Eye of the Needle 

Inside Henrico County Jail's new heroin detox unit, seven women talk about their experiences.

One snorted the last of her stash while cops burst through her bathroom door. One shoplifted underwear to trade with her dealer. One drove daily to Fairfield Court to buy drugs with her young son strapped into the back seat. One shot up for the first time with her father.

These are the stories of the women in Henrico County Jail's newly established heroin detox wards.

Measured by nearly any statistic, heroin's popularity nationwide continues to explode. The federal 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated 669,000 people had used heroin in the past year, the highest number in a decade. The numbers coming out of the Henrico County Jail aren't any different. The trend prompted Sheriff Michael L. Wade to establish the new units last month for inmates who might later qualify for transfer to Henrico's Jail East, which offers comprehensive rehabilitation programs.

"A few years ago the people coming in getting detoxed were the hardcore ones," he says. "People always thought of the opiate person as a street person — you know, not working or anything like that. Now we're seeing college kids, people that work, good people that are getting caught up in it."

Wade has seen the number of incoming inmates admitting to heroin use increase 10 percent in the last six months. What's behind the increase? Wade and other law enforcement officials point toward increased purity of the street drug and decreased availability of pharmaceutical opiates.

Asked the same question, the women in Henrico's detox unit erupt in debate.

"That's what's hot right now," one woman says.

"It's like your Converses versus last week it was DC shoes," another offers.

Gathered in the jail's GED classroom, the women are candid about their relationships with the drug. Some were given heroin by family members, others were introduced by friends, and some, driven by curiosity, sought it out on their own. Regardless of how they started, they all recall their first time, the feeling it gave them, and the realization that they couldn't stop. From there, their experiences diverge. Some want to stop, some can't wait to get high again, and others aren't sure what's next. — Ned Oliver

 

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  • Scott Elmquist

Christie Alexander, 28
Convicted on multiple counts of possession of heroin

The first time I got locked up I was 12. And it's just been a long road since then. I just came home from penitentiary in November and I got locked up in January for keeping a bawdy place, which is basically prostitution. I was on [classified advertising site] backpage.com. And then in March, my mother took charges out on me for spending money on her credit card, and when the officer came they found some other stuff.

My dad is a full-blown junkie alcoholic, and when I was 13, I walked in on him shooting up. He was a truck driver and I had gotten out of the truck to go to the bathroom and I came back and was going to the cab of the truck and he was sitting there with a needle in his arm. And he told me that if I ever wanted to try any drug, come to him and he would try it first and if it didn't kill him it was safe. Yeah, my dad's an idiot, needless to say.

I waited until I was 15. I told my dad I wanted to try dope. He was like, "OK," then went and got some. So, he went and got some and shot me up. It felt amazing. I've been chasing that first high ever since, and I've never been able to get it again.

I thought I was ready to stop, but I've been locked up since March and I relapsed last week. I had completed the program. I lost custody of my daughter seven years ago and I haven't seen her since, so, eventually, just to get my shit together so I can see her again. She's 9 now. She was taken from me while I was locked up because, in one of my states of psychosis — being high — I actually hit my child and lost custody of her. So, there's a permanent protective order and I can't see her. My mother always tells me to have hope that when she turns 18 she'll come back.

 

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Antoinette Young, 45
Arrested and charged with shoplifting

My grandmother raised me. My mother had gotten in some trouble, so she had to do work release. I moved with my mother when she came home. That's when I first started with heroin. I was 14 years old. I was living in the South Side, Midlothian Turnpike, and Blue Ridge Estates on Midlothian. She bought my drugs and everything [from] drug dealers. The drug boys, with the Cadillacs and all that.

I just got here last Wednesday. [The last time I used heroin] I was over on Chamberlayne Avenue, where I prostitute at. ... I'm in and out, institutions and jail. I've been in Richmond City Jail 22 times. I've been here eight times. I've been in penitentiary three times. Petty larceny, shoplifting. Sixty-two dollars of stuff from Wal-Mart, this time. I stole T-shirts and boxers and wife beaters [to trade with dealers]. My mind was going crazy. And I was out the store and the man came at me and said, "Excuse me miss, can you come here?" I said, "Damn, got me again."

I want to go somewhere that's nowhere that I know. See, I need to learn to stay away from my people, places and things. I want to go somewhere I've never been before. I want to give myself a chance this time. Cause I am tired of getting high.

These people that were getting high with me, they ain't here for me now. And they don't give a damn about me now. And see, like I say, I never admitted that to myself. I believe in myself now.

 

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Allison Briddell, 25
Charged with possession of heroin and marijuana.

I have been addicted to heroin since the end of 2010. Heroin took control of my life. It caused me to lose my car, my job, my apartment and my parents. I had to sign over temporary custody of my son in 2010. I haven't regained custody yet, because I've been in and out of jail ever since. I feel like coming to jail is God's way of saying "Enough is enough." Because when I'm on the street, I don't stop getting high. I get high all day, every day, by any means possible, because I don't have anything else to do. And when I was 20 years old, I was sexually violated. And ever since I was 21, I've been addicted to heroin because of it. I've been basically putting a Band-Aid over ... every existing wound.

I'm tired. My body's tired. I'm 25 years old. My son just turned 6. I missed Christmas this year, Thanksgiving, and this year I missed his birthday. It just has taken control of my life, and it's time for me to regain my life back.

