What happens when you discover a loved one is doing something illegal? Should you stick around or cut them loose immediately? By Carla Calitz
Discovering that someone you love is embroiled in crime is devastating. When actress Anne Hathaway found out in 2008 that her former boyfriend, Raffaello Follieri, had been arrested in connection with a multimillion-dollar property scam two weeks after they’d broken up, she admitted it felt as though ‘a rug [has been] pulled out from under me’. She spent months avoiding the media’s incessant questions about the man she’d been romantically involved with for four years – a man who’d bought her extravagant jewellery, which the police confiscated to be used as evidence in Follieri’s trial. She wasn’t there to support him in court when he was sentenced to five years in jail and is only now starting to talk about her traumatic ordeal. What do you do if someone you love is involved in crime? Should you support them through the inevitable fallout?
Jane*, 29, a journalist in Johannesburg, lost her friend Anya* to heroin five years ago. ‘Anya and I clicked immediately when we met at a club in Cape Town in my second year at varsity, and became inseparable. We experimented with drugs but I decided I didn’t like what they did to me so I stopped. Within a year, Anya was doing drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth every day. I found excuses not to visit her on weekends, because she also started dealing. I always felt unsafe around her – I worried we’d get arrested or get into a bad situation with one of her dealer contacts. I begged her to get out of the scene but she wouldn’t listen. I then went overseas for six months. We stayed in contact and I fooled myself into thinking she’d kicked her addiction.’ But Jane was wrong, as she discovered when she visited Anya shortly after returning home. ‘She looked awful but she was happy to see me – and to celebrate she smoked what I thought was crystal meth. Then she told me it was heroin and offered me some. I felt sick to my stomach – it was the ultimate betrayal of our friendship. She then told me she was dealing heroin and that I’d meet all her connections later that night.
Taking drugs is never acceptable, even if it’s experimental or for recreational use. It’s illegal and involves the user in the drug subculture, exposing him or her to drug dealers and crime, says Sister Leonie Cason from Phoenix House, a Johannesburg drug-rehabilitation clinic. When you discover a loved one is doing drugs you should confront them immediately – for your safety and theirs, she says. ‘Inform the family and friends, and organise a group intervention. Before the intervention get together with the other participants to prepare what you’re going to say. When you confront the person be prepared for denial, and plot how you will deal with this.’ Although tough love is a difficult road with tough choices, it’s the only way to deal with an addict. ‘You can’t trust drug addicts – they spend years covering up lies and crimes, and they’re inherently manipulative,’ says Cason. ‘Tough love makes an addict take full responsibility for his or her behaviour and its negative consequences. You’ll need to set disciplinary guidelines – for instance, the need to go to rehab or Narcotics Anonymous. Other rules should include not allowing him or her to hang out with druggie “friends”. You need to make the addict’s life difficult so he or she sees the consequences of bad behaviour.’ One of your tough-love agreements could be that the addict undergoes drug tests once a month. While in rehab he or she will also be tested randomly. If he or she chooses recovery, remember this is
not a quick-fix solution – recovery is a lifelong process. ‘Join a support group for family and friends of addicts, such as Nar- Anon or ToughLove, or talk to a counsellor to help you through this time,’ says Cason. It’s also important to realise the person needs to go through this process alone. ‘You can’t want to save the addict and become overly emotionally involved in his or her battle,’ says Cason. ‘You must establish distance between you. It’s normal to feel guilty and blame yourself for the addict’s troubles – he or she may even play the blame game with you. But it was the addict’s choice, not yours. He or she needs to regain your trust, not the other way around.’
If the person refuses to get help, doesn’t stick to the rehab programme, continues to use drugs or transgresses any of the rules you’ve agreed on, let go – even if this means he or she is going to die, says Cason. ‘If he or she is dealing drugs or committing crimes to fuel the habit it’s also time to let go,’ she says. ‘Report it to the police and lay a charge if he or she steals from you. Let him or her sit in jail – this is the only way to emphasise the negative consequences of such behaviour. If the addict doesn’t learn, he or she will sink even further.’ Always remember to keep yourself safe emotionally, physically and psychologically.
