On my fifth day of prison, I hear my bunk number announced over the loudspeaker. I’m informed someone’s here to see me, and told to change into my blues and head to the control center. My mind races with guesses of who my visitors were, making me nearly giddy with anticipation.
My stomach plummets when my unexpected guests introduce themselves as Ann Arbor detectives conducting an investigation of a friend’s death. They show me texts from a phone listed as my contact number for probation, and pepper me with questions. Apparently, he overdosed, and our conversation from that day references drugs.
Ahhh fuck, I groan silently, as shit comes rushing back to me.
I don’t really say much in response to their million questions, only that “I guess I sent them,” alluding to the texts. I get the nascent feeling that I’m completely fucked, so I just ask what’s gonna happen next. The detective responds that it’s up to the prosecutor to pursue the charge of “delivery causing death.”
For two and half sleepless months, I wonder if I’m gonna get hit with this charge, and constantly rehearsing all the available evidence in my head, but decide to keep the problem to myself since nothing was official yet. I attend church and pray to God, making deals with Him that this charge won’t be brought up or come with a ton of time.
I finally told my family when I received a notification of an official warrant and was arraigned within a few weeks. At least, the angst of not knowing dissipated, and we hired a lawyer. Things started to improve from there.
But first, I need to confess how horrible I felt about what happened and my role in it, which I didnt connect to myself until the detectives, but at the same time, I didn’t feel 17 years bad. Overdose deaths happen all the time; after all, it’s an epidemic in this country. But for it to have happened to me, to be on this side of the equation as a user, just seemed to be more than just cruel luck, but a stroke of fate, as I recall the impossible cirumstances leading up to it.
Venting my troubles to a friend, asking rhetorically how a survivor of the same act can be held responsible for the death of the other, and he jokes, “Damn, how’d he get so lucky?” The fucked up thing is that I felt like that sometimes, the immensity of it was so overwhelming, that I wished our roles were reversed. A painless death seemed like a better fate than life imprisonment.
I worried that the prosecutor and judge would view me as some kingpin, which was laughably inaccurate. Sure, I sold pills in the past, and got coke for friends on certain occasions, but that was the extent of it. There’s a quote from Gene Wolfe’s “The Book of the New Sun”, which the narrator repeats, and it goes something like, “You always become what you pretend to be”, and I adopted the mantra as my own.
As the months elapsed, and the discovery was made available, my lawyer believed he could get the charge dismissed due to a lack of evidence, buoying my hopes.
But that hope was short-lived, as the effort ultimately proved unsuccessful; I was disconsolate for a brief period afterwards, as I slowly absorbed the idea that, yes, I was gonna have to do some time on this charge. I stopped going to church as abruptly as I had resumed. (Plus, it bothered me the service was almost exclusively attended by chomos, who need to point to their conversion when facing parole board. But in prison, you’re lumped in with the people you’re surrounded by.) I unfairly lashed out at friends and family, who nevertheless handled my outbursts with compassion. But I eventually regained my courage. Alright, game time, let’s let the lawyers negotiate. After all, this is what he got the big bucks for.
I had heard of and met a few prisoners with this same charge who got 5-7 years, so I hoped the opening deal was at or just a bit above 10 years, so we could negotiate our way down to 5 and below.
But when the first deal came back at 17 years, I couldnt catch my breath from the body blow. That’s a lifetime! It slowly became clear the parents were (understandably) out for blood, and in these cases, their input was critical to deciding the final sentence (e.g. with their support, I could get one year). I knew this was gonna be an ugly battle.
I was split between recognizing, and mourning, his premature, unfair death and defending myself…it’s not like I loaded and then injected him with a needle. My actual actions deserved a handful of years at worst. If I had been driving drunk and crashed into and killed him, I would’ve faced a less severe sentence; those offenders routinely got 6 or 7 and I knew someone who got a measly 2. Moreover, bars and liquor stores that sold the booze to someone who died in a drunk driving accident were not held criminally liable for serving the victim.
The many degrees of separation between us were not distant enough to avoid criminal responsibility. (Our laws are fucked up like that; in response to the opioid epidemic, prosecutors have aggressively pursued these drug-induced homicide cases more often than they used to, and since 2014, the 50% increase in charges have all been against fellow users rather than actual dealers, you know, the types of guys with a trail of bodies in their wake from cutting their dope with fentanyl.)
