Don Julian Saucier is Executive Director of Yoga Behind Bars, and has extensive experience working as a peer recovery specialist with people struggling because of substance use disorders.
Saucier’s own life has been impacted by the current drug policy system, and he has experienced its demonstrated racial inequities.
“I’m from a very traditional military family. My parents raised us well. Nevertheless, after college and a great career in the computer field. I was attracted to the Chicago club scene and after a short period found myself addicted to meth. I knew I needed help, didn’t know how to get it and quite frankly was afraid to ask. I grew apart from my family and friends feeling I had let everyone down”
“I take full responsibility for the choices I made, my co-defendant and I had two very different outcomes. He received no time in prison, a decision the judge made clear early in the process. I was sentenced to 88 months. So many discretionary decisions are made from the officer who decides whether to arrest you, to the prosecutor who decides whether and how to charge you, to the judge who imposes your sentence. There are so many opportunities for unjust outcomes, and the system tends to disproportionately impact people of color.”
“Most of the people I met in the system like me this was their first contact with law enforcement.” Julian strongly believes there are better ways to deal with addiction. He believes that most want help, but our system is set up harms them, lacks mental health and substance use disorder treatment resources. He witnessed it firsthand as a peer counselor in a mental health crisis facility, sending people back on the street that were asking for help because of lack of treatment beds. “If you have nothing, it’s easier to take something to numb your pain.”
Saucier says once you have completed your sentence there are many hurdles placed on people with a felony conviction. “Employers won’t consider you for a job, housing options are limited.”
“I went into prison suicidal, depressed and hopeless. This guy introduced me to Yoga, Because of Yoga, I was finally able to calm my mind long enough to hear the positive things my family and friends had said all along, not all the negative self-talk. We need to offer people more recovery support that helps, like yoga did for me, and stop inflicting more punishment and pain on people with addictions and the people that love them.”