Victims Impact Panel by MADD

The Victim Impact Panel, organized by Mothers against Drunk Driving, was unlike anything else that I have had to go through as a result of the DUI. Perhaps I feel this way because it was the most unexpected.

You see, going in, I did some research about MADD. MADD is an organization that is anti-drunk driving and anti-drunk drivers. They attempt to influence individual states into enacting tougher penalties for people convicted of drunk driving. And as such, I expected one of two situations (a) a severe guilt trip; or, (b) anger. In either case, I didn’t have much choice – it was court ordered, and a natural consequence of my offense. Therefore, I went in hoping that the next two hours would pass quickly.

The next two hours were a blur. It was an experience that was truly personal, and actually pretty moving. There were three speakers: the first one was a MADD representative that spoke about drunk driving statistics, and the impact drunk driving has on the community I live in. This was really an introduction for what was to come.

The second speaker was an individual who served 8 years in prison for manslaughter – he killed a young woman after drinking and driving. He was about my age when his accident took place. For over a decade now, he has been speaking at VIP sessions trying to prevent DUI convicts from drinking and driving again…because the next time may end up in a tragedy similar to his. But the one thing he said was just amazing – he said that his worst fear has been coming face to face with someone close to his deceased victim. He had dreaded it for the last 18 years. Last time he saw someone close to her was at the trial. Then just a few months ago, he recognized someone from the trial at a VIP. It was the deceased girl’s best friend who had been a constant at the trial. The friend was now herself convicted of a DUI herself.

The third speaker was a mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver. Her college-aged son was driving home to her – and his vehicle was hit head-on. The kid died instantly. She described how her son was an excellent student, how he loved her cooking, how he always came home after school…and how much she missed him. There was not a single dry eye while this lady spoke. She herself could not hold back the tears. But instead of hating a room full of drunk drivers, she talked to us like she would talk to her son – she told us that we must do the right thing and not drink and drive again. And she begged us to honor her son’s memory by not driving and driving. This took courage on her part.

So comparing expectation vs. reality – the MADD session was nothing like I imagined. There was no finger pointing. There was no guilt-tripping. There was no angry mother telling us how to live our lives. Only respectful illustration of facts and request to not make the same mistake again.

I walked away with three things from the panel that I think are worth noting down:

  1. The people convicted of drunk driving in the room were from all walks of life. Drinking and driving is not a segmented problem. In pseudo-legal terms, I’d say the room was full of a representative cross-section of the society.
  2. That everyone in that room was supremely lucky – the fact that we were in the room, and not in jail, meant that we had avoided a tragic ending.
  3. You can find compassionate people anywhere. No, no one condones drinking and driving. And no one condones what I did. But even those deeply affected by drunk driving (victim and drunk-driver alike) care for you and care for the society. And they want you to not make the same mistake again.

Finding Your Silver Lining

Six months ago – before my DUI – had you asked me what it feels like to not have a drivers license, I would have perhaps come up with a theoretical scenario.  Three months ago, had you asked me the same question, I would have said, in fact I did say on this blog, that it stinks, but thankfully I at least had a business purpose only license to get to work.

I lost my DMV hearing last week.  This week, on my birthday, a full drivers license suspension went into effect.  This suspension will last a month.  This means that for the last four days, I have been unable to drive for any purpose whatsoever.  So what’s it like not having a drivers’ license at all?  Well, it is absolutely deflating.  You realize how much the driving privilege means.  It is the most effective deterrent against drinking and driving besides jail-time.

Having said that, I have had a lot on my mind these past few days about the driving privilege:

  1. I have realized how little I knew the city I’ve lived in the past 11 months.  Heck…how little I knew the intersection I’ve lived at.  In scoping out the bus schedule, I found out there is a bus stop about half a mile from my apartment, and a bus stop a quarter mile from my office.  And the bus service is a godsend for the times I have no other means to get to my office.
  2. The buses around here rarely run on time.  And quite a few people are on the bus.  Which raises the natural questions about what happens to people who rely on public transportation regularly, especially those that rely on it to get to work?  Getting up three hours before work and getting to the station 2 hours before having to be at work doesn’t seem so abnormal anymore.  That’s because you *must* take the early bus and chance getting to work early — because if the later bus runs behind schedule (as it inevitably does), you may lose your job.  It’s just eye-opening — it’s hard for me, sure.  But in a month, I will have my full license.  Those that can’t afford a car have no other choice other than having to spend hours of their day working around the work schedule.  I deserve this because I drank and drove.  These other folks though…I feel for them.
  3. Lyft and Uber drivers are good people and they show up on time.  Today, I used Lyft 4 times.  To get to an support-group meeting, back from support-group meeting, to the MADD victim impact panel, and back from the impact panel. Sure it costs an arm and a leg, but getting across town would have been practically impossible without these ride-sharing services.
  4. You also find that people genuinely want to help you.  You see, a coworker’s brother went through the same situation as me.  And his brother’s license was suspended, too.  So he understands what I am going through.  And he has picked me up for work the past few days.  It’s amazing.