We tried to get the feds to pick up the case in exchange for cooperation. I know what youre thinking but at this point, was it really telling if the guy I was telling on was the dealer who had already cooperated with police to set me up on the case leading to my present incarceration? I thought not, obviously, and figured any rules about not being a snitch no longer applied after he told on me (and went to extraordinary lengths to do so).
As their investigation unfolded, it slowly became clear that same guy had been cooperating with a few local police departments in exchange for practical immunity, as they just overlooked his many transgressions, despite being the type to transport a key of fent. Police do shit like this all the time and then wonder why people hate them. Since it depended on the U.S. attorney’s office to pick up the case, and they work notoriously slow, it eventually became clear this option would not avail itself in time.
As trial neared, my hope for the prosecutor to play ball proved futile, as he begrudged us a 15 year agreement. That was terrible. Going to trial seemed inevitable, and then, in case I was found guilty, hope the judge stayed at the bottom range of the guidelines, which would’ve been 10 years at best.
Then I met with my lawyer, and we devised a plan, but it was a long shot. Since she had previously sentenced someone to a year in addition to drug court, and another to 5, we hoped that if I pled guilty without an agreement, what’s known as a blind plea, and throw myself at the mercy of the court, there was no reason she wouldn’t give me a sentence around 5 years. In lieu of a Cobb’s agreement, my lawyer thought she would go lower if I had a chance to explain my side, and she had the time to review all the facts in front of her, instead of a two minute argument in the middle of court.
So I went about writing my version of events to her, which coincidentally, was the only true account of what happened. I was dissatisfied with my first attempts but then the coronavirus broke out and my court date was postponed indefinitely.
After a two month hiatus, court resumed, albeit, without my knowledge. I randomly got a callout for court in the control center, and my pretrial was held over video and broadcasted on YouTube after a one week postponement. I quietly pled guilty.
I took another look at my previous efforts at my letter. I had written term papers before where, if I had not got an A, I wouldve received a terrible grade. So much more was riding on this; this was literally my life on the line. The pressure narrowed my focus– I hammered it out over two days. I included as much as I felt was necessary to convey the true story. Here is what I submitted:
Letter to Judge:
When I look back on my life up to this exact moment, it plays like an obviously embellished, cautionary tale told by an overzealous D.A.R.E. officer to scare impressionable tweens from ever doing, or thinking about doing, drugs. Tragically, it’s all too true and very real: I’m an almost 30 year old University of Michigan grad who’s life has been derailed by drug abuse problems and will be decided by a tragedy I had limited control over.
I can’t emphasize enough how much my heart breaks when I think of Jeff’s premature passing–which I do, every day. What makes this so much worse is knowing what a great person he was: intelligent, competitive, a good friend. I don’t know, and hopefully never will, how this terrible tragedy must feel for Jeff’s family. I can only extend my most heartfelt sympathy and compassion; I hope it’s not seen as an empty gesture. Moreover, for the same reason, I try to imagine, if the situation were reversed (as it very well could’ve been, as you’ll see) how easy and tempting it would be to assume the very worst of whomever provided the drugs causing my brother’s fatal overdose. However, the reality of what transpired on April 15, 2018, is much more complicated than the basic facts would suggest, requiring a broader context of our relationship as well as a knowledge of the dynamic of our relationship. I was just another drug user helping out a friend, who also did drugs, and I thought, from one user to the next, I was being as responsible as I possibly could. But as anyone doing heroin knows, doing the drug is like playing a Russian Roulette. Let me explain:
For the most part, I’ve adhered to the golden rule of treating others as I would like to be treated; the best intentions and a general benevolence towards everyone guided my behavior. Despite these principles (or maybe because of them), I’ve spent the past two years in prison, and face the possibility of spending many more within the DOC. My rap sheet reads like an aspiring El Chapo, but I’ve never considered myself a drug dealer, and all of my closest friends find that characterization laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Jeff would probably disagree with that label. Hell, the detective handling this case even related to me his surprise at finding out I was incarcerated for a delivery/manufacture charge, and said that he knew I wasn’t a drug dealer. 99% of the time, if my residence had ever been raided, the only time and place the authorities would’ve found drugs would be the incredibly brief interval between buying the dope and doing it, on a plate or mirror, as it was chopped up and prepped for ingestion. It’s difficult to overstate how anomalous the series of events were leading up to my current predicament–the flukey result of unlikely occurrences and impossible situations recurring and stacking up to form an even more unlikely scenario.