Charmaine*, 26, an administrative clerk from Cape Town, was devastated when she found out her husband, Craig*, an alarm technician, was involved in fraud and theft. ‘I knew something was wrong when he started spending a lot of time with a new group of friends more than three years ago. I didn’t like them at all – they seemed very dodgy. I found out later that they had persuaded him to bypass alarm systems he’d installed in offices so they could steal computers. The first time I found out about his life of crime was when the police showed up at my office. They told me what Craig was involved in and asked whether I knew where he was. I was completely shocked: I knew he was in with a bad group of friends but I didn’t think he was capable of committing a crime. He’d always been very good at his job so I couldn’t believe that he’d jeopardise it. I told them I didn’t know where he was – at the time Craig and I weren’t living together because our marriage was falling apart. But I called him later to tell him the police were after him and to find out whether it was true. I told him he had a choice either to continue to live a life of crime or stop. He begged me not to tell the police where he was, and I didn’t, but they arrested him shortly afterwards. I was so angry with him but I decided to try to support him even though he’d betrayed me and his children, because I wanted the kids to know their father. His court case was very difficult for me – he was eventually sentenced to nine years in Pollsmoor Prison. I think this was the best thing that could have happened to him – he’s accepting responsibility for what he’s done. He’s turned his life around and is earning money teaching other prisoners how to read and write. He has apologised to me but I won’t ever trust him again. I’ll always wonder what he’s hiding.’
When faced with the reality of a loved one’s criminal activities it’s important never to compromise yourself or your moral code for his or her sake, as you may eventually harbour feelings of selfblame, guilt and resentment towards the person, says Thuraisha Moodley, a Johannesburg clinical psychologist. ‘If you feel severely violated because of the crime, acknowledge your feelings to yourself first,’ she says. ‘You need to decide where you stand. For example, if you want to keep quiet about the crime, is it something you can live with for the rest of your life? Has the person hurt others – and can you live with that responsibility? And if you report him or her to the police, can you live with the consequences? Speak to someone you trust – perhaps they can help you with your decision and to get perspective.’ When you confront the criminal, do it calmly, but expect him or her to react with disbelief and defensiveness. ‘Let him or her know you want to be supportive but only if he or she is open and honest,’ says Moodley. ‘Offer emotional support and tangible ways to tackle the situation honestly, ethically and constructively. If he or she has aggressive tendencies and has been physically, verbally or emotionally abusive towards you before, rather be in a place where there are others around when you tackle the issue. If he or she becomes abusive, leave and get to safety.’ If the offender has never been involved in crime before, he or she may have tangible reasons that ‘pushed’ him or her into the criminal activities, says Moodley. ‘But whatever the excuses for engaging in these activities, you knowing about the crime involves you in it too. You can encourage the person to report the crime.’ If he or she shows willingness to mend his or her ways and you decide not to inform the police, it’s important for both you and the criminal to seek therapy individually and together. ‘Just remember that nothing is going to change magically,’ cautions Moodley. If, however, the person refuses to stop, and if his or her lifestyle is in direct conflict with your value system, it’s time to cut that person out of your life. ‘He or she will eventually bring you down with his or her activities and could put you in harm’s way as a result of being involved with other criminals,’ says Moodley. ‘Report the person to the police when he or she is a danger to him- or herself and to you or others. Never jeopardise or compromise yourself in any way.’
You have an obligation to report criminal activity, says Senior Superintendent Lindela Mashigo, national spokesperson for the South African Police Service. ‘If you’re aware of a criminal activity and knowingly withhold this information from the authorities, you can be prosecuted for the crime of defeating or obstructing the course of justice, or as an accessory,’ he says. ‘You can’t be compelled to testify against your loved ones – but you have a moral obligation to do so.’