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The 1980s:
Jail, Crack And Divorce

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While The Connection May Seem Dubious On The Surface, One Woman Claims Locking Up Crackheads For Life Revealed To Her That Her Life Was Really Being Married to One Penis Forever


By Jenny Lieberwitz
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 31, 2016 — (Unpublished column, Cosmopolitan, 1990)

Goodbye 1980's. What a red hot fever dream you were.

The whirlwind finally having died down, I can now take a deep breath and tally up the inventory, a museum to the most tubular decade in history: legwarmers in the bottom drawer, righteous bangs in embarrassing Polaroids, and, of course, one decidedly less nasal septum.

Oh, and one other thing: the tan line on my ring finger.

My marriage, like so many others, didn't survive the ‘80s. The decade saw over 12 million divorces in the U.S. alone, with half of all marriages falling into disrepair. Gone were the days the man comes home from war and settles down with his high school sweetheart—before traditionally dying at age 56, because they didn't know butter was bad for you.

I loved my husband. I still love the two beautiful children we have together. And with hindsight being 20/20, you can go back and cherry-pick all the many reasons such a strong relationship can fall apart. But for me, there was only one, true reason: the crackdown on crack cocaine. Locking up crackheads for life really put into perspective how I was stuck with one penis forever.

In 1986 and 1988, Congress passed mandatory sentencing laws designed to curb the crack epidemic, laws that put millions of low-level drug offenders behind bars for decades, all under the illusion that there was a significant distinction between crack and powder cocaine, and cocaine from all other drugs. With human life so fickle and legal construct so arbitrary, how could I be forced to look at that same penis day in, day out for the rest of my life?

Also, let's not gloss over the disturbing racial disparity in how these laws were enforced. Over 88 percent of those convicted under the new laws were African American. Our government rounded up an entire class of the underprivileged, threw them into prison, and forgot about them. They let their families and neighborhoods disintegrate as their young male population rotted away— a constant reminder that I, too, was a prisoner of the same penis, trapped in a government sanctioned institution.

Under the mandatory sentencing laws, possession of five grams of crack carried a mandatory penalty of five years, a 100:1 ratio compared to possession of powder cocaine, which was five years for 500 grams. What a needless reminder that the ratio of penises in my life was 1:1.

Many have also made the argument that the CIA fueled the crack epidemic by funding Contra operations that trafficked drugs. Therefore, one could reasonably say that the U.S. government may be the biggest hypocrite of all, as they punish American citizens for a problem they helped create. So who's fault is it, ultimately? If you ask my kids, they think it's their fault.

It is, indeed, a hard subject to broach with children. I find a lot of inspiration in Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign, as well as its corresponding D.A.R.E. initiative to educate my kids on the dangers of drug addiction. It's important they know there are positive ways to deal with their own self-worth after their first night in dad's new apartment.

"Why does daddy have to live there?" they incessantly whine. Why does the federal government have to lock up inherently decent folks who are addicted to a substance, instead of providing some kind of rehabilitation program? Why does no one ever tell you that if you marry Prince Charming and live happily ever after, you'll ask him at least once to role play as Prince Plumber—just for ten glorious minutes away from that same, exact, unchanging penis? It's a vicious cycle.

But if the ‘80s meant one thing, it was self-determination. Just as we shook off the chains of guaranteed pensions, we did away with the soul-crushing future of being married to just one penis. Now, as the fresh, free air of 1990 hits my lungs, I now declare this the decade of having any penis I want...every other weekend, that is.

Matt Rotman is a writer, poet, and comic. His work has been featured in National Lampoon, Diabolique Magazine, The New Southerner, Marathon Literary Review, and the anthologies, [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct: An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist (Twelve Winters Press) and Puff Puff Prose, Poetry and a Play Vol. II. He lives in San Diego, Calif.
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