewards to the homeless pod for information, showing them the only physical pictures of my grandson.

I came to this sitting on my front porch: Hearing a voice sounding like a horror film demon from the homeless pod talk about eating fried chicken, watermelons, I strained to hear a reference to "porch monkey." No matter. I've come to see being black in Oregon as less a burden than a responsibility. I can be the deeper human here.

There is no hell or torture I could think of worse than being a multiple virus-infected methamphetamine addict reduced to home burglaries. They are already on a death spiral; and having seen death by AIDS and hepatitis C, it's already something that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

The irony is not lost on me that a computer used to fight addictions was stolen by a drug addict. It's a 15-inch MacBook Pro (SN W8627104VWZ); it has an impact dimple in its metal casing in the upper left hand corner of the keyboard. Certainly I'd like the machine or the data back. Failing that, I've moved on because the struggle continues. Addiction is slavery, and I'm a conductor on an underground railroad. As Harriet Tubman put it: "I have freed many slaves, and could have freed thousands more if they only knew they were slaves." You can't free a slave; they must free themselves. Just another lesson in survival.

Mark Harris is an instructor and substance abuse prevention coordinator at LCC.