The DUI has been a draining experience — mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  But like everything else in life, I can only use this as a learning opportunity and always remember this time of my life so that I never drink again.

Up next: I’ll write about the Victim’s Impact Panel organized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  I went through it today and just want a night to sleep on it and digest the message.

I’m Not Good at Reading Palms

One of the best parts of being a child is being carefree.  If a child has been blessed with a financially stable family, he doesn’t need to worry about where the next meal will come from, how life choices he is making right now will affect his future, or how he is in a mess that he cannot get out of.

I think lack of such cares lead to many an interesting conversation between children.  And these conversations often stick, becoming a part of the fabric of a person.  It is one such playground conversation with my childhood friends that I’ve been reflecting upon recently.

Growing up in Pakistan, superstitions and old wives tales ran rampant, and children would sit around in the summer talking about these for hours.  An upside down shoe results in a fight in the family.  A crow on the power lines indicates a guest will soon be visiting your house.  A broken glass cup is an indicator for impending good news.

One day over the summer, this other child, a bit older, told us all that the lines on your palm can predict your future.  The longer the first horizontal line, the longer you will live.  The second horizontal line’s direction indicates the direction of your life as the years pass by.  Any vertical lines cutting through the two horizontal lines indicate trouble, relative to your age (i.e. where the horizontal line intersects with the vertical line).  My lines tell an interesting story.  Here is how it’s broken down:

  • The first horizontal line, which indicates age, runs three-fourths of the length of my hand.  If the entire hand indicates a lifespan of 100 years, then I’ll live to be around 66.
  • The second horizontal line, which indicates the direction of life, keeps going up a little less than half the length of the line, and then takes a downturn after intersecting with the vertical line.
  • The vertical line, which indicates major trouble, intersects with the horizontal lines right before the halfway point of the horizontal lines.

So much to say that when you put the three items together the life story goes something like this.  I’d live to be ~65.  Just a little before halfway through my life, major trouble will brew.  Before the trouble, my life will have trended in the right direction (up, up and up), and after the trouble, it will take a nosedive.

I am almost 30 now…and therefore, just a little before the halfway point.  The major trouble in my life is the DUI.  Before the arrest, my life had going in absolutely the right trajectory.  As one former boss once said to me, “everything you touch turns to gold.”  And my subconscious fear is whether the rest of this childhood tale will come true, too…whether the rest of my life will take a nosedive.  And as I was resting after my DUI class two nights ago, I couldn’t help but look at my hand and think about the “prophecy.”

But you know what?  Childhood tales belong in the childhood.  If I had no control over my destiny, life would be utterly meaningless.  Instead, the DUI is a major speed bump.  And you get over those.  You eventually end up at your destination despite these bumps.  I’ve gotten lucky for 30 years – things have gone my way.  For the first time in my life, something major didn’t go my way, and it was because of my awful decision.  Lesson learned.  Time to move on and time to keep getting better.

In September 2015, I will be submitting my application to take the bar exam.  I will pass this bar exam.  And hopefully, the State Bar will give me a second chance.  And when they do, my life will continue on an upward direction.

DUI Classes and a Trip to the Video Store

The DUI classes are now finished.  To be completely honest, before walking into the DUI class, I was dreading the 12 hours ahead of me.  But as I sat down, I realized that the next 12 hours would be nothing compared to the night in jail and the stress that has followed.  Once the class began and the teacher started speaking, I felt enlightened.

What I was expecting was a preacher who would demean the class for drinking and driving.  But instead, our teacher was a realist who treated us with utmost respect and grace as he taught the curriculum.  Most importantly, while he didn’t downplay our lapse in judgement, he asked us repeatedly to not give up on ourselves.  Interestingly enough, he is a retired police chief and once worked in the vehicular homicide division.  When a person like this tells you to never give up on yourself and move on from this point forward despite a DUI, you listen.  And you take it to heart.

