Last week our readers were introduced to Anise, a thirty year old woman who had recently been arrested for heroin possession and was in the process of “being sick” during her withdrawal period.
Miami County Jail Administrator Lt. Dave Norman took me to the minimum security facility located on St Rt 25 A not far from the Job and Family Services building for my second inmate interview. This would be the first time I would be able to interview a male inmate who was convicted of drug possession. His story was very different from the three women I met in the last few months in both Miami and Clark Counties.
As we walked through the electronic doors, the building reminded me of a school. The concrete block walls were all painted the typical public building colors and the area was spotless. I could see a library in the center of a room reminiscent of an elementary building as I walked with Lt Norman to the interview room. A man about 5’7” with a shaved head approached wearing an orange jump suit. I must admit that I did ask Lt Norman if he would be waiting not far away as I had no idea what to expect.
Earl sat down at the table on a stool bolted to the floor. We exchanged pleasantries and started our conversation about how his life had brought him to the Miami County Jail. He explained that he had been arrested for possession of heroin. He was not new to incarceration as he has driven under suspension and been arrested for shoplifting. He was awaiting his sentencing and will be spending 2 years in prison. At age 43 this will be his fifth time as a guest of the Ohio prison system.
As I got to know Earl, we talked about his four children and the fact that they are from four different mothers. I asked him frankly if his “ladies” were also drug users. He was very firm in his statement that they were not users and that he has been able to hold a job and stay clean for long stretches of time. With children ages 24, 18, 17 and 14 he has good reason to stay clean but he explained that he will last about 30 days before he has the desire to use again. Earl like Anise buys his drugs miles from his home in Miami County due to the lower cost in Dayton. He spends about $50 a day on his heroin habit.
Earl grew up in a family with six children in Tennessee. His mother spent most of her time as a single mom because his father was an alcoholic. By the age of 12, Earl was on the road to using alcohol. He also was a juvenile offender and found himself on the wrong side of the law a number of times in his youth.
His introduction to heroin addiction started in about the same way as many users. He was injured on the job and his doctor freely prescribed Oxycodone as pain medication. Once Earl was able to “feel no pain” his addictive nature caused him to find pills on the street when the legal ones ran out. Later as the “pill mills” disappeared, Earl like the others I spoke to moved on to heroin because it was affordable. He admits that he “likes heroin because it numbs all the bad stuff”. Like Anise, Earl is a functioning drug user until he gets caught.
When discussing his life, he explained that he is able to work a regular shift if he has his drugs. He can also participate in family events with his current lady friend who is raising his two grand children age 1 and 4. That could be a family picnic or even an outing to the amusement park. If he doesn’t have his fix of the day, he prefers to stay in bed as the muscle and joint pain begins and the nausea of withdrawal soon follows. Earl kept up his dosage to avoid detection by his lady friend often telling her he had a job some distance from the house and he would be late coming home. She caught on to his drug use when she started checking the credit card bills and saw gasoline purchases in areas of Dayton where he should not have been if he was on the job.
Earl’s lady is raising his grandchildren because their 18 year old mother simply wanted to be a kid herself. Having her first child at age 14 and deciding to raise the child left her unable to enjoy school, friends and most of all some freedom. This was the first time that he had been able to begin to forge a close relationship with one of his children. He admits that one of his sons has no desire to be in contact with him at this time. Earl speculates that this is perhaps because he will be entering college.
As we discussed more of his life, Earl explained that he does better with a structured routine and that is why he believes that when he is in prison, he is able to stay clean and participate as a trustee with a job. We talk about had he not gone off the straight and narrow his application for the military might have been accepted giving him structure and a better life.
When Earl is using, he finds his heroin by visiting areas of Dayton where it is easy to score your “hit” of the day. He explains that it is easy to find someone who recognizes when you are “looking”. He talked about having surgery and while in the hospital his friend came to visit and brought heroin that was injected directly into his IV port. Earl knows his dosage just the way Anise did. He needs 2 caps to “feel well” and 6 caps to get “high”. He has overdosed three times, but like all the others, it doesn’t stop him from going back on the drug after months or years of sobriety.
Earl freely shared how drug users are getting their money even if they are working. It seems that a major retailer found in just about every city in Ohio is losing millions of dollars in merchandise to the drug users. He reported that one of his buddies actually managed to take a television right out the door with the Loss Prevention person standing there.
Theft of small items is common and the drug user is looking for a quick turnaround. Earl reported that he would steal fishing lures and other easy items and then meet a guy who sells at a flea market. DVDs and other small items that are easily acquired and have a resale value are sold for drugs or exchanged for a hit or two.
As we talked about life we found reasons to share a laugh and the comfort of talking about the good things in his life came more easily to Earl. When our interview was coming to a close, I asked about his tattoos that are very prominent. The one on his left arm features a swastika and writing I could not read. He explained that it was a prison gang tattoo that was a symbol of a white supremacy gang. There is also a larger block style swastika on this right temple area and he explains that this is a sign that he is a leader in the gang which keeps other prisoners from “messing” with him. He noted that when he is not in prison the tattoos keep him from finding work at times but they keep him safe during his prison time. Earl also explained that it really won’t matter which prison he is sent to because his name is known to other prisoners due to his affiliation with the gang. What this means for him is an easy entry into the prison system without having to gain status or respect again.
On the inside of his right arm Earl has another tattoo of what looks like a headless dragon. The reason it is now headless is because the deep 4 – 5 inch scare from where he was cut in a knife fight in prison makes the image unrecognizable. Looking at the scare I wonder how he survived with the gash so close to the bend of his elbow where we normally have a blood draw done. Earl also shares the deep pitted scares on his inner elbow area of his left arm where he has shot up his drug of choice.
It was hard not to ask more questions about his life in prison and how he acquired the tattoos. He explained that black chess pieces or checkers are scraped making tiny shavings that are melted on the bottom of a tin can inverted over a flame. Other prisoners use a guitar wire or other makeshift needles to practice the body art of the incarcerated. If not for these markings to identify him to fellow inmates as someone to respect, you wonder if you would even have known he was a repeat offender.
Earl talks about his children and his grandchildren. He shares stories about his talents as a craftsman. It is like talking to a neighbor or a member of your church. He is kind and easy to talk to. But he has this problem that makes him a bad guy who can never really get his life together unless he joins a successful program when he gets out sometime in 2017 or 2018.
As I got ready to go out to meet Lt. Norman, I asked Earl what he would tell someone who was ready to try drugs for the first time. “Don’t try it; you don’t want to be that curious”. He suggests watching the videos on the internet to satisfy curiosity is really enough of an experience.
Earl shared that he tries to educate the 18 and 19 year old “kids” that he meets in jail. They like to talk about how they want to be a drug dealer so that they can be rich. He shares his little speech with me. “How much do you think the average drug dealer gets paid” he asks. My reply is “I have no idea”. He said he tells the kids he meets “eighteen dollars a month, that is what the average pay is in prison”.
In our final article on the heroin reality in Miami County, I will share some of the plans being worked out to help truly determined inmates break the drug use and jail cycle.