I never really experimented with drugs until I started college. In fact, before then I was adamantly against their use and was never really tempted to try them. My freshman year at U of M started in the semester of fall ’09, but it also commenced my decade under the influence. Like many college students, I binge drank on the weekends, but this soon encroached on the rest of the week. Later, I tried pot and loved it. I set stricter limits to my pot smoking, but they were just as easily transgressed. It progressed from only-on-the-weekends to only-after-work-and-school to maybe-before-this-class to as-soon-as-I-wake-up. However, as a pothead I was still capable of handling my demanding schedule over the next year and a half. During this time, I infrequently used adderall and xanax, experimented with hallucinogens, and snorted cocaine on special occasions. My drinking, at least, declined. Regardless, I worked two jobs and maintained a GPA above 3.5. Everything was copacetic.
However, somewhere along the way I lost myself. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but I know at some point I couldn’t function, or believed I couldn’t, without drugs. Initially, I had utilized drugs, particularly adderall, as tools to aid my academic endeavors, a means to an end. But the means soon became the end themselves. My grades suffered. I developed a crippling dependence on benzos; I couldn’t handle the least taxing responsibilities or the most mundane socializing without a xanax. My grades suffered. I lost a job. I had my first bit of legal trouble after damaging some random cars; I was wasted on a cocktail of xanax, cocaine, and whiskey so I have zero memory of doing so or what had enraged me in the first place. I eked by the semester, and the following term I cut back to one class and instead worked full-time to pay my court costs and probation fees. That didn’t last long. I constantly violated probation, ending up with an alcohol tether.
I OD’ed that spring from a mixture of prescription meds, and as a result, dropped out of school and moved back in with my parents. I went to my first, and only, stint in rehab, spending two weeks at Brighton Hospital. It kinda worked…I guess. I strung together a decent chunk of sobriety, only to relapse during the brief interval between drug tests, when I would calculate the next feasible time I could be dropped. Even so, my “sobriety” over the next year was erratic, forced, and incredibly reluctant. It took some time to overcome my overwhelming listlessness, having zero motivation to do anything. I worked a variety of jobs over the next two years, and paid off some student loans. I caught a charge for disorderly conduct. Probation kept me from going off the rails, mitigating my drug use. I felt like I had come a long way so I re enrolled part time
I earned pretty good grades that first year back, and made an honest effort to get off benzos after the fall term. I became conscious of how much drugs had set me back, being the oldest students in every class. A doctor weaned me off so the withdrawals weren’t as severe. That summer, I was in the best position I had been in years, scheduled to graduate in the fall. Plus, I wasn’t actively addicted to anything.
Unfortunately, the pressure to graduate and start a career got to me, and I resumed using benzos and adderall. I tossed in painkillers for good measure. I tried heroin. Predictably, when finals came around I couldn’t get my hands on any of these drugs that made it possible for me to relax, and focus enough to complete my schoolwork. I didn’t even bother writing the final papers for two classes. I felt defeated, like I wouldn’t ever gradute, not because I wasn’t intelligent enough, but because of my personal failings. I took another semester off, moved out to Ann Arbor (again), and then signed up for a lighter class load, determined to graduate.
This was around the time I met Jeff. As t happened, we were both getting xanax from the same source. But it wasn’t until I became good friends with his roommate Max that I had the chance to know Jeff. I spent a lot of time over their apartment, watching sports (sometimes betting on them) and playing video games. Jeff and I weren’t as hardcore gamers as the rest of them were, so I often found myself hanging out with Jeff in the living room as the others were glued to their computer screens. What cemented our friendship was an incident with another person who lived in the building. He was always over their apartment, gambling online. He showed some skill, and won some large sums a couple times. Seeing that, Jeff let Tyler, as he was called, to gamble a predetermined amount on Jeff’s account and they’d split the winnings. Tyler won a big chunk and then lost it all on a complicated-c parley. Jeff had lacrosse or something at this point, so he had to leave. However, he was still logged on, and Tyler, who was, as it became more and more obvious, a gambling addict, proceeded to place a few more bets. He lost a hundred, then two, won a little back, lost some more. At this point, he was about to place another bet when I intervened. I didn’t know what kind of agreement they had and I was only vaguely aware that he was using Jeff’s account, but I thought it inappropriate that he was gambling with Jeff’s money when he wasn’t present. Additionally, his bets were increasingly risky, with larger sums, in an effort to recoup prior losses. I took the laptop away, told Max to wait for Jeff to return, and left.
