Behind the drunken curtain: a peek at Act 1

For most people on campus, Act 1 exists as a sort of enigma; a purgatory-like place where those who had too much to drink must stay and suffer for flying too close to the sun. We watch as some of our friends are taken away there and return the following morning with hazy recollections of the whole experience. To get some more solid, behind-the-scenes information, The Defender spoke with the Director of Public Safety, Douglas Babcock.

“Act 1 is a detox facility for housing incapacitated individuals, normally under the influence of alcohol,” Babcock said. It’s an extension of the Howard Center, which provides a bridge program for those in need of counseling before entering rehab. Although we mostly hear about St. Michael’s students getting sent there, it serves all of Chittenden County, not just students from institutions of higher education. While most people are sent there for alcohol-related reasons, Act 1 also receives people incapacitated by other drugs.

So what’s the purpose of sending people to Act 1? According to Director Babcock, “We try to keep people on campus, but we must keep people safe. We send people who are medically unsafe or we think is a danger to themselves or others, or if there’s no one willing to sober buddy them.”

It all comes down to the current state and behavior of the student. If a student is acting belligerent or if Public Safety believes there’s a high chance they may harm themselves, another student, or cause property damage, then that student will get sent to Act 1. Occasionally, students get sent to Act 1 simply because there’s no one available to sober buddy them. A sober buddy must not be drunk and be willing to look after the person for the night, which can be difficult to arrange on days like P-Day where a large population of students are consuming alcohol.

Contrary to popular belief, Public Safety isn’t responsible for transporting people to Act 1; that’s done by the Colchester Police Department. There also isn’t any specific blood alcohol content (BAC) that one must have in order to be sent there. “We’re aware that different people handle alcohol differently,” Babcock said, “Someone who’s an experienced drinker won’t be as drunk off the same amount of alcohol as someone who doesn’t drink regularly.”

Sean, a student who asked that his last name not be used, said the night he was sent to Act 1 he had consumed over eight beers, blacked out, and passed out on a couch outside of the 100’s townhouses. An acquaintance saw him and decided to call an ambulance, and he was transported to the hospital. Sean recalled regaining consciousness inside of the ambulance and thinking to himself, “Ah, shit.”

There wasn’t enough room in the hospital for him to stay overnight, and so he was taken by the police to Act 1, which is located at the corner of North Winooski Avenue and Pearl Street. Surprisingly, Sean said it was nothing like a typical drunk tank or holding cell. He had his own room with a cot in it, somewhat similar to a single on campus, and was free to walk down the hall to use the bathroom. The staff and everyone there were incredibly nice and understanding. The following day, Sean had to wait until he blew below a .02 BAC before being released.

Because of the amnesty policy on campus, Sean didn’t get in trouble with the school after being released. However, he was responsible for completing a court diversion program for Chittenden County, in which he had to pay a fine and meet with an alcohol counselor. Sean said that he believes that Act 1 is generally a good thing.

“I’m glad someone was looking out for me, even if I didn’t like the end result,” he said.

Babcock said Act 1 offers a critical tool for keeping students safe, “Act 1 is not a punishment. It’s only for instances when you or the community is unsafe.” He said that it’s a preferable alternative to being sent to the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, which sometimes happens if Act 1 is full.