Someone asked me recently how many years I had been writing this column.
I said, “Perhaps five or so.”
Actually it has been eight years. Once a week. That’s 410 or so columns.
As my eighth year ends, I wondered whether anything I had written made any difference at all.
The answer? Not really.
My first column was carefully edited by Mark Woodward. He was the executive editor, an experienced editorial writer and columnist.
I’m pretty sure he was not optimistic, and for good reason. I had been reporting for 20 some-odd years, and reporting and writing columns are very different.
I was as unsure as he was.
My first column dealt with a 22-year-old local man who had tried three times in three weeks to jump off the roof of the former Bagel Shop at the corner of Main and Hammond streets.
Granted, it was only a three-story building, but there are no real high rises in downtown Bangor and the old Bagel Shop building afforded easy outside access to the roof.
He never actually jumped, but his attempts shut down Main Street for a while and called upon a lot of police and fire resources.
Each time, this mentally disturbed young man was taken to the hospital and evaluated, was refused admittance and taken to jail for lack of any other place to take him.
After the last attempt the doctor who examined him wrote on his evaluation sheet, “You are suicidal and you are under arrest.” The evaluator told police to caution jail administrators to place him on “extreme” suicide watch.
Back then, county jails in Maine and across the country were housing more of the nation’s mentally ill than any psychiatric hospital.
That was in 2004. Today? No change, and with more cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services, the struggles of those suffering with mental illness and their families could worsen.
In 2005 I wrote about friends who lost their young adult son to a drug overdose as the opiate crisis threatened to devastate the lives of too many families in the area.
Since then it has gotten worse.
Maine has the worse prescription drug abuse problem in the country. Today record numbers of people are dying in Maine of drug overdoses, more than in motor vehicle accidents.
That same year I wrote about the new phenomenon of opiate-addicted babies being born at Eastern Maine Medical Center. It was big news. Shocking, really.
Today, it is not. It is expected and sadly, it seems, accepted.
In 2005 I wrote a column about the dire need of local food banks.
Probably I don’t need to expound on that.
In 2005 I wrote about concerns about drug use, litter and bad behavior in Pickering Square in Bangor.
In 2006 I reminded readers that still no one had been charged with the 1995 death of 8-month-old Aisha Dickson. Every bone in her body was broken while she was in a Bangor apartment, where she lived with her parents and her grandmother.
No change in that case. The parents and her grandmother have all moved on.
That same year I wrote that the Maine State Police’s Computer Crimes Unit was overwhelmed and buried with child pornography cases. So many cases they could not begin to keep up.
Today that troubling story remains the same.
I wrote about the lack of sufficient funding for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, vague gun laws that were not understood or enforced, the deterioration of the neighborhood on Webster Avenue North and the troubling fact that Bangor High School administrators refused to allow their students to participate in the state’s most comprehensive teen drug survey.
It’s the time of year for reflection. Time to ponder what has changed and what should change.
Reviewing those eight years of columns I’ve come to realize that so many things haven’t changed at all.
So perhaps the wish for the new year should be that this be the time when we as citizens, town officials and government leaders actually effect change — make progress.
If not, I wonder whether I could simply resubmit those archived columns and take the next eight years off.