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Thread: Drink driver reaches out from prison

  1. #1
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    Default Drink driver reaches out from prison

    Jeffrey Perrotte got drunk on May 5, 1992. Then he drove toward home. Jilly Rizzo also drove home and never saw Perrotte’s car before it slammed into his own and killed him.

    California convicted Perrotte of Second Degree Murder for killing Mr. Rizzo, the long time friend and confidant of Frank Sinatra. Perrotte’s name changed to a number – Inmate Number H-89472, and he faced life in prison. California jailed Perrotte at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe.

    From his “house” – his 6 x 10 cell – he shares a passionate message about the dangers of drinking and driving and the devastating affects caused by its aftermath. Inmate Perrotte is a living example of what can happen when you allow drugs or alcohol to take a front seat in your life.

    You will find several letters from Jeff below. His goal is to raise awareness about the possible consequences of drink / drunk driving, which can sadly prove to be fatal and devastate so many innocent peoples lives in more ways than one.

    You can visit Jeffs web site here.


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    Default A message to the newcomer

    A MESSAGE TO THE NEWCOMER


    I am writing to you from a California State Prison. Unfortunately, I am not an employee of this prison, but an inmate serving a sentence of 15 Years to Life as the result of an alcohol related automobile accident that occurred in Rancho Mirage, California on May 5, 1992, and involved the life-long friend of Frank Sinatra, Mr. Jilly Rizzo. This accident, which resulted in Mr. Rizzo’s death, was a tragedy that destroyed the lives of many, many individuals, the least of which, was mine. This accident was also the result of the same type of behavior that many of you reading this article may be attempting to overcome. Maybe not. With luck, you will be successful. Or, at least, more successful than myself. In all truths, just the fact that you are reading this article, indicates that you are already taking positive steps necessary to change your life. Steps that many people wish they would have taken sooner, including me.

    I am attempting to reach out to many of you in order to let you know how drastic your life can change if you allow yourself to be deceived by the euphoria of alcohol and/or drugs. I would expect that some of you reading this message are thinking that this is ridiculous because you don’t have a drinking problem. Possibly though, something happened in your life that places you in a position that allows this message to be received. Maybe you were talked into attending a meeting of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, or, just as likely, a concerned individual, or organization, saw to it that a copy of this life-saving message was placed in your hands. There could be a million different reasons for your reading this, but when you cut through all the layers of baggage, it all boils down to the same thing….. Maybe, just maybe, you have been living on the edge, unaware, so to speak, of a very dangerous consequence to a seemingly harmless action. Just remember, having a drinking problem is not a prerequisite to finding yourself on the wrong side of a very bad situation. Individuals who partake in alcohol and drugs in a socially becoming manner find themselves in tight situations as well.

    The goal of this message is to make an impact on those who choose to drink and drive. I make no claim to be a talented writer. I only hope that my tragic experience will be able to benefit you. With that in mind, I will do my best to keep it simple. I will do my best to keep you from attending the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I am the Chairman of here at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison every Monday night. Most of those that attend this meeting now are serving a life sentence for murder.

    I am also convicted of murder as a result of the accident that I mentioned due to changes in the law regarding drinking and driving. There was a time when the laws used to partially protect the individual who found themselves in a bad situation as the result of making a terrible choice while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. This was called a “Diminished Capacity Defense.” This was available in regards to automobile accidents, but also, an array of criminal charges that resulted while under the influence. However, this is no longer the case, and rightfully so. Now the law is designed to protect the innocent victims from actions taken by those who, even for a second, forget about personal responsibility and the acceptable norms of our society.