As it turned out, Tyler had lost like a $1000 of Jeff’s money, and all those bets were placed without Jeff’s permission. Tyler placated Jeff’s wrath with promises of paying him back soon. When those were revealed to be lies, and Tyler was otherwise blasé about the situation, Jeff texted me for advice. I was surprised at first but I think he did for two reasons. First, I was the only one to step in as it was happening. Secondly, I think Jeff looked up to me in some way–not out of admiration, but because I was older by 4-5 years with a wealth of “life experience”. I told him that with a person like Tyler, you actually have to frighten for anything to happen. He was the reason bookies resorted to violence, because nothing else registered with this type of person. Soon, after many futile attempts to address Tyler to redress the wrong, Jeff put Tyler in a headlock, and immediately, he started wailing like a child. Jeff released him, and Tyler was now visibly scared but willing to come up with a solution, right then. The problem was, no acceptable solution presented itself, nor ever would.
As we later found out, Tyler had burned so many bridges for this same reason; everyone in his life were direct victims of his out of control gambling, his parents included. Jeff was grateful for my advice, which saved him from months of frustration. I know that we’re supposed to pooh-pooh physical aggression nowadays, but on some primal level, I couldn’t help but admire his willingness to escalate the situation that way. We were now, without a doubt, friends.
I was still doing xanax and adderall, but I was now seeking out painkillers like vicodin and oxycotton. Previously, I only took them if they randomly came across my path. I was mostly doing them with my friend Omar, who previously had an issue with heroin. In the drug world, it doesn’t take long for you to find what you’re looking for, and once you do, you’re offered a slew of things just like it. At first I just wanted vicodins and perocets. Soon, I could procure opanas or dilaudids, which were much, much stronger. If I wanted, I could purchase heroin, and I did two or three times. The problem with pills is that their supply depends on, firstly, a doctor to writing a prescription and secondly, a pharmacy filling it. Therefore, their availability ebbed and flowed with the time of the month, until it could be refilled. However, heroin never faces a shortage, as long as you had the right dealers. Even so, I confined my use to the pharmaceuticals except for those few exceptions.
I did reasonably well that fall term, and entered my final semester before graduation. One time, hanging out at their apartment again, I told Max how I had bought and consumed some oxycottons earlier that night. Jeff overheard and asked if I could get anymore. I couldn’t, but we got to talking about drugs. He told me to let him know whenever I could I get any opiates, and said he could sometimes get vicodins. Previously, we had only smoked weed and done xanax together. A handful of times, he gave me a bar (a 2mg xanax pill) or I gave him one when either of us were going without, miserably anxious from the withdrawals.
Not long after, he texted me about the same thing, and offered to drive anywhere if it was necessary. I needed to get some adderall so I could effectively cram for class, but I could only find it from someone in Detroit. I had no ride. The same guy also had norcos (another hydrocodone pill), so Jeff picked me up and we headed to Detroit. We spent most of the hour long drive from Ann Arbor engrossed in coversation. Jeff mentioned how he didn’t want people to know he was using painkillers, a subtle way of asking not to talk about our business. He dropped me off right away once we got back to campus. This established the precedent for the rest of our relationship: meet up, drive to the dealer, buy drugs, get high, and split up. If we hung out at all before or after these missions, it was at my studio apartment.
We were doing this semi-regularly until the end of the school year. A month or so before finals, it suddenly became much harder to find those pills. This was around when the government started cracking down on the number of opiate prescriptions. At Omar’s prodding, I did heroin a few more times. Once, Jeff came over while Omar was already over at my place. Omar pulled out some dope, cut up a few lines, and offered one to each of us. I hemmed and hawed for appearances, even though I knew I would do it, but Jeff didn’t skip a beat. I followed suit. We sat around listening to music and bullshitting, intermittently nodding off for a beat and then awaking with a spasm just as suddenly. This memory is particularly painful, because Omar also passed away from a drug overdose 18 months later. That’s one aspect of heroin no one warns you about–do it with others for any length of time and ghosts are going to populate your memories.
