Addict on Fire:

The Blog

  • Ryan

Spiritual Economics Part II

The day I flipped the switch and left the life of an addict.

Upon one of my releases, back in July of 2003, I put myself on a strict marijuana maintenance program to prevent recidivism. Pot and alcohol only! As I once told my mother to try and desensitize her and make her tolerant of my using, “I’m always going to smoke weed and eat mushrooms”. She didn’t fall for it. The bottom line is that I simply could not imagine a life without getting intoxicated in some way.

If you know anything about addiction, you know that eventually we addicts try some haphazard bs to address our problems. We don’t want to get clean, we just want the consequences to go away. On this occasion I put myself on a very strict drug substitution program. You see, particular substances were my problem, not the disease of addiction as a whole. At least so I thought. Hence strict marijuana maintenance for yours truly upon release. Promise.

In jail one of the very few indulgences is commissary, sometimes called storebox because it came to the pod in plastic totes like general merch in a supermarket or drugstore. This is a program, typically run by a third party, in which inmates are able to order stuff. Stuff like toiletries, spicy ramen soups, and the junky’s favorite, the creme brulee of the jailhouse...honey buns. Storebox was our currency, food to fill our belly when the meals were inedible, and one of the very few things to look forward to.

After this particular release, I still had the jailhouse mentality. The jailhouse mentality is

difficult to put into words. I’ll take a crack at it in my DCJ chapter. Suffice it to say that this mentality manifested itself in my refusal to let the government keep the commissary

items that were due to me. They were delivered to my cell after my release, you see. My order had playing cards, potato chips, and shampoo and I was gonna get what was coming to me. Boy was I.

Commissary pickup for released inmates is at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, or as we all called it, TGK. I have no idea who Turner Guilford Knight is nor why he would want a jail named after him. I just wanted my stuff.

At the time I had a car. I didn’t often have one, but on the meandering path of junky life (trademark), you go in and out of housing, car ownership, brief employment, jails and get the idea. The car was an ‘89 Buick Regal I bought for $1,000. As I recall I got the money by surreptitiously contacting the federal government and having them reissue me savings bonds my grandmother had given me when I was a child. My father was withholding them, and for good reason. For the life of me I can’t remember what happened to that car. A good hypothesis is that I sold it for drug money, possibly renting it out to dope dealers along the way.

So I hopped in my car and started driving to TGK. I had only been out a week or so, and of course I was strictly complying with my marijuana maintenance self-mandate. I arrived there and got my items. They were in the same clear plastic bags that I was accustomed to. They did not bring the same excitement as they did on the inside, but this was a matter of principle.

Off I went with my items, Eastbound on NW 36th, a thoroughfare I traveled frequently on foot when I was on the street. My most worn path was between Biscayne Blvd, sometimes called the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and Miami Ave., the Y axis of the Cartesian plane of the Miami streets. I had no plans of using hard drugs that day, marijuana maintenance and all.

All of a sudden it started raining. I’m sure to Earth people it was just a passing shower. To me, it was a reason to get high. You see, cops task forces, or jump out as some were called in Overtown, aren’t going to run sting ops in the rain. They will at least delay them. There is an ever flowing fountain of dope fiends and dealers to arrest and fill the paddywagon, so going into a holding pattern really just means they get different people. Whereas junkies are not bothered by rain, or lightning, or even hurricanes (like one of my Tampa runs) for that matter. At least not when they are an obstacle to the get-high.

All of a sudden, my car just turned itself towards one of the dope hole. This was way before self-driving cars. This was dope fiend technology. Soon enough I arrived at a rooming house I used to live in called the Dred Scott villa, which has long since been torn down. To date nothing has been rebuilt in its perilous place, but I’m sure that hasn’t impacted the drug supply to the area.

The villa was named for Dred Scott, the slave who unsuccessfully sued the federal government for his freedom. You guessed it, unsuccessful liberation from slavery was intentionally the theme behind the name of this house. As the landlord explicitly told me, it was not an accident.