    Now you may not be an alcoholic or drug addict, but someone who decided to drive after consuming alcohol. This alcohol may have been consumed in an acceptable manner, among acceptable people. But, if after you drank, you made a conscious, or unconscious, decision to get behind the wheel of a car and drive that short distance home, without even knowing it, you just gambled with the lives of innocent people, including the ones that you love the most. By law, this is what is called a, “Careless Indifference to Human Life.” Truly, there can be no better explanation. The severe ramifications are the same, whether you knew what you were doing, or not. This careless indifference is occurring all the time. In fact, as I write this message inside Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, surrounded by gun towers, a lethal electrical fence and miles of concertina wire, there are hundreds of vehicles being driven around this country by drivers which are not even aware of the disaster they are flirting with. Prior to May 5, 1992, I was also carelessly indifferent to the ramifications of this type of behavior, even after numerous experiences that should have provided the motivation necessary to make some serious changes. Unfortunately, I knew that something like this would not happen to me. Never once did I think that I would be serving a life sentence in prison. I was a successful businessman, a husband, a father, a person who harbored the false rude awakening when I found myself standing before a Court of Law conceived as being harmless at the time. We must all be prepared or unconscious, justified or unjustified. The concessions that were prevalent in the past have been removed.

    For the past eight years, I have endured the madness of confinement. During this time, I have come into contact with thousands of other prisoners and listened to their painful stories. These prisoners have ranged in age from 16 to over 70 years old. Through all these stories, there is one common thread, alcohol or drugs. Every single person that I have ever spoken to within the walls of prison have indicated that either alcohol, drugs, or both, played a significant role in their charged offense. This is a powerful statistic in itself which is impossible to ignore. If you feel confident that you will be able to make the right choice every single time that you indulge in alcohol or drugs, I may one day be hearing your story.

    However, before this occurs, I truly hope that you will take an inventory on what you have now, and compare it to what you will have within these walls. You would surely want to take into consideration that the true tragedy of suffering a personal disaster is not to you, but to those you harm, and those you love. These are the individuals who will suffer the most as a result of your choices. After this is clearly thought through, then, and only then, can you add to the list the items you will be sacrificing personally. That list would include literally hundreds, if not thousands, of things. If you like privacy, it will be gone within these walls. If you enjoy seeing the stars at night, hearing the waves crash on the shore, watching your children grow, embracing your wife, sharing a moment with a friend, building a life, personal security, birthday parties, anniversaries, family reunions, helping your siblings, helping your parents, sports, vacations, and on, and on, and on…. Every single day in this nightmare will remind you of another thing to add to your list. Another thing lost, never to be recovered again. Once you have a partial picture of what you will lose, it may be a good idea to make a list of things that you will gain…

    From the first moment you are let off from the bus that transports you, in a cage, to the intake facility for your states department of corrections, you will begin to understand the magnitude of your punishment. You immediately begin to become familiar with a society that is unforgiving and incomprehensible from the outside world. You realize from this point forward, your only goal is survival. Your goals related to your family, or your life, no longer matter. The fact that you are sorry about drinking and driving and want things to change matter about as much as the guy’s screams in the cell next to you. The sights are quite shocking unless you can imagine, in advance, living in a world that is completely made of steel bars, concrete and filth. Or, unless, you are used to looking into the eyes of predators or individuals who seem to have lost their souls and their desire to live. The first time you get a good look at the cell that will be your home tends to instill fear into the hearts of most. The realization that this small dungeon is your only refuge strikes you significantly. Then, the first time the bars are slammed shut in your face and you begin to understand that the life you used to know is gone, maybe forever, the new sounds begin to assault you.

    Once you arrive here, you will never hear a moment of silence again. This alone, can have powerful physiological effects on a person. There is the constant sounds of boots scraping along concrete floors, guards practicing their accuracy of shooting at the range, prisoners yelling for guards, toilets constantly flushing, jingling of keys or the screams and unintelligible outbursts by those suffering from mental illnesses or nightmares. Of course, there is also the sound you hear that many attempt to disguise, the sound of someone crying into their pillow. But, this sound, pales in comparison to the rest.

