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Expressway: The price I'm paying for DWI

Joe Donnelly shows the alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet

Joe Donnelly shows the alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet he must wear after a third DWI offense (July 7, 2011). Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Joe Donnelly, a retired Newsday sportswriter, lives in Huntington.

SCRAM is an ankle bracelet and you definitely don't want one.

I am on probation after being convicted last August of driving while intoxicated for a third time in a 10-year period. And I've been ordered to wear the ankle bracelet for six months after violating probation conditions for a second time.

You're not supposed to have alcohol in your possession, and my probation officer, who stopped by on a periodic visit in March, caught me coming home from the liquor store with two bottles of wine.

Normally pleasant and businesslike, she was upset, and had every right to be. While I would be termed a social drinker for most of my 76 years, never drinking before completing a day's work, I developed a problem with alcohol in my retirement. I hadn't hurt anybody by driving drunk. But that, and never drinking before completing various part-time jobs on any given day, were the only things I had going for me.

So SCRAM -- for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring device -- is a last resort, a gentle confinement rather than jail, which could be next if I further violate. The device doesn't come off until October, and that doesn't happen unless I stay free of alcohol.

The bracelet is linked to a base station connected to my home phone. It tests daily for the presence of alcohol in my sweat. It was attached Sunday, April 3, in my kitchen. That was a month to the day since my last drink -- a final glass of wine. So far, so good; I'm into my fifth month of abstinence, a record for me.

SCRAM has a few no-nos. No mouthwash with alcohol in it. No baths and no swimming in the ocean. (The device can't be submerged, but showers are OK.) I thought it might interfere with sleeping, but it's so lightweight, I don't notice it.

Once SCRAM was affixed, it generated embarrassment. Walking downtown Huntington in cargo shorts led to baleful stares. Those women who looked at a bulge in my sock weren't admiring my ancient legs. And since some sex offenders must wear similar-looking ankle bracelets, I understand.

On the golf course, where I'm a caddie, I don't dare wear shorts. Off the golf course, I prefer sandals in the summer, but to wear socks with them would be gross. Fashion, of course, is the least of my problems.

I've been without a license to drive since my latest DWI. I was pulled over a house away from my own home about 9 p.m. on April 15, 2010. I suspect the police officer saw some weaving several miles earlier. I had to forfeit my 2001 Honda Accord. Considering the value of the car, and legal and other bills, I figure I'm out nearly $30,000.

Without a car, there's been a lot of walking, lots of thinking. I call it the healing. I can't erase the negative in my world, but I can try to cling to more positive action. I deserve some credit for stopping drinking on my own a month before I got the bracelet, but I needed that determined probation officer who played by the rules. I know I couldn't have stopped without her. And I wither as a human being if I resume drinking while on probation, even if I take one drink before bed, whether I get caught or not.


I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, but I do know what's happening as another July moves on. Today, July 9, marks my 128th day without a drink. My health was pretty good before I stopped; it's better now.

Most important, I think pedestrians and other motorists will be safer when I return to the road in a vehicle. My probation officer says that should happen in October if I remain clean. I will have to have an alcohol interlock device installed in a car for six months, but that's a small price to pay to guarantee sobriety and the safety of others.


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