Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Telling it like it is to the addicted

Some time ago, I wrote a blog entry titled “Speech to the graduates of drug rehab,” and I was pretty harsh in my assessment of those who are addicted to drugs.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired of reading gushing biographies of addicts in newspapers or online, or hearing about them on TV news, I just want to vomit when I hear about another “amazing, sweet, awesome, hard-working person” who now is a slave to the needle or pain pills.

There are so many of us out there who bust our butts and compensate for those who would rather dream of their next fix than work, and the odd part is that oftentimes people who work the hardest are the ones who get the lectures at work about teamwork and being cooperative, while non-performers, including drug addicts, are told they are doing a wonderful job and even given promotions.

Life is so bloody unfair, right?

Articles or TV segments about drug addicts usually include the worried parents of the addict, who invariably also is a parent of small children who have been taken away by the state or given over to the custody of the grandparents. The addict always believes that he or she is the only person on the planet who can raise the child(ren), even if they can barely function in civil society.

The parents of the addict in many of these tales is convinced that if the right rehab process can be found and the addict can get into it, the endless cycle of rehab and relapse will end and life will return to normal. Naturally, to help this process along, the family starts a business running a nonprofit to “raise awareness” of drug abuse, and there’s a 5K run this weekend, followed by T-shirts, wristbands, yellow ribbons and more.

A breath of fresh air in the news
An article recently in the New York Times Magazine seemed to be going along the same path. In “Addict. Informant. Mother.”, we get the story of a Pennsylvania woman who, with her husband, was a heroin addict.

She was in deep trouble with the police and was in the process of setting up her dealer to be busted, and she just kept talking and talking to the detectives. Finally, one of the detectives had had just about enough (emphasis is mine):

“On a frigid day in early February, Ann hurried into the back seat of a red Honda waiting outside her father’s small home near Hazleton. She said a quick hello to the people in front: Carol Davenport and John Brennan, longtime narcotics agents, who were taking Ann to buy heroin from someone who had sold to her many times before.

‘He actually is a very nice guy,’ Ann told Davenport and Brennan as they drove. ‘He’s just in the wrong occupation.’ Unlike everyone else in her life, her dealer, whom she considered a friend, seemed to trust her: For the past month, he regularly fronted her three or four bricks of the drug worth $150 each. She could easily sell one brick — 50 bags — for $200 or 10 bags at a time for $60. Either way, she could pay her dealer what she owed him and keep at least a brick for herself, which would supply her for about two days. Ann was flattered when the dealer originally approached her to suggest that they might work together, which seemed to imply a certain faith in her general competence. He was sweet, in Ann’s opinion. Once, she told him that her mother might kick her out, and she half-joked that she might have to live with him. ‘“No problem,”’ he told her. Not that he would tell her where he lived. Not that she even knew his real name. He had moved to Hazleton from New York. She thought he was Dominican, like a lot of dealers in town. He was about her age, good-looking, with blue-black hair. He made a nice living, was professional. After they made a deal, they always hugged.

Davenport twisted around from the front seat to look at Ann. ‘If you think this guy is a nice guy, you need to re-evaluate your idea of the quality of a good person,’ she said. Davenport had raised a daughter, who was about Ann’s age, as a single mother. Forty-five and trim, she had long hair that fell in waves around a face that no dealer could refuse, no male dealer at least. One dealer Davenport had worked with for months wept when he realized Davenport had been gathering evidence on him. ‘“I liked you,”’ he said when they met after he was arrested. ‘“I took care of you.”’

It took a while for the arrest to happen, and of course Ann was upset because several officers showed up when she made the buy and gave the signal, and put him on his handsome face as they busted him. She talked about getting done with drugs once and for all.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the story is Ann’s parents, who are pretty eager to see their daughter locked up in jail. The light-touch rehab she’s getting is just teaching her how to find better dope dealers, and she’s stealing everything she can from them, selling it like Crazy Eddie at rock-bottom prices and using it to buy more heroin.

But the judges keep springing her, and she always goes back to what she loves.

Back to the story:

“Three days later, Ann was scheduled for an arraignment on the charges of theft of her mother’s jewelry. Ann’s father accompanied Ann and Lucy to court, and as the three of them bickered and shushed one another, Ann seemed bolstered by the normalcy of family life — her father stern and finger-wagging, her mother by her side.

Now Ann’s mother was simultaneously housing her daughter and trying as hard as she could to put her in jail; at least in jail, her mother believed, she would get clean.Lucy had been under the impression that Ann was very likely to be escorted directly from the courthouse to jail. Instead the judge told all the defendants to plead not guilty and gave them court dates when their cases would be heard. ‘What a joke,’ Lucy muttered.