The place had no air conditioning. The wiring wasn’t even capable of carrying enough electric load to run one, or so I was told. Put mildly, this is a significant problem in subtropical Miami. Especially when you are sweating profusely for hours on end, paranoid, listening to freight train whistles in your head after injecting the purest cocaine North of the equator. As you can envision, this house is a bona fide character, a persona, all on its lonesome. I owe you more details on my time living there. Remind me. I forget things.

This day, we sat on the front porch. I set my clear garbage bag of commissary items down on the beat, weathered sofa. Since I had lived off and on in the Dred Scott villa when I was on the street, and had been the loyalest of customers, I was well known. This period of time was one of just a handful in my life that I was trusted enough to get drugs on credit. Man I was so proud of that accomplishment. Fuck a FICO score.

Heroin is sold in lots of different packaging. Sometimes it comes in these folded up square wax paper bags. 10 of them were called a “bundle”. They are often stamped with a brand like “People Killer” or just a yin yang. By way of example, if it was the latter we would call it something like “yin yang bag”. If a certain brand did kill as the one brand promised, people the fiends would travel farther and work harder to get it. Crazy huh?

Using the wax packaging was the more classic approach. I don’t know how far this went back but I think a very long time. Maybe even as far back as William S. Burroughs. I’m not sure. The packaging you got depended on the city you were in or sometimes even the block you were on. Most often, it was in little tiny ziplock bags. Not to be outdone by the classic wax paper, these were colored or had a design to create brand equity also. Rarely it was packaged in little pill capsules, as it was on this day. I had usually seen them clear as they were in West Palm Beach (you guessed it, another chapter), but these were maroon and cream colored, one color on each half.

I got a couple of caps and some crack as a side dish. Nodding out endlessly on opiates can be a bore, especially for an addict always looking for that next hit, regardless of current state. The coke and heroin combo was good to drive an up and down roller coaster to placate the beast, like a baby’s pacifier, inadvisable dab of honey and all.

Since I brought up crack this time instead of the more glamorous cocaine, I should cover the drug based quasi caste system. Somehow drug addicts are self-deceptive enough to establish a social order of drug use. Despite the commonalities that we all begged, bathed infrequently, and slept outside, somehow the caste system was invoked by some, making them higher class derelicts.

For example, people that sniff heroin aren’t as bad as those that shoot it. Then there’s the little used intermediate status of skin popping vs. straight into the vein. Dope shooters somehow place themselves above crack smokers, which seems odd since needles are probably more dangerous. If you watch how crackheads act you can at least see a plausible basis for it. I’ll explain with first hand accounts later.

Among crack smokers there was a thick red line drawn between those who laced joints or hand rolled cigarettes with it and those that hit it on a straight glass stem. The joints were called “dirty’s”. So pronounced was this distinction that even some dealers would smoke dirtys, but would never entertain hitting a stem. As you might have guessed most dealers did not smoke crack or inject heroin. Don’t get high on your own supply and all. They were usually young men out on the corner, living out a cultural grab of fast money. A culture passed down in the neighborhood and celebrated in their music.

I myself understood that all roads lead to the bloodstream. Some methods were just more effective at delivering it there than others. I was not proud. I’d take anything anytime. Even if I didn’t fully know what it was. Even if I really didn’t like how it made me feel. I did moderate my doses because I was afraid to OD, but I wasn’t discriminating regarding what I took or when. I will admit, however, that I sometimes did try to boost my self esteem by internally identifying with the cooler dope shooter group (in our eyes only), since shooting heroin was my drug of choice. It’s weird I know.

Fortunately for me there is a chemical means for breaking down crack and extracting the cocaine so that it can be injected. This was great when powdered cocaine wasn’t around. The approach was to use vinegar or lemon juice. It really didn’t matter which one. Whatever was available worked. Lemon juice could be obtained from the Checker’s walk up window in little packets like ketchup. Vinegar had to be bought in a bottle, which could spill and smell like a street walker. On this basis lemon juice was preferable I guess.