    After you have been processed at an intake center, you will be sent to one of your state’s prisons. Upon arrival, you immediately are required to learn a whole new set of rules and codes. The failure to do this can be the difference between life and death. The moral norms that you may have been used to no longer matter. You will learn to live under the stress of knowing that, at any time, you may be required to participate in a variety of actions that could have life-long affects to your well-being. If you are successful with living on a general population prison yard, then you will live a life of self-segregation. You will witness firsthand the insane politics and dangers of prison life. You will be changed. This list also can go on and on.
    The biggest fallacy would be to think that because you currently have everything going well in your life, that you could never end up here. If you can think back over the last year or two and remember just one instance when you drove a vehicle with alcohol in your system, then you have already taken the gamble I mentioned. You have already decided, that you alone, have the right to mortgage the lives of many people which is absolutely unconscionable on your part. You alone, have decided that it is fine if others suffer as a result of your actions. A very selfish way to think indeed.

    It took many years to gain some clarity on this problem, and on the disease of Alcoholism. The reason for this is pretty obvious at this point in my life, but very hard to explain. For most of my life, I was brought up around alcohol and it was one of the accepted norms around my house. I can remember great times that resulted from those around me consuming alcohol, specifically, my father. When you watch the person you idolize drink every single day, you become unable to find any error in the behavior. It was pretty cool when my brothers and I could grab a drink or two from him, or go looking for him at local bars to play a game of pool. Never realizing, that later in my adult life, when I was absolutely on top of the world, this accepted type of behavior would be the cause of my personal destruction. I should have taken more note of the problems that drinking caused between my parents to understand the ugly side is far more powerful. However, how many of us really want to concentrate on the ugly side of anything, let alone, a subject as personal as one’s drinking habits. When I came to prison in 1993, I started to attend Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings as a result of my need to show the Board of Prison Terms that I had come to grips with the devastation caused by drinking and driving. Although, of course, I was not an alcoholic. In other words, I was there for all the wrong reasons. After I few years, it began to sink in that I was possibly going to spend the rest of my life in prison for a car accident. This revelation gave new definition of a drinking problem. Because of being completely irresponsible when it came to drinking, an innocent man was killed, and his family was destroyed. But, it is not only irresponsible to drink and drive, it is irresponsible to drink when you cannot predict what type of person, or what type of behavior will result from the drinking.

    If you can’t be completely certain, one hundred percent of the time, of what you will do, or who will be affected, when you take this drug, why would you then do so?? If we all went to a doctor for an ailment of some sort, and he stated to us that we needed to take this pill he prescribed, but, in doing so, there was a chance that we could die, that we could kill someone else, that we could lose everything that we own, that we could lose our families, that we could become disabled, or, that we could spend the rest of our lives in prison, we would ask this person if he were crazy!! None of us would take a drug that has these types of side effects, would we?? Well, apparently, I did. This is the clarity of Alcoholism. It is a very seductive disease. It lets you forget about all the bad, all the ugly, and all the selfishness that goes with drinking. It is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. If we could harness that sort of power, and bottle it, we could make a fortune. But wait, someone already has.

    There are no words available to me to clearly express my feelings on just how important it is for you to address this issue. Again, there may not be a problem with you at all. But, there must be some reason that compelled you to read this message. Whatever the reason is, be honest with yourself and take a real close look at the way your life is today, and the way it could be without alcohol or drugs in it. Or, look at someone close to you that could benefit from this knowledge and share it immediately. Surely, you can see the advantages that this could provide to you, and to those around you. No matter what you get from these words, I truly hope that you will make a conscious decision today to never get behind the wheel of a car again after you have had anything to drink that would impair your abilities to drive. If you know that you are going to drink, do yourself a favor and line up alternative transportation. Just as important. NEVER get in the vehicle with someone who is driving drunk. The laws are unforgiving in regards to this matter. It does not make a difference how the accident occurred. If you have a measurable amount of alcohol in your system, and someone gets hurt, or killed, you are coming to prison. I know nothing of your background to tell you how you would adjust to prison life. It’s not easy to say the least.