I went straight from smoking weed to sniffing dope. My first cousin, she came to my house. She said: "You want to escape your pain? Here you go." I got my tax check the next day, $9,000. I blew it in six months. I lost my job. That's when I lost everything.

I get up, I put my clothes on, I put clothes on my son, I feed my son, I put him in his car seat, and I shoot down 64 west to Richmond to Fairfield Court. And I spend $150 on a sixteenth of an ounce, and it's only gonna last me one day.

 

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Amanda Metzgar, 24
Arrested on an extradition warrant from Florida

I left Florida to come up north for heroin. Heroin inspired my move to the North. You can't get heroin in Florida, only pills. I mean you can, but it's a lot harder. People sell you fake stuff down there. I was on pills really bad. Dilaudids, roxies, Percocets.

I didn't have a good childhood growing up. I didn't. I grew up poor. My electricity was always off, and whatnot. But that's not why I do drugs. I do drugs whether I'm happy or whether I'm sad.

I'm a waitress, and when you go in at 10 in the morning, not getting off till 3, 3:30 the next morning, working straight — your legs hurt after serving tables all day. So I started when I was like 18. When I started taking Percocets, and that led to the roxies and the Dilaudids, I noticed that I went from being able to take three tables at a time to I went to running damn near half the restaurant by myself and making more money.

I didn't realize I was addicted until one day I was supposed to go to my grandmother's house ... and I was sick. And I couldn't figure out why I was sick that whole weekend. And then finally my third day, it was time to go back to work, so I take my Percocets. And I'll be goddamned, I wasn't sick no more.

Detoxing feels like hell. I'm not happy. I want dope. And I'm not going to stop. And I'm always going to get high, and that's how it is. And I don't want to go to a program, because I'm not going to waste nobody's time. People forget that there's such things as functional addicts. I really just want to have a regular job, and a regular home, and get high without being in trouble.

 

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Robin Cornell, 45
Awaiting trial on two heroin possession charges

I've been doing really good. I was just doing good, and my friend came and he had it with him, and he offered it to me. It was kind of hard to turn it down. It was right there in your face. He brought it to me. I said, "Well OK, I'll do it."

I never shot a needle until a year and a half ago. I watched my mom do it her whole life. When my husband committed suicide, my whole world turned upside down, and I didn't care anymore. After 25 years of being with the same person, you might as well cut off my right hand. I didn't have any friends, any life, anything. Lost my house, my kids. ... I didn't care. I didn't want to feel a damn thing.

My husband and I weren't perfect. We did drugs. We had smoked crack, and I've been smoking pot since I was 8. Again, I had a drug-addict mother. She would rather me get high on weed than drink alcohol, because my daddy was an alcoholic. I remember when I was 8 my mom got me so stone-cold drunk throwing-up sick so I would never drink again. To this day, I hardly ever drink.

I just hope that I can get myself back together. I've always owned a home. I just want my house and my life back. I just want my life back.

 

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Shameka Harris, 32
Charged with possession of heroin

I ended up doing the heroin when I was 26. And it was like I've been on that ever since. That's been my road to success, I guess, and it's a dead end. [I switched from pills] because it was there. I was selling it. I seen how it did the people that I sold it to, so I wanted to feel like that. And one day I'm home alone, and I just was like, man, let me try this. And I tried it. And I never looked back. It was the best. I loved it. I love the feeling. I love the feeling of it having me relax.

I swear I just wish they'd take my daughter and take her somewhere, because Lord forbid [she try heroin]. I know all the generations under me is going to be doing it. Everybody. Everybody. You try your best to show them something different. But I was shown different my whole life, and I still ended up doing that. So it don't matter where, who you come from. It don't matter that. Because I come from good people. I think it's just, you got to stay focused. You got to have something to do. You can't just sit around and just be like, a sad rag.

The last time I took it was right before the police got me. Somebody called my phone and said, "The police are getting ready to kick your door in." I ran to the door, locked the door, looked out, saw the police. I grabbed the dope, ran in the bathroom and snorted it right in the middle of them coming in my room. There's nothing else I could really do. That's how I got the simple possession. Because I had the paper in my hand.

 

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Jordan Allen, 26
Charged with driving on a suspended license and possession of heroin

I was at the Red Lobster — the ghetto one that closed down on Midlothian right there by Kmart. I started with pills. The job I was at, everyone was doing them to make more money because as a server it helps you move quick. Before I could even leave out the door I'd already spent all my money.

The first time I did heroin I was at my friend's house. I was really messed up. And I kind of woke up to someone shooting me up. And I was like, "Ow." And I just woke up like, "Whoa, I love this shit." I guess it's pretty sick, but it seemed pretty good. From there, yeah, I did it every day after that. Right after they put it in my arm, I wanted another one. It just hit the spot in some way I've been looking for. Pills didn't make me feel that good.

I'm trying to stop. Growing up, my family gave me money, gave me money. I'd support my habit. Now they've completely cut me off. And it's just made me realize, that I've been stealing from them my whole life and I just feel like shit about it and I don't want to do it anymore.

Everyone I know who does programs on the outside relapses quick. The best thing for me is strict structure where I cannot leave and I cannot call somebody and I cannot do that — I need one-on-one structure all day for me to do it. Without that, I just don't trust myself. Every time I've gotten out of jail, I've fucked up. S

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