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A Shocking Insider Glimpse of a Holding Cell

Dec 08, 2017


This week I got a serious wake-up call....


As I was out delivering MREA Shelter Foundation grant checks to a few local recipients (I love that job!), and one of the places we toured might just haunt my memory forever.

It was the kind of place where people are locked in a room to dry out or come off a high. (This is done for their own protection and for the safety of others, usually when someone is on the street in that condition)


The sights and smells were shocking to me.

I’d never seen the inside of a holding cell. Dry out cell? I’m not even sure what to call it. I know they’re not called drunk tanks(anymore). Whatever you call them, I didn’t expect a hallway lined with doors that were locked from the outside. Each room had a slot in the door, like you might expect in a prison. I peeked in one of the rooms. It wasn’t the Hilton... 


The windowless room was furnished with a 4-inch thick vinyl covered mattress laid directly on the floor and without a sheet, and that is all. Well, there was a metal grate in the floor, which we were told served as a toilet.

As we toured the facility, the hallway seemed to fill with the combined thick odours of urine and bleach, each trying to overpower the other. As we passed the doors, I had to work with myself not to gasp or make a face.


While I’m deeply grateful for the organization and kind-hearted people that invest themselves in this unsung work of keeping people safe, even from themselves, I was disturbed that people can fall so far as to end up in such a place. I was bothered that a person could be subjected to being locked up and having to use a grate.


As we heard stories, the shock and horror gave way to empathy and understanding. The realization that hit me this week was that we’re all just a step away from hitting rock-bottom. It really can happen to anyone. Even the kind of hardcore addiction that leaves a person locked in a barren room for their own safety.


It could be your cousin, a next door neighbour or a lifelong friend who was a productive member of society, had a job, a family he loved and cared for, and was a good guy. Suddenly, BOOM, he was in a car crash. Recovery from his injuries included taking opiates as medication. Soon addiction took over and changed him. He became a drug addict and ended up here, behind a locked door, until he came down from that night’s high.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not unique. It happens more than you think.


The fact that severe addiction could start so innocently and take over so powerfully and suddenly was an eye-opener. The fact is, the kind of addiction that needs dry-out cells is the kind of thing that can happen to any of us. To you. To me.


It's humbling to remember that, but also makes it easier to empathize with those who are suffering with such addictions. 

I share this with the hope that we see those who suffer with a bit more charity and understanding in our hearts. 

We're not better than others. You're not. I'm not. And if we can remember that on the upswing, maybe when it's our turn to suffer through something, the blow won't be quite so hard. 

Category: Philanthropy

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