    I never thought I would watch my children grow up without a father to help them. Never once, did I give thought to how hard it would be to watch my wife struggle to survive alone. How can you really give thought to such painful things? How can you see through the fog and identify a serious problem when, in fact, you may not even realize a problem exists, or if you are just indifferent to all the signs? If you are reading this, then you are lucky enough to have a second chance. You need to grab ahold of it with all your might and never let go. I can’t tell you what I would give for another shot at life, another shot at being where you are today. But I know this, it is a whole lot more than any of you would be willing to pay.
    I could sit here and write all the buzz words that those who are familiar with AA would recognize. I could tell you to get involved in a twelve step program, attend ninety meetings in ninety days, read the big book, etc. I could tell you to take it a day at a time, everything will eventually get better. I could remind you of the twelve promises of the program and on and on and on. However, none of this matters until you are ready to make changes in your life.

    On the night of my accident, I was having the time of my life. I was not thinking that in just a few short hours I would be involved in a horrendous tragedy. I was not thinking of what this would do to so many people, my wife and children included. This was a failure that is absolutely incomprehensible to anyone who has not suffered in this magnitude. The opportunities that I destroyed for so many people are countless. I have watched through a prison fence, those that matter the most, suffer the worst. I have listened hundreds of times to problems that my family were having, that would not have happened, had I not been so selfish. I could share so many heart breaking stories with you that have resulted from this terrible tragedy, but I won’t. It was not my intention to concentrate on me, but to concentrate on a message that would be powerful enough to force you to change your habits.

    Christmas just passed a couple of weeks ago. What a terrible day to have to watch your children leave a visiting room to go home and open presents without you. What actually hurt the most, was knowing that they would not have that many to open because of me. That didn’t affect their hugs and kisses though. And it didn’t change their one question that they continue to ask, and I continue to be unable to answer, “When are you coming home Daddy?” “Don’t they know it was only an accident?”
    If this message helps just one person, then all of the suffering, all of the loss and all of the pain endured by the innocent victims will not have been all the way in vain. Especially, the family and friends of Mr. Jilly Rizzo. I hope you can defy the statistics. I hope that you never have to experience this madness. Take a good look at the ones that matter in your life. Cherish them, they are such a joyful gift. I pray for you all.

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Perrotte

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    Default The value of life

    THE VALUE OF LIFE

    Rediscovering and Recovering our Priorites

    While doing a life-sentence in prison as the result of an alcohol-related accident, which tragically resulted in an innocent man being killed, I have had many days to re-evaluate my life. In fact, several thousand so far.

    During this “recovery process,” which even after ten years of sobriety, I am just scratching the surface of, I have had some very painful moments to reflect on my life and on the actions and behavior which brought me where I am today. Even though the Big Book is full of the same type of unfortunate realities that I must face, it is never the same as when we look at our own dark past from the using and abusing stage, to the sober stage. When the shadows of our lives are placed in the light, we can only be more thankful for the “diagram for living” that a 12-Step Program provides. Surely it helps to handle the shock of who we were, who we are today, and who we want to be.

    As we recover, uncover, and discard all the madness, we also rediscover and recover our priorities which are consistent and beneficial to our value of life. It is not a fun-filled process, but a very important process for each of us.

    In looking at my past, I clearly had a viable definition of what matters in life. What I didn’t have was a clear plan and hierarchy of priorities to ensure for the fundamental protection of those values. My mind was unable to provide an untouchable area to lock priorities in place. In fact, alcohol and drugs made for inconsistencies in my ability to manage my life, family, health, priorities, anger, and on and on. The major problem with all of this, was that I was the last person to realize this very important fact. Everyone had to suffer for Jeff.

    Thankfully today, a clear and sober mind easily provides the framework to lock my priorities in place. They have become a part of what I consider imperative to the success of my life. But most importantly, they are imperative to the happiness and success of my family. The Big Book says that the greatest gift we can give our family is peace of mind. I concur wholeheartedly.

    However, once we think we have everything in place and the transformation into our new life is complete, something will inevitably happen and we will be reminded that we are works in progress.

