Deputy to Inmate: “Go Get High”

[by Jon Fontaine, who has been transferred from prison to the Monroe County jail for a restitution hearing after County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo wronfully denied him one four years ago.]

December 14, 2016

I spent my first six days locked in a dungeon known as “reception;” 23-hour a day lockdown, no TV, no radio, no windows. No nothing – but war stories, jokes, walls and sleep.

Everyone just arriving at the jail had to go through reception.

I was the odd man out, because I’d been locked away in prison the past four years while everyone else was fresh from the street.

Almost everyone in reception was a heroin addict; a “dope head.” I’d only heard about the epidemic. I had no clue about the drug, withdrawal, any of it. The epidemic is apparently so bad the jail now has a “detox” nurse who does nothing but handle addicts who are detoxing.

I could see or call out to roughly 15 other guys. About half were in the processing of detoxing and going through withdrawal. At least 10 of them were full-blown addicts.

I listened to their stories.

Pretty much all of them became addicts after being prescribed opiates for pain.

I listened to a just-turned 20-year-old who committed three burglaries to support his habit. He was excited his dad sent him money so when he’s released this week, he can go to Florida where his dad lives and go into a rehab facility.

I listened to a 26-year-old guy who committed burglaries and car break-ins to support his habit cry on the phone to a loved one about how he wants to get tattoos to cover up his needle marks so he doesn’t feel like shit about himself.

There was an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet, and a second 20-year-old on the far side of the vet. The one thing they all had in common was they were all treated equally as non-humans by the staff.

Any of those addicts who wind up in prison will be equally treated as punching bags and animals to be abused by state prison staff.

Each one of those addicts talked about how desperately they wanted to be done with heroin; how they wanted to be clean and have a normal life.

Withdrawal and detox was step one – something painful and traumatic in general, but easiest to do locked in a cage away from heroin.

A few days into my stay in reception, an older man pushing 60 got moved to the cell directly across from me. He looked like he could be a math teacher, or someone’s grandfather. Turns out, he was an addict.

He looked shocked when I told him I knew nothing about heroin.

To support his habit, he, too, was stealing. He wanted to kick his addiction, he said.

I had a front row seat to his withdrawals, standing at my bars for two days, watching him twist up in sheets, in pain. He’d beg the deputies to see the detox nurse. Their answer was always, “She comes when she comes.”

Yesterday, he kept begging to see the detox nurse. The deputies’ responses were consistently indifferent, and one even got mad that he kept asking to see the nurse.

Finally, after hours of yelling and moaning, a deputy came and opened his gate.

The deputy told him, “Pack up.”

I assumed he was being moved closer to medical services.

The old man moaned and said, “I need to see the detox nurse.”

“You’re being released,” the deputy told him.

”No, I need to see the detox nurse,” the guy pleaded.

“Listen, guy,” said the deputy. “You’re getting out. You don’t have to worry about detoxing. You can go get high.”

The old man sat up in his bed, eyes wide, balled up his bedding and dashed out the gate.

I thought – He got caught stealing so  he could support his addiction. He was half-way through withdrawal. How is he going to afford getting high now? Commit some crimes.

No rehab. No assistance. Just – “Go get high.”

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Also published on Medium.

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