And for the next couple months, heroin slowly replaced percocets as a weekly or bi-weekly indulgence. I wasn’t yet addicted, but it wouldn’t be long at this pace. Either Jeff would drive us to link up with the dealer, or we would wait for him at my apartment. Mostly, we stuck to insufflation as the method of ingestion, but there were a few times when we smoked it off tinfoil. For awhile, dope was our little secret. Almost always, we split and paid for the drugs equally. “Dealer” was applicable to either of us in relation to the other, though both of us sometimes shared with the other if he ran out in between pickups.
We both graduated that spring. Things continued as they were, Jeff and I still getting high together for as long as he remained in Ann Arbor. I knew he was preparing for med school, but I didn’t really know what I was going to do. For the longest I imagined my life would suddenly improve once I had graduated but that didn’t happen. Instead, my drug addiction steadily worsened, now without a long-term goal to work towards. Around this time that I (and then Jeff) met Bigs. He was the second “professional” dealer I had ever known. Before, I could only score dope through a middleman for marked up prices. But Bigs was the plug. He always had sacks of heroin and coke/crack; carried a gun; and paid rent and bought nice cars with the money he made from hustling. When he asked for it, I gave Jeff Bigs’ phone number so Jeff could contact him without me. I bring up Bigs not to shift blame, but because I can’t tell my story without him, whose outsized influence determined the trajectory of my life.
I moved in with a couple of Jeff’s roommates from the year before, and got a job at a restaurant downtown to support myself until I figured out what to do with my life. But now that I knew a dealer who would deliver the heroin, it became an almost daily thing. I saw less of Jeff since he had moved back home, but one day Bigs called me to yell furiously about how he would no longer deal with Jeff directly because of how explicit his text messages were; from then on, he had to go through me to deal with Bigs. So, usually whenever there was a Michigan football game on the weekend, I’d met up with Jeff, and mediate his deal with Bigs
I overdosed a few times, but those experiences did nothing to deter me from using. Usually, they were because I mixed drugs or, having done a little bit, did a significant bit more, which would just be enough. With heroin the line between a safe, super euphoric high and an overdose is slim. I was again put on probation for stupidly writing a bad check for $60. I only did it because I needed money for dope and felt like shit. Knowing I had to drug test soon, I devised a plan to keep using and stay out of jail. I planned to quit and then use right after dropping, but I even failed the first test after 5 clean days. Violations for dirty drops were served with stricter stipulations, like testing twice a week. But since I had already progressed to injecting a few weeks before, I believed I couldn’t stop. I kept failing and figured I’d have to go to rehab soon, but could end up in jail for a few weeks.
Then, after overdosing at my parents’ place one night, I abruptly quit. I used a few suboxen strips to ease the withdrawals. I became cognizant of how totally heroin had hijacked and nearly destroyed my life. Jeff texted me during this period, but I told him how I had quit “dogfood”. I was still drinking and doing coke way too much. However, for me, that was a welcome improvement. I tried to steadily rebuild my life into something worth waking up to everyday. The idea of taking the GRE and attending grad school solidified into a real goal for the near future. I reached out to friends I had neglected for the last 6 months. I started dating a good friend. I partied too much, but at least I was forging connections as a part of my high instead of nodding off alone in the dark.
I tried to distance myself from Bigs, but he was always stopping by to serve my roommates and other randos downtown. I was turned off most by his impulse for violence over something as petty as $20, which became more apparent.
I had only heard Bigs boast of how he assailed someone over money, but only when I saw it happen to another and then to myself that I realized he was dangerous. I owed him something like $50, and agreed to repay him on a specific date, but as it happened, I overdosed that same day on drugs he had sold me. When I was released from the hospital, he averred that I owed him $30 for every day I was late, even though I had the fifty. I thought he was joking. And when I didn’t pay him, he literally barged into my house and assaulted me in the middle of a small party, and then tried to act like I was in the wrong for provoking him to be the bad guy in front of everyone. I was humiliated and frightened; I decided if fighting back would just exacerbate the situation.
