Living in Vein: Part 3

Previously: I was in jail in California, suffering withdrawal with chills, sweats, diarrhea, the shakes, all that. I had no way to get heroin and they didn’t give me nothin’; they just throw you in the hole. You know when you get out you will get back to shooting up and go through the same thing all over again. D.C. Marshals accompanied me onto the plane to fly back East. Since it’s against the law to handcuff you on the flight, they told me if I try to run they were going to shoot me in my tracks.
Immediately when I got to the DC jail, I knew so many of the inmates. So I was right back on track.
My cellmate was a short, fat, 20-year-old, whom I’ll call Pat. She was in for murder of an undercover police officer. The way I remember our cell, it was smaller than a small U-Haul truck. Pat slept on the top bunk and I slept on the bottom.
The toilet had a drinking spout out of the top, so essentially we were drinking toilet water. If a person passed gas or used the toilet the other person had to inhale the odor. If the other person had a cold or crabs, you caught it too.
Pat smoked cigarettes and drank coffee all day long. She and I had a pleasant relationship, but it wasn’t like we shared our deepest secrets.
It was easy to get drugs in jail. Visitors would come and slip drugs through the phone. To do that, you would take off the mouthpiece and roll up the heroin package, then stick it in a straw and you blow it through.
People stole syringes from the infirmary. This was the early Seventies when people would share syringes. We didn’t know about AIDS and all that yet. We would wash syringes out with just water, the same as we did on the street. I just thank God that, with all I did, I didn’t come up with AIDS.
Back in jail, we had canteen, music, and food in addition to our drugs of choice; it was just like being in the street.
We would steal cheese and butter from the kitchen. Coffee too. Then we would get a soda can, put water in it, and boil the water over an emptied Kotex box that we lit with a match. We used cotton from a sanitary pad over a cup to hold ground coffee beans and poured the boiling water over all that for a nice hot cup of joe.
We would butter bread and put some cheese on it. Burn a sanitary napkin box under the stool in our cell to make grilled cheese—the bread would turn brown, nice and toasty.
Say someone down the hall wanted a cigarette or a grilled cheese sandwich. You wrap up a grilled cheese sandwich in toilet paper and throw it through the bars. And then the other person would use their royal blue jumpsuit to fish for it and “reel” it in.
The guards knew we did this, but they didn’t care. They just looked the other way. Some were in the “bubble,” the control room, nodding off from having taken drugs themselves.
I took a plea bargain, a guilty plea for passing illegal checks, and they dropped the forgery charge. My sentence was one to three years.
But by the time I went to court I had done one year already, so I was released. During that year I had been sent to a prison in New York and then to one in Florida and then back to Virginia.
I was like 21 years old. In Virginia, I got real sick with serious stomach problems and had to be hospitalized. Between then and now, I’ve had 13 operations on my stomach, including an intestinal bypass. I’ve also had my digestive system rerouted and had my pancreas and my appendix taken out. All these stomach problems resulted from my drug use.
When they cut you and close you up, your organs sometimes stick together. So I also had to have numerous adhesive operations in which the doctors had to go in and pull my organs apart. You could die from blockages if they leave the organs stuck together.
The state of Virginia didn’t want to pay my hospital bills, so they dropped the charges and released me from prison. But I was in the hospital and that’s where I stayed for about another month. The fees were on my head. But I had no money.
So when I came out, I began to sell prescription drugs. I had been going to different doctors, and instead of taking the medications they prescribed, I would sell them on the street. I was also selling syringes and heroin; I ended up being my own best customer.
To be continued . . .

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