So the 12 hours flew by. Here are the three most important lessons I took away:

  1. Even after just a few drinks, the driving capabilities decrease so tremendously. There was a video recorded by a California-based police department where an incoming class of cadets was taken to a controlled driving track, and their driving pattern was recorded before consumption of alcohol and after consumption of alcohol. Even after just 3 to 4 drinks, the cadets who drove expertly before drinking alcohol had difficulty driving properly.
  2. Alcohol is processed by the human body at 0.015% BAC per hour. Therefore, for someone with a blood-alcohol content level of 0.13, it would take almost 8 hours to be alcohol free. In my 15 years of driving, I never knew this. The teacher said that he was a police officer for 44 years, and even he didn’t know this before he started teaching the class.
  3. I was one of the lucky ones. People who have driven under the influence of alcohol have met far worse ends. Some have died. Others, who are even unluckier, have caused another human being to die. No amount of joy that people get from drinking is worth a human life.

During the first block, which was 4 hours, the class ended with a video.  It was about this young girl dying in a fiery car crash caused by a drunk driver.  The video had the woman’s sister talking about how her family was crushed and how her father was especially distraught.  I couldn’t help but cry…because I could relate.  It’s time for a story.

A Trip to the Video Store

Many years ago, when we first came to America, my family would go to this small video store that carried Bollywood movies on VHS that you could rent.  The store itself was tiny, I’d say about 10 feet by 12 feet.  It was filled floor to ceiling with Bollywood VHS’s.  It always smelt of discarded dip and Indian food.  I reckon the family that worked there didn’t always care much for the atmosphere.  It was a husband and wife operation.  He was all business.  She was all smiles.  She worked the register.  He did the stocking.

Right next to the video store was a grocery store.  It was everything that the video store wasn’t.  Clean, professional and it sold halal meat. One night, after the Friday prayers, as was the custom by now, our entire family headed to this strip mall.  The plan was that my father would go find a good movie, while my mother, my sister and I would do the grocery shopping.  In 15 minutes, we would meet back by the car.

The grocery trip was uneventful.  But when my mom, my sister and I got to the car, we found my father crying like a child.  You have to understand that this man grew up surrounded in adversity and he handled it all with a smile and a firm handshake.  Before this day, I had never seen my father cry.  But today he was inconsolable.

You see, my father had a sister who was over 10 years younger than him.  For all intents and purposes, she was his baby. He watched her grow up into an amazing young girl with a bright future ahead.  She graduated with honors; she could sing beautifully; and she wanted to become a doctor just like her older sister.  But then it happened.  My father was called by the police to come identify his sister’s body.  He says the next few hours were a blur.  But he remembers that he saw his dead sister lying on that cold metal desk – lifeless.  Beautiful as ever, but covered in blood.  His little sister was killed in an accident when she fell out of a bus and was then crushed under the weight of the bus.  My father and his family were crushed, too.  My grandfather, once a social butterfly, spent the rest of his natural life as a bitter old man.  My grandmother, till the day she died, would go to the mosque at 3 AM every night and pray for the grief to go away – it never did.  So she would come home, and like clockwork, would burn incense around her late-daughter’s picture and talk to her as if she was standing right there.  My father was a pallbearer at the funeral.  As is the custom in Islam, he lowered his sister’s body into the grave and shoveled dirt over it.  He buried his emotions along with his sister.  He says he didn’t “feel” again until many years later.  He uses the word numb.

It turns out that the woman at the VHS store was best-friends with my father’s deceased sister.  And after several months of having the inkling that she knew my father from somewhere, this lady asked my father about his sister.  It unlocked a flood of emotions that my father had buried for over 30 years.  It shattered him again.

The movie at the DUI class about death affecting the living really got to me.  I remembered that night at the video store and how my father felt – more than 25 years after his sister’s death, a simple question about his sister still hurt.

That got me thinking about how I would feel if I was called one day and told that my little baby sister was dead.  I reckon I wouldn’t be much different than my father.  I would never recover.  It would also likely crush my father beyond any grief imaginable.  She is his favorite child.  And my mother…well, unlike my grandmother, I think my mother would lose all faith in anything whatsoever.

Moral of the story is self-evident.  Knowing first-hand how an accident can destroy a family, I still took the risk of driving after drinking.  I could have destroyed another family – another family’s daughter, son, father or a mother, and left that family distraught forever.  I could have put another family though what my father’s family went through.  At least in my late-aunt’s case, it was a total freak-accident – truly unavoidable.  In my case, I would have been much, much worse – it would have been an avoidable travesty that only materialized because I was selfish, wrong, and despicable.

Thankfully, I didn’t cause can accident.  And realizing now what I did, I won’t ever do it again.

So to wrap up the DUI class discussion, I’d say just one thing: if you plan to drink, make sure that you have a plan to get where you need to before you ever start drinking.  If you’re making decisions while drinking, you’re going to make the wrong decisions.