Egyptian-American who beat opioid abuse in US Congress bid

Sarah Gad’s road to law school was far from conventional, with a legal education that began in a jail cell in Cook County jail. (AN Photo)
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Updated 12 February 2020

Egyptian-American who beat opioid abuse in US Congress bid

  • Sarah Gad says she is fighting to change a system that is designed to marginalize people and to rectify miscarriages of justice
  • Gad became addicted to prescription painkillers following a near-fatal car accident that left her unable to walk or speak

CHICAGO:  An Egyptian-American Muslim who was jailed for nonviolent drug offenses is challenging Democrat Congressman Bobby Rush in the party’s March 17 Illinois primary.

Sarah Gad, 32, a third-year student at the University of Chicago Law School, said she is fighting to change “a system that is designed to marginalize people” and to “rectify miscarriages of justice.”

The Democrat hopeful’s road to law school was far from conventional, with a legal education that “began in a jail cell in the Cook County jail.”

Gad became addicted to prescription painkillers following a near-fatal car accident that left her unable to walk or speak.

After forging prescriptions to feed her opioid habit, she landed in jail, where she “saw and experienced countless human rights and constitutional violations.”

“My story is by no means unique,” Gad told Arab News. “I talk about it openly now because I want to help break the stigma that accompanies both addiction and criminalization of this disease, and because I want to shine a light on a broken system that is in desperate need of reform.

“While awaiting trial and in custody, I was sexually assaulted. When I reported it, I was labeled a snitch. I became a target for beatings every day. When I was released, I had to have reconstructive surgery on my face.”

Gad said the trauma of being incarcerated made her addiction even more difficult to overcome, and her life became a “revolving door in and out of jail” from 2013-2015. After being arrested in July 2015, she spent five days in jail and overdosed on the day she was released.

“It was that overdose that saved me. It wasn’t until I overdosed that I finally got the help I needed to overcome this disease,” she said.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate. I found myself unable to get out of bed without using. I felt like my personality and my brain were hijacked by these prescription drugs. I was injured and then given drugs that I became addicted to, and then went into jail with an addiction and left jail with an addiction, until that overdose.”

Gad was in her third year of medical school when she was struck by a drunk driver and her life changed.

“I ended up doing more jail time than the driver who hit me. I was punished more severely than he was because nonviolent drug offenses are treated as felonies and in a DUI conviction your first offense is treated as a misdemeanor with no jail time,” she said.

For a long time, Gad struggled to get back on her feet. She was left homeless and unemployed because of her record. She got a second chance when attorney Kathleen Zellner offered her a temporary research position that became permanent.

Gad began as a researcher for medical malpractice cases, but her role expanded and she became the law firm’s full-time forensics director, investigating civil rights and wrongful conviction cases.

“When I started working for Zellner, I witnessed egregious miscarriages of justice,” she said. “I couldn’t believe these miscarriages of justice were tolerated under the law. I decided to apply for law school to push for criminal justice reform and fix the deficiencies in our criminal justice that I experienced firsthand, but also witnessed through my work.”

Gad founded and sits on the board of two Chicago-based nonprofit groups and her philanthropic work has attracted national attention. In 2019, she was awarded the University of Chicago Humanitarian Award for her contributions to the South Side and Hyde Park communities.

“I am someone who has personally experienced many of the hardships I seek to eliminate, and that is why I am pushing so hard for change. I know what it is like to be homeless in Chicago in the middle of January. I know what it is like to be stigmatized by our system and feel hopeless.” she said.

Gad’s rival, Bobby Rush, has held the congressional seat since 1993, and the challenger says she was approached to run for office by people in her community because of Rush’s absenteeism in the district legislature and in Congress.

“First, I went to Washington D.C. to familiarize myself with the process and to see if I could be an effective leader in that setting,” she said.

Rush, who founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, the militant political outfit, has the worst attendance record of any Illinois member of Congress and ranks 10th worst nationally out of 435 Congress members, according to public data.

“I joined the legislative affairs team with the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, where I helped draft legislation pertaining to drug policy and reform,” Gad said.

“I had the opportunity to participate in dozens of congressional hearings, and over the course of three-and-a-half months, I didn’t see Congressman Rush once. He didn’t even show up to hearings that were hosted by his own congressional committees.”

Gad said she was alarmed when Rush failed to show up at a hearing about the HR 40 bill on proposals for reparations.

“Our district has the highest population of American descendants of slaves. We have severe economic imbalances that have been perpetuated since slavery and the days of the Jim Crow laws (segregation), and exacerbated by ‘tough on crime’ policies,” Gad said.

“No district in the country stands to benefit more from reparations than ours, and Rush should have been there letting the committee know that.”

Gad said that after her time in Washington, she feels “obligated” to represent the district.

“On many occasions, I found that I was the one speaking up on behalf of our district because no one else was. It was a wake-up call. We don’t have a voice right now,” she said.

If elected, Gad will be the first formerly incarcerated woman to enter the US Congress.


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”