    Approximately three years ago, in my seventh year of sobriety, and sixth year of incarceration, I had erroneously thought I had finally got all my priorities straight and knew all I needed to know towards my own individual “value of life.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    I was talking to a good friend of mine on the phone and I brought up the fact that my youngest daughter, Haley, was turning six in a couple of weeks. I explained to him that I was very sad that she still did not know what it was like to have a Daddy at home. Up to this point, the only Daddy that Haley knew was the one she saw every now and then in a prison visiting room. Clearly, she could never have remembered how I held her constantly, and how she slept on my chest during her first six weeks of life. She could never remember how I memorized every single thing about her and hoped that she would recognize me when she saw me again. You see, I knew I was going to prison for the accident which took Mr. Rizzo’s life. Unfortunately, the fact that I could only see her through glass for the next six months took whatever was established in the first six weeks away.

    I talking with my friend, he recognized my despair and wanted to make Haley’s birthday better, and in all reality, my day as well. He asked me what Haley liked because he wanted to go out and buy her some presents for me and send them to her. I sat there on the phone in silence and realized, that once again, I had failed this precious little girl. I couldn’t talk anymore and hung up the phone and went to my bunk and cried. Here I thought I had made all the right changes and adjustments in my life to ensure for my family’s happiness, and I didn’t even know what to tell my friend. I didn’t have a clue what my little girl liked or wanted. A father should be home with his children where something of this nature should not occur. I had once again discovered that an important priority to my value of life was missing. Not only with my youngest daughter, but with all of my children.

    Fortunately, this time I was sober which provided me an opportunity to make the necessary changes that probably would not have been addressed in my “take the easy way out way of thinking” while drinking and drugging. Sure it was tough to endure another failure face to face, but in dealing with life on life’s terms, we already know it’s going to be difficult at times.

    Seven years after my last drink, I still had not completely become the person that I wanted to be. But, after weeks and weeks of asking questions, sharing laughs, and whispering secrets in my little girl’s ear, I am a whole lot closer to being that person, and I know I will never fail that test again.

    When I came to prison, everything that I thought really mattered, no longer did. We find that the little things that we take for granted on a daily basis are the things that mean the most. When the fog lifts and you are standing in a strange land all alone, you will realize how clouded your way of thinking was during your self-medicated haze. You will find out very quickly that your family is the only one with hope in their hearts that the person they knew and loved will return. Of course, you may be lucky and there will be a few good friends, very few, who will be there as well. However, the majority of those so-called friends will fly the coop once they know that the bar is closed. Good riddance to them.

    As I continue to work the steps, I now write my goals and priorities in pencil. This is not so I can sell myself short, but so I can strive for more ambitious outcomes. Recovery is truly a life-long process and the moment you engrave in stone your blue-print for living, you will rediscover and recover something that is paramount to your value of life and then you will be looking for a new stone.

    Life truly does get better day after day in recovery. Every setback that we endure is really just another opportunity in disguise. It is another chance for us to become better human beings. If life can get better for everyone. It is hard not to envy those of you who are free today and can hold your children and your wife and let them know just how much they mean to you. They are such a gift from God.

    I am very thankful to Alcoholics Anonymous and what it has done for my life. I fellowship with recovering alcoholics all over the world who have taken the time to write me and touch my life in a positive way. We write back and forth and share this common bond that so many of us share. It is an amazing program filled with amazing people. I am constantly humbled by the wonder of it all.

    In Service,

    Jeff Perrotte

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    Default On the other side

    ON THE OTHER SIDE

    I am writing to you from a prison. At this prison, there is usually about 3500 inmates, serving a variety of sentences, for a variety of crimes, ranging from petty theft to first degree murder. I am currently serving a sentence of 15 years to life as a result of a tragic automobile accident that occurred in the City of Rancho Mirage in 1992 and resulted in the death of Frank Sinatra’s life-long friend, Mr. Jilly Rizzo. “On The Other Side” is an attempt to give readers a peek at life on the inside of a state prison. The goal of this article being that once you have this peek, you will make any necessary changes to keep from experiencing this madness firsthand.