A good old fashioned Belushi (speedball) was on the menu on this hot July day. With only crack available I used the vinegar method. Sometimes in a house or shooting gallery materials like vinegar would be around, left like a give one, take one penny by some ‘pay it forward’ predecessor.

I walked down the long hall, passed all the doors to the individual rooms, some open, some closed. I hastily sped across the tattered outdoor carpet with years of dirt ground into its fibers. It wasn’t uncommon to use brooms to sweep carpet in these environs, which, although it makes a surprisingly noticeable impact, leads to a much dirtier carpet over time. This carpet hadn’t been swept or vacuumed in some time.

I arrived at the single bathroom that was shared by maybe 6-8 rooms at the end of the hall. The bathroom had a huge freestanding tub popular in the decor of 60 years ago. I went inside and latched the door behind me. The latch was the kind found on Southern screen doors. A little hook and receiving eye like the one my grandmother used to have. Mostly this was for a false sense of security. Even a child could make light work of it with a swift kick, let alone the police or some ill intentioned sicko. From the looks of the door frame, this had happened more than once already.

Mentally, yet falsely, secure, I performed the ritual, which I will not describe here. I simply do not want to delve into that right now. I know that to give you the whole picture, I will eventually have to, but for now I leave it for another day. I’m not ready.

I walked out in zombie mode. There was a noticeable difference in me after shooting drugs, especially in the eyes. It was a look that would sometimes compel gas station attendants to call the cops when I made the walk from their restroom to the exit.

I walked outside. I stood in front of 222 NW 17th Street, Overtown, AKA the Dred Scott Villa. I stood by a couple of parked cars on the sidewalk. It had gotten dark since I had arrived. I continued to feel that fatally attractive euphoria pulse through my bloodstream and nervous system. The feeling was especially good when I hadn’t used for a while, which was the case. Remember, I had recently been released from DCJ, and was devotedly following my marijuana maintenance program. Occasionally, after the ritual, I would reflect upon this feeling just as it took effect and, after it’s not so gentle prodding, be reminded, “oh yeah, this is why you do all this”.

But this night was different. It was prodding me, but not in justification. This time I had a single, resounding thought: “you are going to prison”. For those of you who may not know, state prison, where people do sentences of more than 365 days, is a lot different than county jail. The time is longer, harder, and more violent. I had gotten a taste of this kind of time in DCJ. Shanks. People getting sliced and stabbed in the face and arms. I had to fight frequently. Shit, on one occasion I found myself continually slipping and sliding on the blood of my opponent, being lifted up over and over by various members of a circle that had formed around us. Then going to sleep in the same room with no guard. It was intense.

It wasn’t just the certainty that I was destined to prison that had me thinking differently on this pivotal evening. Staying out of prison was but a single poker chip, one of the few I had not yet lost gambling with my disease. Every consequence, every cost, well beyond money, all were poker chips I gambled away daily. Time and again placing my bet. Always drawing a losing hand. Sometime’s a dead man’s. Losing my life, chip by chip.

The cost had gotten too high. I was no longer willing to pay the price of fueling my addiction. The highs were the same. Weaker, in fact, than when I’d started 10 years earlier. But the price had gone sky high a long time ago, and continued its upward march of destruction to that very day. On that street, that night, the spiritual economics of my disease became clear to me.

I got home and slept it off. I was renting a room inside someone’s house. The next morning I woke up and called the helpline of a 12-step fellowship. She sent me to a meeting. She sent me a sponsor, her boyfriend that had several years clean. That night in Overtown was to be my last. To this day, all these years later, I have never used any mind or mood altering substance again, including alcohol. I had risen up. I would yet overcome. I would, amazingly, some would say miraculously, go on to live a life I love.