“I need my Suboxone. I was booked with it, the prescription for it and the letter
from my doctor. I am in full-blown withdrawal and need it urgently.”
The nurse asked me, “But why are you prescribed Suboxone?”
When I responded “opioid use disorder,” she scoffed. “We will not be continuing
your medication.” (Morgan Godvin)
If you are a drug user in trouble with the law, your last stop before life as a felon is often drug court. You can sign up to jump through a bunch of hoops: attend meetings, take drug tests, pay fees, keep a job, see a probation officer, and in exchange you avoid the felon label. Once you complete the program your criminal record is (usually) wiped clean.
Morgan's story echoes familiar to a million others produced by drug court and the war on drugs. She was arrested, given a diversion program, and things were leveling out. It seemed like the program was going to work.
But when she relapsed (an expected part of "recovery"), she was sent back to jail, and her addiction medication (Suboxone) was withdrawn because the jails and prisons in the United States are run by folks who enjoy watching caged people suffer.
My illusion of this nation being a humane place—an illusion founded on my own
racial and class privilege—shattered into a million pieces.
Let's be real. The doctors, Lieutenants, Judges and administrators have the same information we have: they KNOW that giving addicted people medication is not only safer for the jail, but safer for the user's long-term plans of abstinence or moderation. But they don't care. It is more beneficial for them if we addicted people visibly suffer because then we serve as a cautionary tale to other inmates and anyone whom they might tell the story to..."you wouldn't believe the hot mess I saw in jail..."
The sickness and humiliation also works to keep us in our place. The last thing the jail wants is for released people to gain back some of their pride and begin to tell their stories. We might demand change as a culture if we knew what was going on. It is pretty obvious to anyone who has been locked up that humiliation is one of the main objectives. Within minutes of entering the facility, whether for an unpaid traffic ticket or first degree murder, you will have a stranger looking up your ass with a flashlight. Your personal clothing will be swapped out for itchy, polyester overalls which may or may not be clean. Your feet will be cold for your entire stay because they take your shoes and socks and force you to walk around in ancient shower shoes. You won't have any control over what or when you eat, where you stay, who you are locked into a room with, what you are exposed to, etc.
The guards are trained, above all else, to keep inmates in their place, both physically and emotionally.
But some of us manage to break out of our enforced positions--we say "fuck this" and write, or speak, or produce, or earn degrees and begin spreading the message: our system of so-called "correction" is corrupt and cruel. Our war on drugs is a war against our children, neighbors, and our-goddamn-selves. This system that we think keeps us safe is in fact barricading our progress in life, and sometimes straight-up killing us.
You never forget the first time you get “dressed down” into jail clothes. Four
women stood in a row, separated by open stalls, before the deputy. “Remove all
of your clothing. Face the wall, lift your right foot, wiggle your toes. Left foot,
wiggle your toes…” But this wasn’t the hokey-pokey. “Bend over, spread your
cheeks and cough.”
Check out Morgan's latest article in the Marshall Project, titled, "I thought Jail would help me get Clean; I was Dead Wrong." I'll chat with Morgan more in the interview about her choice of the term "clean," as well as how she managed to navigate the obstacle course of expensive bullshit they lay in front of anyone who becomes ensnared in the criminal justice system, especially for drug crimes.