    From the first moment you are let off from the bus that transported you, in a cage, to the intake facility for the California Department of Corrections, you begin to understand the magnitude of your punishment. You immediately begin to become familiar with a society that is unforgiving and incomprehensible from the outside world. You realize that from this point forward, your only goal is survival. Your goals related to your family, or your life, no longer matter. The fact that you are sorry and want things to change matter about as much as the guy’s screams in the cell next to you. The sights are quite shocking unless you can imagine living in a world that is completely made of concrete, steel bars and filth. Or, unless, you are used to looking into the eyes of predators or individuals who seem to have lost their souls or their desire to live. The first time you get a good look at the cell that will be your home tends to instill fear into the hearts of most. The realization that this small dungeon is your only refuge strikes you significantly. Then, the first time the bars are slammed shut in your face and you realize that all privacy is lost, and life as you knew it is gone, maybe forever, the new sounds begin to assault you.

    Once you arrive here, you will never hear a moment of silence. This alone, can have powerful physiological effects on a person. There is the constant sounds of jingling of keys, boots scraping along concrete floors, guards practicing the accuracy of shooting at the range, inmates yelling for the guards, toilets constantly flushing or the screams and unintelligible outbursts by those suffering from mental illnesses or nightmares. Of course, there is also the sound you hear that many attempt to disguise, the sound of someone crying into their pillow. But, this sound, pales in comparison to all the others.

    After processing at an intake center, you will be sent to one of many prisons throughout the state. Upon arrival, you immediately are required to learn a whole new set of rules and codes. The failure to do this can be the difference between life and death. The moral norms that you may have been used to no longer matter. In fact, they can result in you becoming familiar with an even darker place within the walls of a prison, a place called Administrative Segregation (Also known as the hole, solitary confinement, etc.).

    In this highly secured environment, designed to separate the most dangerous inmates from the general population, and also to separate the general population, or mainline as it’s called, from inmates whose lives may be in danger for a variety of reasons. The reasons can include; violating one of the unwritten “Convict Codes”, being convicted of a crime that is reprehensible to the mainline such as child molesting, child porn, rape, etc…, any number of reasons that can result in you having to do your time in Protective Custody. Within this environment, life literally comes to an end. The only thing that you are allowed to do is breath. Of course, you are given a couple hours of yard per week, but you will go to the most dangerous yards to be on. On these yards, you may be required to do anything to anyone at any time. Whether you are there for your protection or others protection does not guarantee your safety. Being attacked by another person in Protective Custody is not unheard of. In 1995, while at a prison in San Diego, I knew a young man who went to Administrative Segregation for a minor offense. Two weeks later, he died there. He was involved in a fist fight on the yard, and received a bullet in the head. A tragedy.

    To be an inmate on the mainline means to be a member of the general population. While living on the mainline, you have many rules that need to be followed. These new rules are irrespective of staff requirements, but rules that are maintained and enforced by the mainline inmates. None of these rules are prevalent, or even known, in the real world. You basically live a self-segregated existence. There is no real gang-banging per se in prison. In here you stick with your own race for a variety of reasons. Most specifically, when a riot occurs, it is usually between different races.

    Most of the members of this society are here for making bad choices while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. In fact, I have yet to speak with anyone where this did not play a factor in their charged offense. In most instances, what started off as, or appeared to be, harmless fun turned into the nightmare that brought them here. Whether you decide to come and visit this society will clearly be reflected in your ability to make good decisions. If you expect to continually make these decisions while consuming drugs or alcohol, then you are in for a terrible awakening. There are countless numbers of children, fathers, grandparents, brothers and friends locked away within these walls. However, there is always another bed available it seems for someone who thinks it won’t happen to them. Before you come, remember, everything as you know it, will change. Every sight, every sound, every smell will be different.

    There are many tragic stories living within these walls. If you could imagine the most painful thing that could happen to you or your family, it resides here. From children taking a gun to school, or breaking into a house for fun, or just trying to scare someone off for the heck of it, and ending up with a life sentence for murder is just a start of the stories that live within these walls.

    From the inmate who suffered the punishment of confinement only to have their life destroyed by a prison riot, a stray bullet on the yard, a prison rape, or a multitude of other atrocities, it’s all here.