I wasn’t making much money at the time, so I never had the extra cash to pay off everything I owed Bigs at once. Then he’d tax what was originally a tax, and come over every few days solely for this type of extortion. It was pretty terrifying for a huge ex-con to randomly stop over, not knowing if he was in a violent rage or sociably cool. One of the few times he was in a good mood, he wanted to hang out and drink a few beers, but I was irritated that he had just had someone come to my house to purchase drugs from him. A young British guy, he asked Bigs during the transaction if this was heroin or fentanyl “not that he cared”. Bigs promised that it was pure heroin, assuring him that he tested everything he sold. For so many reasons I didn’t want to be around Bigs, so I made up an excuse to leave, but only left after making sure he had left too. He had an irksome habit of lingering. I grabbed a coffee around the corner, and came back to find an out-of-place zippered case. I opened it to find an eightball of coke and even larger sum of heroin. Half-expecting Bigs to come back or contact me in a panic about losing his drugs, I hid the heroin, or what I thought was heroin, in the back of my closet. I did the coke with a friend. Obviously, I had no intention of returning any of it to Bigs. I figured I could find someone to give the dope to and finally pay Bigs back once and for all.
So for a week, the heroin sat there in my closet, untouched and unused. I had quit it months before, and never wanted to go through that hell again, but in moments of boredom my mind gravitated to the free drugs I had ready at hand. Finally, I succumbed to the temptation, and was pleasantly surprised to find it very potent. Dark brown like heroin and tasting like heroin, I concluded that Bigs told the truth– this was nearly pure heroin. I spent a few days snorting lines all day and night, which caused a fight with my new girlfriend. She was furious that I was obviously under heroin’s influence after nodding out repeatedly while we hung out. The addict within precluded me from flushing the remainder down the toilet, but made me doubly eager to get rid of what was left.
So when Jeff texted me on April 15, 2018, asking about xanax, which I didn’t have, and then about “anything else”, I thought it a fortuitous coincidence. From our history of doing opiates, I knew what he was hinting at. Although never mentioned by name, Bigs’ presence pervaded our conversation. He’s “my boy” that shorted Jeff the last time, and I referred to him as “my friend” later on. Jeff knew Bigs was my source, but was delighted to find out that I already had it on me, saving him a drive. I split up what I had left, and met Jeff across the street. I hopped into his car, gave him his portion, and busted out my own baggie to make up a small line. I asked if he wanted one but he declined. We made idle conversation about what had been going on in each other’s lives since it had been awhile since we saw each other last. Before I did my line, I pointed to it, and told him he should do lines that size, if not smaller. I reiterated how strong the dope was, how it was some of “the best shit I’ve ever had.” I had only shared a little bit with one other friend before this, and I watched her inject it to ensure she did not do too much (and to be there if she did). His acknowledgment of my warnings seemed more perfunctory than genuinely understood. I could tell he was eager to take off. He thanked me again with a sincere grin and barely concealed giddiness.
When he texted me later about its potency, I was slightly dismayed. I said it was heroin only because that’s what I had been told (well, technically, had heard), and there was no or grayish hue. This was dark brown. Distinguishing between them is like telling the difference between an 80 proof whiskey and a 100 proof one-you really won’t know until you’ve already done too much. (In retrospect, I think many of the times I thought I was doing heroin it was actually fentanyl. This would have skewed my perception.)
Jeff knew of my history of overdoses (and my use of different methods of ingestion), so in my mind, asking if one could overdose from just snorting heroin was another way of asking if I had overdosed from sniffing it. Nearly all of my overdoses happened from snorting the drug versus smoking or shooting it. Again, I advised him to be safe, and to exercise extra caution. The subtext of these admonitions was do a lot less than you would have in the past, especially with no tolerance. I don’t think I had ever warned him before to be careful because of how strong it was, which I thought should give him pause. Personally, I proceeded with a new batch under the assumption it was fentanyl or super pure heroin; only after doing a tiny bump to gauge its strength would I revert to normal-sized doses. I hoped he took similar precautions. Regardless, I was not alarmed enough to think he would not be okay by the following morning.
As it happens, I ended up overdosing on the same stuff that exact same week, so I didn’t hear about Jeff until later. One of roommates who also lived with Jeff the year before told me the horrible news. Since no one knew for sure, we were left to speculate. That same roommate suggested that it was probably an overdose from mixing opiates with benzos. I had no idea, partly because my own overdose blurred the timeline of events. I only survived because I fell out around friends, who dropped me off on the porch of U of M’s hospital. It wasn’t until the detectives saw me last November that I definitively knew Jeff’s cause of death.
