Some people live in a world that the rest of us can't even begin to recognize.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Week 4: New roommate teaches me stuff I never knew about before

My 2nd roommate in Intake and Reception, Elaine, is a riot. And a crack addict. She knows everything about the drug culture in her area. She also knows how to tell a good story. Ohhhhh My Goodness, the stories she tells! Drug deals, good drugs, bad drug reactions, drug related murders where she knew the victims and the murderers. Also, many descriptions of the lengths people will go to to "pay" for their crack when they don't actually have money (icky, icky) and stories of days she cannot remember due to drugs. Her broken wrist was drug related. She thinks. But has no memory of how she broke it. I had to ask her at one point if she had any friends or acquaintances NOT on drugs. Her answer: "Only my mother and grandkids." She's ten years younger than me, and already has eight grandchildren.

I've never known anybody highly involved in the drug culture, so I really learned all kinds of information about a lifestyle I never knew about before. Elaine had such a positive outlook and pleasant attitude that I guess I never expected of a drug addict. I mentioned that to her, and, surprisingly, she described herself as a nasty, intolerable bitch when on drugs, and told me I wouldn't like her at all. She said her personality changes because of her constant need for crack and singular focus on obtaining it. Wow.

She had been locked up for several months now without crack, but said she had never been able to avoid it even after months incarcerated without it. I really hope I had some effect on her future by frequently pointing out what a pleasant, enjoyable personality she has, and how much I enjoy having her as a roommate. Comments such as that did seem to affect her positively, and she seemed to understand that she is a much more likeable person without drugs. But, she said she is too entrenched in that culture, and crack is too addicting in every way possible, that she knows she will go back to it as soon as she gets released. Such a shame.

Surprisingly, Elaine described the people who make and sell crack as "scum" and "low-lifes." While I certainly agree with her, I asked her how that opinion fits in with her need for these people in order to maintain her crack habit. She implied that those addicted to crack couldn't help it, but the "low-lifes" who sell the crack do have a choice in their actions. I've never been sure how much I believe the "addiction is an illness" theory, but I'll follow my #1 rule of survival in prison-- never disagree or argue with an inmate. So I just nodded my head and said "hmmm."

Elaine was just plain fun to have as a roommate. When not listening to her drug stories, we liked to joke around. One of our favorite things to do (since we are both middle-age-ish) was to call the officers "son" since they were so much younger than us. They didn't know what to make of that, so they never gave us any trouble at all. We also encouraged the night officers to sing. Well, the ones with good voices. We would write down the words to songs and pass them under our door to the officers as they walked by. One night we had something close to a Rolling Stones concert going on when the officer started singing and many women joined in from their cells. Not surprisingly, none of the officers agreed to sing Elvis' Jailhouse Rock.

Even though Elaine and I have no decent singing voices whatsoever, I wrote my husband and asked him to send me the words to many songs that we wanted to sing. Elaine and I sang everything from Johnny Cash's Folsum Prison Blues to Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart to Dr. Hook's Cover of the Rolling Stone. We also sang bizarre songs from our youth, including "Knock Three Times on the Ceiling if you Want Me," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," and "I've got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates, You've Got a Brand New Key." Our cell neighbors thought we had somehow gotten high and were enjoying ourselves a little too much.

From then on, when things got a little too boring, we'd burst out singing a paraphrased version of Johnny Cash:
"I'm stuck in this here prison, and time keeps draggin' on."

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