Ann was relieved. She could go home with her mom, spend time at the house where her father and brother lived; her father would watch the kids during the day. Things would go on, somehow, with some semblance of what she now considered normal: her children around her, the endless hustling for heroin, the usual daily grind.

But then Lucy told her she had to move out: Social Services, which granted Lucy temporary custody of her grandchildren after Tom was arrested, had said Ann could not stay at the apartment, for the good of the kids.

So Ann left. From that point on, her life didn’t resemble anything that had come before. Lucy caught only glimpses of it, which was about as much as she could take. Ann ran out of minutes on her phone and rarely called. A few weeks out, Ann came by Lucy’s work to ask for money, for contact lenses, she told Lucy. Her face was black and blue. She had had a fight with another woman, also a user, over a guy — not so much over the guy, but over who was going to get a ride from him. Ann needed to be driven to a hearing that would determine whether Lucy’s custody status would shift from temporary to permanent; the other woman wanted a ride to get a fix. Ann didn’t make it to the hearing.”

Finally, after a descent into the underworld of addiction, Ann doesn’t get what she wants. She’d been busted for shoplifting and seemed convinced that she could B.S. her way out of this one, too. I cheered when I read the final paragraphs of the story:

“Once she was seated in front of the magistrate, a tidy-looking man with dark hair, Ann reached deep into the recesses of memory and pulled out an earlier version of herself: the passable student teachers liked, who used to go shopping for clothing with her mom, who showed up for a steady job with manicured nails, who changed her son’s diapers and gazed into his crib with pride. ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore,’ she told the judge. ‘I really don’t. If possible, if I could get into something today?’ She was asking for some kind of a treatment program. ‘I was on heroin,’ she told him, ‘but I haven’t used in the last two weeks.’

Ann’s father had known the magistrate since he was a boy: He and the magistrate’s father had worked together at a local coal mine. Now Ann’s father sat in the back of the courtroom, arms folded in disgust at the state of his daughter. The magistrate listened carefully to Ann, then set the bail at $10,000. The public defender had gently tried to warn Ann that the judge might set a high bail — given her obvious drug problem, given that even previous arrests did not seem to deter her from committing more crimes. But Ann was nevertheless shocked: ‘I’m going to jail?’ she asked, incredulous. Many months down the road, Ann could be referred to treatment court, where her record would be expunged if she underwent a prolonged period of treatment with clean drug tests. But all of that was an abstraction; now she was filled with the immediate fear of the humiliations of jail, the utter loss of control. Tom went to jail, and he was still there, six months later.

She started pleading with the magistrate. ‘I don’t have a chance to do anything at all?’ she asked. The magistrate was now looking down at some papers, ready to move on to the next hearing, but Ann argued on, trying frantically to lay blame elsewhere. She had just put a deposit down on an apartment, she claimed. ‘So I finally have a place to live,’ she shouted, panic rising in her voice. ‘I explained that to my mother, but she doesn’t believe me.’

She put her head in her hands and cried. Ann suddenly looked very small in the courtroom. The magistrate took a small breath, as an officer of the court moved in to cuff her hands. ‘If you want to blame somebody, don’t blame your mom,’ he told Ann. ‘Blame yourself.’

And then, hands shackled, she was escorted toward the courtroom exit. ‘Can I just have my phone?’ she asked. It had all her connections. ‘I just need to be able to call someone,’ she said, ‘someone who could help me.’ ”

Finally, someone has realized that the lies and lines of B.S. have to end somewhere, and the addict gets a trip to jail.

The story ends, as all such stories must, on a hopeful note. But when someone talks about how many days they’ve been “clean,” it’s just a matter of time until they start shooting up again.

After a month in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, Ann was released to a rehabilitation center as a condition of bail; as of May 1, she said she’d been clean for 36 days.”

As for me, well, I’ve been clean for 53 and a half years. My efforts may not be recognized, noticed or appreciated, but at least I’m not in a 6-by-6 cell. It may be my only satisfaction in life, but it’s worth it.


May 14, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I can appreciate your point of view, but your world view on drug addiction is somewhat simplistic. I used to be like that parent that sat in the back of the courtroom passing judgment and thinking how how much better life would be if my child could only just stop doing the drugs, lying and manipulating all concerned to get their “fix”. Until that same child Is dead from an overdose do you really start thinking about all of the reasons why that child became addicted. nothing makes sense nothing seems fair and the only thing you can think about in the end is all the things you could have done or should have done to try and save that child. None of which now includes sitting in back of a courtroom passing judgement.

    Comment by Shelly | July 26, 2014 | Reply

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