What I was in jail for is different than how I ended up in jail. It makes it difficult to start telling this story. I was probably in a jail cell for three weeks when I was in the worst cell on the whole floor. Where the crazies went. I just remember crying and crying for days and praying to God to give me another chance.
Jeffrey’s story begins with him struggling with drugs and a belief that he could escape his problems by running off to California. He moved to the Golden State to grow marijuana with a business partner, but due to a continued increase in drug use, Jeff was cut out of the business and stopped working altogether and started struggling financially. With his meth habit spiraling out of control, he began “carpet munching,” where he got on his hands and knees to see if he had dropped any speckles of meth on his carpet.
Eventually, Jeff found needles were a quicker means to get high.
Once I stuck that needle in my arm and felt the initial rush, I instantly knew this was my new preferred method of using, and it was just devastation after devastation. One self-destructive act after another.
The first time Jeff went to jail, it was from a drug deal gone wrong. With a car full of his belongings, Jeff went to an apartment complex for a drug deal. A neighbor saw him parked there and called the police. He had a kitchen knife in his shoe wrapped up in cardboard in case he ever had to protect himself, and when the police showed up with guns drawn, Jeff ended up with a felony charge – concealing a weapon. After a couple of days in jail, his parents bailed him out.
At this point, Jeff borrowed money from his parents and friends and used it for drugs instead of rent.
When you’re dealing with drug dealers, these aren’t people you can trust.
Jeff didn’t know who he could trust, and considered the drug dealers his friends, even when they would steal things from him. But, because he was so desperate to get high, they took full advantage of that need and desperation. These ‘friends’ went so far as to give Jeff so much GHB, or the “date rape” drug, that he passed out for 12 hours and woke up to several of his belongings being stolen. These ‘friends’ even put a knife to his throat and told him that they now lived in his apartment, and it was no longer his after giving him a marijuana joint laced with crack-cocaine.
That’s when Jeff became homeless, and he started dumpster-diving. He would go fishing for lost treasures such as old electronics that he would try to fix and pawn them for additional cash. Jeff began living at the end of a cul-de-sac in a makeshift shelter. While going through one family’s trash one evening, the husband came out and punched Jeffrey so hard in the face that Jeff flew back against the fence surrounding the house, and served Jeff with a restraining order.
Jeff moved to a hill on the side of a highway. He had stolen a tent from a local outdoors sports store, and this is where he made his home. During the day, he would do use drugs and do drug deals, and every few weeks, when San Diego’s highway cleanup crew would come by and throw everything away, he would be forced to keep his valuables with him, because he never knew if his tent would be there when he got back.
Jeff was always looking for a quicker high, and he started sharing needles. And, this is when Jeff knew, so he went to a needle exchange program that also provided free HIV testing, and he tested positive for HIV. Jeff had mentally prepared for this and wasn’t completely devastated though he knew his life would change forever.
The HIV case managers assigned to Jeff offered to help him. He was offered food, transportation for the day and told him how he could fix his life. They offered him ways to receive housing if he could try and get clean, but his addiction took over again, and he remained homeless and on drugs.
Jeff started stealing anything that could be traded for drugs; he even traded his food stamps for drugs. Each time he did this, the only way for him to eat was to either steal the food from stores or beg at fast food restaurants. With time, his thefts got larger: he started stealing cars and taking advantage of any opportunity that crossed his path.
Eventually, Jeff got caught, arrested and served 23 days in jail before being bailed out again.
Jeff didn’t show up for his court date because he was too busy getting high and he spent months hiding from the police. The only thought on his mind was to avoid going to jail so he could continue to do drugs.
The first lawyer Jeff was assigned told Jeff to plead innocent, asserting that there was no evidence against him, but that lawyer went on medical leave. His second lawyer told Jeff that he needed to plead guilty or face a lot of jail time. Jeff was devastated and frustrated but knew he could do nothing. He could no longer bail out since he had not shown up for court so many other times.
Jeff found himself in jail for months.
I got to the point where I didn’t say that I wasn’t going to use drugs again, but I remember saying, ‘God if there’s anything I can do, please show me the way. It’s in Your hands now.’
Jail was lonely, dirty, and debilitating. Speaking to the HIV doctor was the only time out of his cell that Jeff got to speak to “real person.” Jeff confided in the doctor, telling him about his pledge to turn his life around. The doctor, along with the accompanying Health Department case manager, saw Jeff as a candidate for a rehabilitation program.
Jeff ended up taking a guilty plea bargain. His initial probation officer interview resulted in an offer for Jeff to do the rest of his jail time in a rehabilitation program. After serving four months in jail, Jeff moved to a rehab program, where his days were packed with meetings, therapy, book study, groups, meals and some free time.
For the first time in years, I had a fully scheduled day. At any point in time, you can run. The doors aren’t locked. I don’t know what kept me there, but I remember talking to my mom and she asked me if I wanted to give this a try. I hesitated for a minute and then something told me I was going to give it a try. I told her ‘I don’t want to hear you crying on the phone anymore, Mom.’ I can’t tell you how upsetting it is to hear your mother cry. I listened to what they said. I tried to make sense of it, to apply it to everything I already know. A lot of people memorize and don’t try to apply it to their life. From step one, I tried to internalize everything. That’s what made the difference.
Especially important to Jeff was step number 3.
I will make a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him. I now know that I can’t always be in control. Sometimes I have to work with what’s given to me rather than fight everything. If it weren’t for the program, I would be dead right now. Looking back at all my moments before, I realized that this program was not just right for me, but that I wanted to stay clean for the rest of my life. I can’t tell you that every day is perfect. I still have my doubts, and I still have days where I feel like relapsing. But when that happens, I reach out. I talk to my sponsor; I reach out to my family. I use other people’s mistakes as examples for what I shouldn’t do. I’ve had friends in the program that then go out and use and die. I’ve had friends in the program that go out and use and get arrested. My mentality right now is so clear that the only medication I have to take is my HIV medicine. Only being on HIV meds is a blessing because I remember a time when I was young that I had to be on antidepressants, anti-bipolar, anti-anxiety, and if I wasn’t taking something, I wasn’t feeling right. It screwed up my brain chemistry so much that I was never normal. I could never be emotionally normal. Getting out of jail and deciding to not take anti-depressants was a Godsend. I don’t know what I would be like today if I were still on anti-depressants.
Jeff now has a more affirmative mindset.
Now, even when I’m pessimistic, I can identify it as pessimism, which means I can flip it to optimism quickly. I’m able to accept my troubles more easily. I wouldn’t be who I am right now if it weren’t for all the mistakes I made. Transcending my own narrative and connecting with others is what has made my story a comeback story instead of a tragedy.