    This is not the country club others would try to have you believe it is. This is the Devil’s Playground. A place you do not want to visit, or live, for that matter. When you sit on a concrete slab on the yard with friends who on the average have twenty years in prison already for a childhood mistake, the enormity of the situation becomes clear. We must educate the children, this is not the college you want them to attend.

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Perrotte

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    Default Choices

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    CHOICES

    I am writing to you from a California State Prison. I am an inmate serving a sentence of 15 years to life as a result of an alcohol related automobile accident that occurred in the City of Rancho Mirage on May 5, 1992, involving the life-long friend of Frank Sinatra, Mr. Jilly Rizzo. This accident was a tragedy that destroyed many lives and, without a doubt, was the cumulative result of many years of making bad choices. Choices that some of the readers of this article may be making today. The intention of this message is not to bring any sort of recognition to myself, but to shed some light on how your life can change if you allow yourself to be deceived by the euphoria of alcohol and/or drugs.

    You may not be an alcoholic or a drug addict, but someone who chooses to drink socially in a very acceptable sort of manner. However, if after you drink, in this very acceptable manner, you get behind the wheel of your vehicle for the short drive home, you are taking a chance not only with your life, but with everyone’s life around you. Without even knowing it, you are gambling with the futures of a countless number of innocent people, including the ones that you love the most. Granted, this is an unconscious gamble on your part, but the severe ramifications are the same whether you knew what you were doing, or not. By law, this is what is called a careless indifference to human life. Truly, there can be no better explanation. This careless indifference is occurring all the time. In fact, as I write this letter inside Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, surrounded by gun towers, a lethal electrical fence and miles of concertina wire, there are probably dozens of vehicles being driven in the Desert Area by drivers who have a measurable amount of alcohol in their systems. Most of which are not even aware of the disaster they are flirting with. Prior to May 5, 1992, I was also carelessly indifferent to the ramifications of this type of behavior, even after numerous experiences that should have provided the motivation necessary to make some serious changes. Unfortunately, I knew that something like this would never happen to me.

    There was a time when the laws would partially protect the individual who found themselves in a bad situation as the result of making a terrible choice while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This was called a Diminished Capacity Defense. This was available in regards to automobile accidents, but also an array of criminal charges that resulted while under the influence. However, this is no longer the case, and rightfully so. Now the law is designed to protect the innocent victims from actions taken by those who, even for a second, forget about personal responsibility and the acceptable norms of our society.

    People who harbor the false security that bad things only happen to other people, are in for a rude awakening should they find themselves standing before a Court of Law facing criminal charges as the result of behavior that was erroneously conceived as being harmless at the time. We must all be prepared to answer for any choice we decide to make, whether good or bad, conscious or unconscious, justified or unjustified. The concessions that were prevalent in the past have been removed through the legislative efforts of many victim’s rights groups, i.e.: Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), etc..

    For the last eight years I have endured the madness of confinement within a California Prison, three years outside San Diego, one year in Tehachapi, one year in Solano/Vacaville and three years in Blythe. During this time, I have come in contact with thousands of other inmates and have listened to their stories. These inmates ranged in age from 16 years old to over 70 years old. Through all these stories there is one common thread, alcohol or drugs. Every single person that I have ever spoken to within the walls of a State Prison indicated that either alcohol, drugs, or both, played a significant role in their charged offense. This is a powerful statistic in itself. It is clearly impossible to avoid this message under any circumstances. If you feel confident that you will be able to make the right choice every single time that you decide to indulge in the euphoric rewards of alcohol or drugs, I may one day be speaking to you. However, before this occurs, I truly hope you will take an inventory on what you have now, and compare it to what you will have within these walls. You would also want to take into consideration that the true tragedy of suffering a personal disaster is not to you, but to those you harm, and those you love. These are the individuals who will suffer the most as a result of your choices. After this is clearly thought through, then, and only then, can you add to the list the items you will be sacrificing personally. That list would include literally hundreds, if not thousands, of things. If you like privacy, it will be forever gone within these walls. If you enjoy seeing the stars at night, hearing the waves crash on the shore, watching your children grow, a warm embrace, sharing a moment with a friend, building a life, personal security, birthday parties, anniversaries, family get-togethers, and on and on and on. Every single day in this nightmare will remind you of another thing you have lost, never to be recovered again. Once you have a partial picture of what you would lose, it may be a good idea to consider all of the things that you will gain. You will be required to learn a whole new set of rules and politics. There will be motivation to do this inasmuch that your life may depend on it. You will learn how to live under the constant stress that you may have to participate in a variety of things that could have life-long affects to your well-being. You will share an institution with roughly 3500 other convicted felons with crimes ranging from petty theft to the most violent murders. This list also goes on and on.

