My Shattered Illusions of Justice and Fairness
Growing up white, middle class, with a parent in the military, I believed in the system. I asked to be sent to jail, thinking it would save me.
My illusions of this nation being a fair and just place — illusions founded on my own racial and class privilege — shattered into a million pieces.
OxyContin morphed into smoking heroin morphed into IV heroin. Those things weren’t in my life plan — all I’d ever wanted to do was work in the medical field. Recreational use had descended into hellish addiction, but somehow I partially kept my life together.
I worked full-time and bought as much heroin as my tips earned that day would allow, never turning to auxiliary crime to support my addiction. Enticed by the promise of school loans and a better future, I even managed to attend community college. I had dreamed of going to paramedic school as a precursor to eventually becoming a doctor, and in preparation I got my EMT license and took a year’s worth of emergency medicine courses. I thought that if I could create a life worth living, then and only then I would stop using heroin. This semi-normal life combined with my white skin and suburban under-policed neighborhood allowed me to evade criminal justice system involvement for years.
All good things come to an end. I was arrested for the first time (as an adult) at the age of 23, still in my work uniform from the pizza place. “Possession of Heroin” was a Class B felony.
I knew that if I was found guilty, I would lose my EMT license and any chance of a future career in the medical field. I was pretty sure it would ruin my financial aid and make it hard for me to find housing or jobs. A felony is forever. As if being addicted to heroin isn’t miserable enough all by itself, and somehow making things more miserable would make me stop using.
Motivated by the fear of a felony and the myriad collateral consequences that would destroy my life, I opted for drug court. If I successfully completed, the charge would be wiped from my record. I assumed that would be enough motivation for me to get clean. I misunderstood the nature of my own addiction.
I went to detox and then treatment thanks to still being under my mom’s insurance. I got lucky and found a suboxone doctor who was accepting patients. After completing treatment I was doing…