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Recovery is hard- It starts with community

Recovery is hard. I’ve said that to people for many years, but the truth is, it’s been very easy for me. I never tried to get clean in the beginning, at least not to my memory. I am what I would like to call Scared Straight.

All it took was for the bars of my cell to slam shut and hear the footsteps of the guard walking away with her keys clanging against her hips. I knew at that very moment I had really fucked up and it would take a miracle to get me out of the mess I had put myself in.

The first week I was in jail was the worst. I had been stripped of all my clothes and given a suicide watch uniform, which is basically a large potato sack with no chords or strings that I could have used to harm myself. I was actively going through the withdrawals from cigarettes and cocaine. I would wake up in the morning and through my dreams I had forgotten where I was. Reaching for my bedside table, feeling through the dark for my cigarettes and the sudden realization that there was no bedside table and there sure as shit weren’t any cigarettes. That was all it took to bring on the floodgates. This was no normal cry. It began as a soft whimper that slowly deepened to a sob and once the tears had dried up the anger began to swell in my chest. I wanted to scream at someone and punch anything in sight, thank God I didn’t, the room was made of cinderblocks.


I spent most of my day laying on the floor talking to God, talking to myself and talking to my grandma. I begged God to give me a second chance and apologized to my grandma for letting her down. I couldn’t imagine the embarrassment my family must have felt. I had been arrested wearing my father's company t-shirt and was on the 6 o'clock news.

Im glad they put me on suicide watch, had they not and I had access to any length of rope I might not be here today. I don’t say that lightly. The first week is demoralizing. The guards treat you like you aren’t even human. They didn’t have to say physical words, their looks said plenty. My cell had a sink and a tiny toilet. Both on the same side about 3ft from the door. I got to take one shower a day. The guard would come to my cell door and a little slot would open that was wide enough for me to stick my hands through. I could hear the guard pulling her cuffs from her belt. They make a particular sound, a sound I will never forget. You have to awkwardly bend and kneel with your hands behind your back, all the while trying to stick your hands through the tiny slot. It’s a strange feeling having someone dictate everything you do. I wanted to tell her she was no better than me, but at that moment I had never felt so less than or important in my life.

Over the years taking a bath has become my safe place. It’s where I would go when I had period cramps or when I was sick, and even if I just wanted some quiet time. Taking a shower in solitary confinement is definitely not a safe place.

The guard walked me around a few halls until we got to a group of tall metal boxes. That’s the only way I can describe them. They were all metal, about 3 ft wide and about 6 ft tall. There was a door that needed a key to open. Once inside she would close the door and the same size slot would open for my hands. After taking my cuffs off she barked at me, “15 minutes.” At first I just stood there in silence. Naked and cold. I thought how the hell did I get here? How had my life gone so completely wrong that I ended up naked, standing inside a metal box that you had to push a button for water to come out. The stream of warm water would last about thirty seconds and you would have to push it again to keep it going.

I spent a little over 30 days in jail and during that time it wasn’t all bad. I believe that most people can get used to any situation they are in. I shared a cell with 8 women. Some were there for drug offenses like me and others were there for some pretty violent crimes. But most of the women had committed their crimes because of drugs. Either they used drugs or they were selling drugs. Most of the women inside don’t have a safe environment to go home to. I was very fortunate to have a family that came to see me and more importantly they cared about me getting clean and changing my life.

Your support system is everything. I don’t know if I would have made it had I not had the love and support from my family.

(My best friend, my sister Joanna)


I got to know the women really well and for most of them they had nothing to go home to. Either they went back to living on the streets or they went home to a man that beats them but claims to love them by giving them drugs. This is the standard for most women in and out of jail. You get to a point in your addiction where you lose all your friends and family.

They call your name over the intercom and tell you to pack your bags, you're being released. You automatically get excited, you’re getting out! You finish signing papers and collecting your belongings and walk out the front doors. The fresh air fills your lungs and the sun warms your skin. You are free. Then reality sets in. Where are you going to go? Who can you call? You’ve burned so many bridges and thrown away all the good people in your life.

It’s this exact scenario that makes relapse so easy. How do we change this? How can we bring resources to those who have nothing? How can we step in and stop the relapse from happening? In county jail there are no programs for people who struggle with substance abuse. When I was in jail, the most I had access to were raunchy romance novels. I bet you can imagine how that went down for the women who'd been in for almost a year.

We don't want to wait until they are shipped off to prison. We have to start at the local level by implementing drug programs, tools and resources to get a job, parenting classes and writing programs. Some have never held a physical job or seen what it's like to have loving and giving parents.



I fell in love with writing and journaling during my drug days. I was hurt and the only safe place to talk about it was in my journal. I want to teach the power of putting pen to paper. Writing has led me here and has played a huge role in my recovery. I believe even if we start with just one program we will begin to see a significant change in the attitude of the people incarcerated. The goal should be to help them and give them tools, so they don't come back. Let's set them up for success. Let's show them we care about their lives and the success of their future.

The goal should be to educate our youth so they never have to experience the inside of a jail cell. It's more than Just Say No To Drugs. It's more than Drugs Are Bad. We have to tell the stories of those who lost their battle to addiction. We have to tell the stories of those who recovered. It's real stories that reach into the hearts of our younger generation. Sometimes it's the stories that are so scary and unbelievable that hit home. No one wants to have an abscess form on their arm because of a dirty needle. Or steal from their parents to buy Crack, like I did. Let's make a plan to stop it before it happens. Let's come together as a community and as a country of people who care for those suffering.

There has been a real pandemic happening for years. COVID-19 can't touch what is happening in the opioid pandemic. There were 96,779 drug overdose deaths reported from March 2020 to March 2021 (ref. Www.Abusestatistics.org). This is only what is reported. How many deaths have occurred that weren't reported? People are dying everyday due to drug overdose. We have got to take this seriously. We have got to start talking to our children about the reality of what they think is fun, and just a one time thing. That one time could be their last time on earth.

I am truly grateful for my life. I have accomplished so much in my recovery. During active addiction I never thought I would be free from its grasp, but here I am nearly 15 years later living my life the way God intended. I believe I went through all of it to get to this very moment in my life. I have a voice and a pen. I will continue to speak out about addiction and I will continue to write, in hopes that the words you read will change your life and the life of those you love.


Shine Bright,

Emily




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