I had been addicted to Heroin for a while by the time I wound up in prison. It wasn’t like I planned it, nobody wants to waste a year of their life behind bars. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel relief my first night there. It wasn’t the first time I had felt relief this way. The first time I felt this kind of relief was the first time I used heroin, 2 years prior.
The little girl I had been raising for several years was taken from me by her father. I was left with nothing, feeling broken and confused, helpless. My husband at the time was an addict. Strung out on heroin for years. I had given up hope of him ever quitting and by this time, I knew he was using and chose to ignore it. At least with me, I knew he was safe. Laying in my daughter’s bed crying my eyes out, I knew I would hurt forever. My husband would join in on my sorrow for a while, but eventually he would get up to ‘use’. I saw the way the drug changed him from a grief stricken man to a normal person going about his business. His tears would dry up and in their place came a desire to do normal habits like showering and eating. His transformation was intriguing. As I lay down, still in pain, he could take care of business, and I was still useless.
That’s the moment I became a heroin addict. I’ll never forget the rush I felt feeling the needle enter my arm. Seeing the blood spill into it and feeling the drug shoot into my veins and the warmth coat my insides. And then came that sense of relief, that sense that everything would be ok. I think at first I became addicted to the relief. That feeling that somehow I would make it, being able to sleep and eat, go to work. Ironically, at first heroin gave me my life back. That didn’t last long though. Much in the way I used heroin to feel normal because of my pain in the beginning, I eventually had to use to feel normal because of the heroin. My whole life became twisted and all I wanted to do was get high. Nothing mattered but the drug, I was its slave and it was my master.
I overdosed the first time several months later. The paramedics found my dirty needs, empty caps, and all of the weed I was selling to support my habit. I knew be indicted. I was broken and confused, helpless, for the second time in my life. I tried to get clean, but failed. I continued using, growing sicker by the day. I OD’ed again a month later, I was found dead on a basement floor by a police officer. This time I never tried to get clean. I came home from the hospital and used again from the same stash I died on, maybe hoping this time I wouldn’t wake up. I can’t tell you why I didn’t die that day, or any of the days before or after. It makes no sense to me why I had so many chances.
Eventually I did get picked up by the police. I will never forget sitting in the holding cell at the Shelby County Jail. Sitting on the cold concrete bench staring at my hands. I didn’t recognize them covered in track marks and bruises. I followed the marks up my arms to find a place I had been using for a few days. There was still dried blood from a shot the night before. That was the second time I felt that sense of relief. A single tear fell down my face. The first tear I had let out since I started using. Relief. I didn’t have to get high that day. I didn’t have to fight with my veins to let my poison in. I could just be.
I would love to tell you I never used again, but that would be a lie. I got out on bond a couple weeks later and used within the first hour. Ten days after that, I overdosed for the third time. I was dead. The paramedics told my mother I was gone. Somehow I wasn’t though, I sat up, alive. I have no clue what saved my life that day. Maybe God, maybe destiny. All I know is I am so glad I lived.
I still used after that, but I was terrified each time. So scared I would die for good. I was waiting to go to prison on felony drug trafficking charges. Luckily my lawyer got it to where I could plead out on my non drug related offence. Two counts of criminal tools. I was sentenced to one year in the Ohio Reformatory for Women and I couldn’t wait to go.
I went to prison at 6 o’clock in the morning on July 8th, 2013. I rode in on a black and gold van driven by a sheriff. Dressed in orange with shackles on my feet and handcuffs on my hands. I shuffled in the building not knowing what to think or expect. I remember that building clearly. It didn’t look like a prison. There were quotes on the walls, inspiring ones. Ones about being a strong woman. I wish I could remember what they said.
I was put in a ‘moo moo’ and sat in a room with a few other girls. It was quiet. We looked around at each other, not knowing what to say. Finally the one girl introduced herself, sparking up some small chit chat. One at a time we were strip searched, and asked to squat and cough. We were then lead to a room with other girls, some still in their moo moos, others already dressed in their ‘prison blues’.
Throughout that day more girls arrived, and we each were each given our state shirts, pants, and shoes. We were photographed and issued a name tag that identified us by our numbers. Numbers that would define us for the rest of our stay at ORW, and for the rest of our lives. I entered that building that day known as Cassie Elmore. I left it known as Inmate #87076. I honestly don’t think I could ever forget that number as long as I live.
Around 3 in the afternoon we were taken to admissions for orientation. We were given our bed tags and shown to our beds. Walking up to my bed, 209B, I was nervous. Luckily it was near a fan, and I had a window at the end of my bed. I made my bed and sat down, and looked out my window, it was storming and I could smell the familiar scent of summer rain. I closed my eyes and felt that same sense of relief. I remember thinking “this is it, I am here”. All I had to do was finish my sentence and I could go home.
Admissions, MCC, was hectic. Loud. I felt like I was in boot camp. The cops yelling, the girls fighting and yelling. But for some reason I always look back in fondness. I made great friends with the girl who introduced herself in that first room. We shared our stories and found similarities.
There was definitely a sense of culture shock in MCC. Sharing a bathroom with 150 girls is not fun. I remember not being able to pee at first. I’m not really sure why, but I could only go when it was quiet, which was hardly ever. The showers were disgusting and smelled so bad. I had to wait in line for up to an hour to use them or the phone or get my medication. The food was gross and I could barely eat. I went into prison already skinny, and lost another 20 pounds in MCC. I couldn’t wait to get back out. In my mind, I would go bigger and harder. Sell more drugs but not get caught this time. I was dreaming about getting high. I needed to feel that needle in my veins.