But that was the last time I ever did heroin, to this day. I never did make enough money to pay Bigs off, who, in the spring of ’18, frequently brought up how his friend wanted coke and xannies, and by supplying him, make some extra money and pay Bigs off. I rejected the idea repeatedly. Regardless, I couldn’t find any xanax, and since Bigs was supplying the coke, the pretext for my involvement was not applicable. After a month of rebuffs, Bigs waited for me at my house one day, asserting how serious it was that we meet up with his friend. We arranged to meet at a bar, and Bigs handed me a gram of coke in the parking lot before heading in. He told me to handle the deal alone.
On the drive back, Bigs tried to persuade me to see how beneficial an arrangement like this would be, mentioning how this guy wanted large quantities. So when he contacted me the following week, asking for two ounces of coke, I was a little dismayed but half-expected it. I didn’t have a speck of coke, and no money to get any, so I wasn’t really interested. That is, until Bigs came over in a rage and literally stomped on my chest as I was sitting on the floor. He threatened “serious consequences” if I didn’t have the rest of his money that night; I felt like things had already escalated way too far. But when I mentioned how his friend had hit me up for two ounces, he morphed into a helpful friend, and assured to front me two ounces for the deal. I didn’t even really care about making any money, I just wanted to put an end to Bigs’ claims that I owed him money and have some drugs for myself. That night, as he handed me a softball size bag of coke (I had never seen so much dope before), he swore that if I didn’t return back with the money, even if I still had the drugs, he would knock on my parent’s door and collect from them.
In hindsight, the fact that his “friend” was an undercover the whole time, and Bigs the confidential informant, was predictable. There were so many warning signs, but I was too coked out to notice. This incident lead to my current incarceration. I wasn’t a dealer so I had no idea about the 50 gram laws. My old roommates and even the D.E.A. can confirm most of what I’ve related here.
Just so it’s clear, I want to reiterate that I’m only in prison right now because my dealer was working with the cops and supplied me with the drugs to sell to the undercover, which I only did after a barrage of threats. The dope I gave Jeff literally fell into my lap (and came from the same source), and I overdosed off of it as well. I’m lucky to be alive, but unlucky in every other way. I feel like I’m a victim to the same forces just Jeff was. My addiction to heroin didn’t even last a year, but its consequences may consume my life.
My present situation is so surreal that I get dizzy if I dwell on it too long; two and a half years ago, I couldn’t even imagine this within the the realm of possibility. What I really needed then (and now)was inpatient rehab, not incarceration. I went from never having done a day in county jail to facing a half of a lifetime in prison. The worst part is that in both these cases, I genuinely felt like I was helping someone out. Hell, Jeff believed I did him a favor at the time. At its very core, this was a total accident. No one did anything against their will. I had limited control over what eventually transpired.
I’m left with a thousand regrets: I wish I never found those drugs. I wish I never met Bigs. Sometimes I wish it was me instead of him. Finally, I wish I never started doing drugs, or at least, I wish I never picked up heroin.
I understand the seriousness of the matter, which I’m not downplaying. The fact that Jeff had a bright future and long life ahead of him makes it acutely devastating. However, justice can’t be based on how grievously a victim is mourned. Giving me a lighter sentence does not detract from the tragedy of Jeff’s premature end. I don’t think the two–my punishment and honoring Jeff’s memory–are directly correlated.
I personally know of habitual offenders and big time dealers receiving 4-7 years for the same charge. Considering my extenuating circumstances, I deserve that kind of sentence instead of a penalty meted out for second degree murder convictions. My incarceration has had zero effect on the distribution of drugs simply because I was just a consumer. Additionally, all my legal troubles stemmed from addiction; no motive more sinister than what’s essentially a health issue decided my behavior.
Since coming to prison, I got clean for the first time in my adult life. Like an evil spell being lifted, I can again build healthy habits and make ambitious plans. I’ve realized I have so much to offer the world. After all, I graduated just a year prior to prison so I never had much chance to utilize my degree. I plead with the court that I’m given a chance to rejoin society while I’m still in my 30s. My actions, as I’ve explained here, clearly don’t merit a harsh sentence; if anything, they warrant considerable leniency. I did something thousands of addicts do every day without a second thought, acting without a shred of malice. I wish more than anything Jeff was still with us. Yet, our roles could have just as easily been reversed, or I passed away as well. Would that have been justice?
My interview with the probation agent for the presentence investigation, or PSI, which was a description of the crime, my history, and a sentence recommendation, went swimmingly. Although sympathetic, she asked for 10 years, which was near the low end of the guidelines.
