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David Shapiro

By David Shapiro

Saturday, February 27, 1999

Mackey Feary’s
fatal drug addiction

PUT yourself in Mackey Feary's shoes.

A musical prodigy, you've created sounds that helped define the spirit of island life for a quarter century as the chief creative force behind Kalapana.

But beneath the music is a dark private side that has you scraping life's bottom at 43.

You're hard-addicted to a particularly insidious drug -- crystal methamphetamine. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good your intentions, no matter how many treatment programs you enter, you can't stop craving "ice" above all you hold dear.

You're being treated for depression. Any sense of self-esteem is long gone. Your soul aches when you think of the agony your addiction has caused your family.

You're standing before a judge who isn't buying your promise to get it right this time if he gives you one more chance in drug rehab. He gives you 10 years in prison with no way out. You swell with bitterness, certain that he unfairly singled you out because you're famous.

You're consumed by hopelessness and exercise the only option you can see left: You tie your bed sheet to the top bar of your cell at Halawa Prison and hang yourself to death.

After standing in Feary's shoes, is it still so easy to accept Prosecutor Peter Carlisle's sanctimonious view that Feary got what he deserved? Did Feary really deserve to get dead?

Now put yourself in the shoes of acting Circuit Judge Fa'auuga To'oto'o.

The defendant before you is promising to stay clean if he's given one more chance in drug treatment. He's made the same promise too many times before. You've looked into the empty eyes and heard the hollow vows of too many "ice" addicts who promise anything to get another taste of their precious high.

You'd like to believe that the defendant's addiction has harmed nobody but himself, but it's not true. He used a hammer to beat his way into his wife's car, demanding money to buy drugs. He has repeatedly left treatment, gone back to drugs and violated the restraining order to keep him away from his wife. What will happen the next time he needs drugs and has a hammer? What does it take to make him see that his actions have consequences?

If you're the judge, Feary's suicide hits you like a kick in the stomach. You replay it in your mind trying to think of what you could have done differently. But the law just doesn't give judges good middle options between ineffective drug treatment and prison.

Is it still so easy to buy Feary's self-pitying suicide claim that he had to die because judges are unfair to depressed drug addicts?

Our first reaction to tragedy is to point fingers and fix blame. But that only compounds the tragedy. Mackey Feary is not the problem. Judge Fa'auuga To'oto'o is not the problem. Drugs are the problem.

DRUG abuse is rotting our society and clogging our prisons. We haven't begun to understand why people become addicted to drugs and how to prevent it. We haven't learned how to effectively and humanely treat addicts before they hurt themselves and others.

Instead, we ship more drug criminals off to Texas and plan more prison space here. If we'd spend our money and energy figuring out how to prevent and treat drug addiction and how to give judges better options, we wouldn't need more prison space. We'd have fewer dangerous drug criminals on our streets and we wouldn't see addicted prisoners who've lost hope hanging themselves in their cells.

That's the message Mackey Feary would have left if drugs hadn't impaired his ability to think clearly.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at editor@starbulletin.com.

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