Strawberry needs drug rehab, not prison
By DeWayne Wickham, Gannett News
WASHINGTON — While the Florida judge who must
decide Darryl Strawberry's fate may be tempted to give the former star baseball
player the punishment Strawberry told the court he deserves, that would be a
Strawberry was hauled back into a Tampa courtroom last week to
face charges that he violated the terms of his probation for a 1999 drug
possession and prostitution solicitation conviction for the sixth time. So far,
the court has given the one-time Yankees outfielder as many second chances as
owner George Steinbrenner gave Billy Martin, whom he hired five times to manage
the Bronx Bombers.
If Strawberry gets his way, he will be sent to prison to
serve the 18-month sentence that was held in abeyance when a judge ordered him
into a drug treatment program. But in the three years since then, Strawberry has
stumbled badly. Last month, he was kicked out of a treatment center after
allegedly not taking his medicine, smoking cigarettes and having sex with a
female patient. During his court appearance last week, Strawberry told the judge
he wants to be imprisoned.
"It's just time for me to move forward. It's
time for me to accept my sentence, my 18 months, and move on with my life," he
The judge is expected to hand down a ruling later this
month. Given the call from prosecutors for Strawberry to do time and the public
clamoring for the court to get tough on him, there's a good chance the judge
will order him to prison. If that happens, you can write off Darryl
Let's face it: The man is a drug addict who is struggling badly
to break the psychological hold that long-term cocaine use has him in. While he
claims to have been drug-free since entering the treatment program nearly a year
ago, Strawberry obviously has been haunted by the demons drug use conjures up.
The internal struggle this confrontation produces is one of the hurdles that
recovering drug addicts must leap.
As hard as it is to win this struggle in
a drug treatment center, it is almost impossible to do it in prison, where drug
use is rampant and successful drug counseling programs are rare. Eighteen months
behind bars might end any chance Strawberry has of shaking his drug addiction
and the self-destructive behavior it spawns.
Strawberry is a sick man, not
a violent criminal. He is the biggest victim of the crimes he has committed. It
cost him a multimillion-dollar baseball career and caused great anguish for his
family. Sure, he should not go unpunished, but the punishment should fit the
What Strawberry needs is a more demanding drug treatment program,
not a stint in the drug bazaar that prisons have become. If that place doesn't
exist, the judge should encourage someone in the public or private sector to
create it — not just for Strawberry but for the many nonviolent drug abusers
Strawberry's lawyer says his client is winning his fight with
drug addiction. But his plea for jail time sounds like a cry of surrender. As
long as he is on probation, the court can compel Strawberry to attend whatever
drug treatment program it chooses for him. Once he serves his sentence, the
court will have no control over Strawberry's rehabilitation until the next time
he's convicted of a drug offense.
A stint in prison will increase the
chance that Strawberry will suffer a full relapse and that he might slip deeper
into the murky world of crime when he gets out.
Hopefully, the judge who'll
decide this case will be influenced by this challenging reality and not the
mounting pressure from prosecutors and others to treat Darryl Strawberry like a
common criminal instead of as a sick man.
Contact Wickham at