So, on the day of sentencing, I was nervous as hell as my life hung in the balance. I knew the prosecutor would be asking for a lot of time, but also knew that 10 year recommendation held much more weight. I was fully prepared for receiving that, but hoped my letter and the dozen or so character witness statements on my behalf would sway her towards leniency. Clearly, we argued, I didn’t deserve a harsh sentence, fuck what the guidelines say.
The parents gave heart-rending statements, especially the mom, and I became poignantly aware of the indelible consequences on other people’s lives from what happened. However, you could tell they were naive, and had no knowledge of the severity of their son’s drug use. In some ways, I knew him better than they did. My own parents knew where they were coming from; at first, they wanted to believe it was everyone else’s fault but my own.
Next, my lawyer spoke and made a lot of the points I couldn’t make without seeming heartless and remoreless…such as, it was his decision, he had multiple drugs in his system, I overdosed as well, etc. He finished by asking for 5 and below. Then I made my statement, rehashing much of what was said in the letter, and asked for forgiveness.
Finally, the judge spoke. She mentioned my letter and asked the prosecutor if he had read it, which he had, and if he gave a copy to the parents, which he hadnt. It was a scum bag move. The judge, obviously chagrined at his (strategic) negligence, recommended that the parents read it to glean some answers about what had happened, and learn how this came about, and thereby, start coming to peace with it.
She declared that neither party would be happy with her decision, and gave her judgment: 8 years with time credit. That left me with six. I audibly sighed with relief, as I had wholeheartedly thought 10 (and briefly, after the victims’ testimony, more than that) and had believed anything below that would be a long shot. It was literally on threshold of what I deemed acceptable. Actually, my lawyer was upset, because he thought she should have given me 5. And he’s right, she should have, but I wouldnt press the issue in appeals.
There were a few reasons for that number. Not wanting to look like she was picking sides, I listed 4-7 years as reasonable in my letter. Also, if the parents had read my letter, they probably would’ve been a little more forgiving, knowing that I wasn’t some heartless drug dealer. Most of all, my current charge made her look at me unfavorably; I knew I should’ve gone the extra lengths to explain the fluke.
Regardlessly, I was relieved. She noted how much of the prosecutors’ recommendation resulted from some sense of vengeful retribution, and that she had to consider my higher-than-average probability of successful rehabilitation.
Afterwards, I was elated this ordeal was finally over with, the possibility of spending most of my life in prison hung over my head for almost a year. Hell, I wasn’t even able to laugh for months following the detectives’ initial visit. I saw them at the beginning of November, and didn’t break out in genuine laughter until March.
Now I started to grapple with someone losing their life partly because of something I did. Sure, I’m a pretty sympathetic offender as a fellow user, but still, I felt horrible.
Like I told the judge, I wish I could go back in time. The main thing I would change is that I would’ve stood my ground against Bigs and fought back…fuck it, even if he had a gun. However, I had a warrant for failing to check in to rehab at the time, and feared the police would get involved (hence, why I never did get them involved despite a few occurences begging for their intervention). I wish I had checked into rehab. Most importantly, I wish I never gave him any dope.
This might send trite and selfish but I also thought about what people would think of me because of this. But that fear quickly evaporated; it was too late for embarrassment. I was way past that point, and whether I wanted to or not, I would have to deal with the ramifications. I remembered the Nietzschean injunction to embrace my fate rather than fighting it.
I was reading a book about a guy taking a legendary class on the classics, and he talks about Oedipus and the lengths he goes to to avoid a horrible prophecy. His efforts to avert his fate lead him directly to its fulfillment. In the same way, this was like the last thing I thought could possibly happen to me.
And although I am in a lot of ways, I dont feel like an entirely different person than I was at the time these events happened. It’s still the same “I” underneath all this bullshit, and I’m amazed I’ve endured all this without becoming irrevocably bitter or completely loathsome.
The links between one another are taut and fragile, like a spider’s web, and we’re all our brother’s keeper. Probably because I listened to the Gorillaz song “On Melancholy Hill” at the time, it plays on like background music or the theme song to everything that happened, underscoring the tragedy and loneliness of it all. Likewise, I think of the last few, poetic paragraphs of Joyce’s “The Dead” as the epigraph, a meditation on how the snow drifts down on us all, living and dead alike.
Now, I’ve a prison bit to do…it’s like I’m taking time off from my life to improve myself before reentering society. I hope I can do it right this time.