    The biggest fallacy would be to think that because you currently have everything going well in your life, that you could never end up here. If you can think back over the last year and remember just one instance when you have driven with alcohol in your system, then you have already taken that gamble I mentioned. You have already decided that you alone have the right to mortgage the future of many people which is absolutely unconscionable on your part. You alone have decided that it is fine if other people suffer as a result of your actions. If you can think back to a time when you unconsciously made this sort of choice, then you have already been granted a second chance which you should grab ahold of with all your might and make the appropriate changes. I can’t tell you what I would be willing to give for another shot at life, another chance at being where you are today. But I know this, it is a whole lot more than any of you would be willing to pay.

    The purpose of this article is not to tell everyone not to drink, or even not to use drugs. I would clearly recommend this to anyone. What I hope you will take from this message is really quite simple. If you know that you are going to be at a place where there is a good possibility that you may have a drink or do some other activity that impairs your ability to make a good decision, it is imperative that you arrange for whatever transportation requirements you may need.

    On the night of my accident, I was having a great time. I wasn’t worrying that my four young children, who were home in bed asleep, would suffer for years to come because of my irresponsibility. I did not think about all of the opportunities I would remove from their life. I was not thinking that within that 7 mile drive home, a man would die in a fiery car crash. I was not thinking about how his family would suffer. I was not taking a moment to consider what pressure I would place on my wife in trying to raise a family alone. I wasn’t thinking of any of the things that should have been in the forefront of my mind. And tragically, I wasn’t thinking that a twenty dollar taxi ride would have avoided all of this suffering.

    There are no social, economic or ethnic barriers to this serious problem. It is reflected in the news all the time. Our new President has a prior DUI. There is, however, many things that we can do to avoid this serious pitfall. There are many programs available in the community that can assist anyone who feels they may have a drinking or drug problem. These programs are available for adults and teenagers, and most importantly, they are free. Alcoholics Annonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are just two of many. By contacting, or attending one of these programs, you may be making the most important decision of your life. There are not many times in our lives when the choice we make can be the difference between life, death, or if you are lucky, incarceration. The decision, of course, is yours alone to make. I know it is not an easy decision.

    However, there are many harder ones that will be made for you if you are unfortunate enough to suffer a disaster of the magnitude possible.

    It was my hopes to be able to share some of the tragic experiences one faces when confined in prison. I wanted to provide a journey through the “other side” that would be shocking. For now, it is just as important for you to understand that the true suffering is never experienced by the doer of the deed, but by those who it happened to, and to those that depended on the individual who exploited their existence. To make any choice without looking at the whole picture is unwise. It allows chance, fate and bad luck to play a major role in the outcome of your choice. You are setting yourself up to fail.

    A week ago I watched my children leave the prison visiting room on Christmas to go home and open presents. When they walked out the door, it killed me to know that the number of presents they would open was small. It hurt so much to realize once again that because of a choice that I freely made, they continue to suffer. I hope those reading this article never have to endure that type of pain. I hope those reading this article will understand that it is of the highest importance that they do not make the same mistakes that I made. There is always an open bed within these walls, and these beds are blind to the type of person that resides on them. The staff here at the prison does not care who you are, what you had, or where you came from. You will be just another number within the biggest industrial machine in the state. Specifically, the California Department of Corrections.

    The best thing about all of this you have read is that you are clearly in control of your own destiny. I hope I do not get to meet you under these circumstances. I now have to close in order to call my daughter Ashley and wish her a Happy Birthday.

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Perrotte

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