Finally I got to ‘pop out’ of MCC and join general population. The first ‘cottage’ I lived in was Rogers 2. 102B was my bed number. I started working in CFS, the mess hall, and started to get comfortable with my surroundings. I made friends and got a routine going. Finally I was moved to my permanent housing. Shirley 1, bed number 207T, and in case you didn’t know, the T stands for top. I honestly didn’t know how in the hell I was going to get on that top bunk.
As soon as I moved into my new bed in Shirley 1, I felt at home. My neighbors were awesome and I made friends with them all pretty fast. The tall blonde girl across from me became like family to me, as well as many of the other girls. We would talk about our addictions, families, and the lives we left outside those gates. You become a family in prison. You share so many personal moments, your secrets, and your fears. We shared in each other’s celebrations, and cried with each other through our pitfalls and worries. I honestly miss those girls.
I started GED classes that fall and took my test in December. I passed in the top 10%. After that I took any class I could get my hands on, including Web design. I could feel myself starting to grow inside, but still didn’t have much desire to change. One of the girls I met in MCC, who actually turned out to be from the city I was from, was relentless at trying to get me to go to NA with her. I had no desire to go. In my sick mind, I was just on a timeout from the streets. The words my friend told me were still running through my head; “You gotta pay to play”.
Luckily for my friend, and also me, as it turned out, one day we were locked down and was only allowed out to go to meetings. I decided to go to NA to just get out of the cottage. I stood in line for what felt like forever, and was eventually shuffled inside the building to a hard chair. Sitting next to my friend I made sure to show her I was annoyed. I employed crossing my arms and rolling my eyes to help me get the message across. Stuck in this room with a couple hundred girls, I was forced to participate in the meeting. A girl stood up and told her story. It broke my heart. It felt like she was telling my story, like she was talking about me. A tear ran down my cheek as she spoke. Relief. The same feeling I had felt my first day in prison. I was home.
It was hard to admit that I had liked the meeting, so when my friend asked me to go to another one with her the next day, all I could get out was, “I guess”. After that I went to every meeting I could get my hands on. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous. Each time learning more about myself. Growing a little more inside.
One evening at the NA meeting inside of my cottage I decided to speak. The tall blonde girl was there with me. I told my story. It felt so good, I will never forget that feeling. My cold hard shell fell off that day and it was replaced by the desire to change. From then on out I became determined that I would never use heroin again.
By the time I had three months left on my sentence, I became engulfed in fear. In prison I had support, friends, and absolutely no access to heroin. But on the streets I would be essentially alone in a town full of drugs. I started to feel like I wanted to stay. I spoke about my fears in the meetings and found I wasn’t alone. Several girls felt the way I did. We knew we had to come up with a plan for when we left. My plan was simple. Go into hiding and never talk to anyone. Sure, it was a little unrealistic, but I felt that was my only hope.
I will never forget the day I left prison, it was the fourth time I felt relief. I entered prison a year earlier a scared, strung out hot mess. I had no goals, no dreams, and no desire to change my life. The day I left I was nothing close to that. I was strong, brave, and determined to change.
My mother picked me up that day and took me to her house. She had set me up a room and gave me a phone that was apparently smarter than I was. I still have trouble with smart phones. I wasn’t in prison for long, but the time I was inside, the outside changed completely. I had to get used to different phones, different sayings and lingo, and most importantly, a different me.
My plan of hiding from the world went great for a while. I stayed in my house and ate, mostly. I reconnected with old friends who weren’t addicts. One in which was my high school sweetheart, and we quickly fell back in love. Another of these old friends, was the little girl whom I raised and was taken from me. Oh the joy that entered my heart the day I saw her smile for the first time. In her eyes I understood why I went to that meeting in prison. For her. I got clean for her. I changed my life for her.
I quickly became a mother to this little girl again. The last time I saw her she was 4, and she was now 5 and about to start kindergarten in the fall. I spent so many days with her, teaching her, talking to her. I learned that she was not without scars herself. The expense of having been around the same drug that tried to take my life was evident in her stories. It broke my heart to know that while trying to save her from the drug, I had fallen victim to it. I became just another adult in her life who was an addict and felon. I knew I had to keep fighting. I had to show her change was possible. I had to be strong for her.
That fall as she was starting kindergarten, I started college. Majoring in psychology, I wanted to help addicts someday. Running through my head now was a new set of words; “We only keep what we have by giving it away”. I was starting to think that the reason I got clean was to be able to help other addicts change their lives. Since then I have tried to help not only addicts but their families as well, going as far as speaking with children at the local high school, with the same police officer that once found me dead in my mother’s basement. Having been on both sides of addiction, I can identify with both the addict and their families.
It’s been almost two years since I left prison. My life isn’t always wonderful but it’s so much better than it was. Since coming home I have learned of the pain I caused my family and those who love me. I have had to hear all about the hell I put them through. The fear, the sleepless nights, and the relief they too felt when I went to prison. As hard as it is to listen to, it drives me to better myself every day, and to never go back to who I used to be.
In September of 2015, I married that high school sweetheart I reconnected with, and that tall blond girl from Shirley 1 was one of my bride’s maids. I am still in college, finishing up my sophomore year. I have held a 4.0 GPA since I started and joined several honor societies. I still have my daughter every time she doesn’t have school, and we are healing our souls together. By far, though, my greatest accomplishment is that I am still clean. The last time I used heroin was July 3rd, 2013, making my clean date the 4th of July. My own independence day. Each year I celebrate my independence from heroin.
I’m not sure where my story will end but I hope it’s not for a long time. I hope it has lots of chapters full of love and strength, courage and happiness, and countless more times of sweet relief. I know there will be pages in my story that are sad, and not every chapter will end with me wanting to read on. I know that things will not always go the way I have planned. But I hope each plot twist is met with determination, and that the good guys always win.