A Prisoner’s Tale

A Prisoner’s Tale
A Prisoner’s Tale

As they say in AA and other 12 Step programs, there are only three places you can end up if you refuse to seek help for your addiction: (1) death,
(2) an insane asylum, or (3) prison. Well, as it turns out, sometimes even something like entering the gates of prison doesn’t get someone to rock bottom.

Contrary to popular belief, drugs and alcohol are widely available in prison. They may not be as easily obtained and will cost more, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Home-made brews compete with more expensive stuff smuggled in from the outside. Also, the higher up you go in security, the more likely it is that the administration will look the other way. Officers prefer not to get between someone and their fix when that someone is already serving a life sentence and has little left to lose.

In any event, this tale is about a friend at a low security prison who still wasn’t prepared to quit, even though his addiction squarely led to his incarceration. My friend was a well-educated man, imprisoned for fraud, still in shell shock from his new surroundings. It wasn’t all too long before he came across a nice Cuban gentleman distilling some hooch, which tasted little different than house wine that might be served at some Italian “hole in the wall” restaurant. ‘Not bad,’ he thought, and began a regular Friday evening, happy hour-like routine. Soon he made more acquaintances and his private relaxation time morphed into a more raucous get together. Friday evening then spanned the entire weekend and into the week, as he risked getting caught, being locked up in solitary confinement and being shipped to a higher security prison far away from his loved ones and family visits. He even quickly and conveniently forgot the intense terror he felt holding a juice bottle full of alcohol, when stopped and questioned by a passing lieutenant.

The addictive attitudes still remained. It wasn’t bad enough that he put his wife, kids and parents through the stress and shame of his criminal behavior. Now he was on a collision course for losing his “good time”, with the potential of adding several more years onto his 10 year sentence.

After a while the wine wasn’t enough and his group ratcheted things up to White Lightning. It was high proof liquor made from anything available and potentially poisonous, but addiction’s like that. We take chances to the extreme. He even tried suboxone when it was offered while he was drunk, just to see what it was like. He hated how it made him feel. Yet, that still didn’t stop him from doing it again the very next week, once again while he was drunk. He was out of control. The exact same out of control that fed his addiction on the outside and helped him justify the behavior leading up to his white collar crime.

The COs (correction officers) came in one Sunday morning and started breathalyzing people at random. It seems that someone snitched out the crew, dropping off a “paper shiv” (an anonymous note, just as effective as any knife) with the police. The COs pointed to my friend and his heart began to race, as his life ran before his eyes just like it did on the day of his indictment. ‘Oh my God, what have I done? Will I never learn?’ rumbled through the haze of his brain as he prepared to wreak yet more havoc in his family’s life. The CO gave my friend the test and he blew, or at least pretended to. You have to blow hard enough for the meter to register. My friend put on one hell of a performance. He looked like the Big Bad Wolf trying to blow down the Three Little Pigs’ house made of bricks – it was worthy of an Oscar. After four attempts, the CO just gave up, assuming the problem was his faulty machinery. That happens in prison, the equipment is old and third rate. My friend was dismissed and walked away stoically.

He came back to our cell, broke down and cried. That was my friend’s “come to Jesus” moment. At that point it was finally, vividly clear that addiction had ruined his life and was about to take him even lower – lower than mere prison alone. He imagined telling his three kids that daddy would now have to serve several more years. He saw their faces in his mind’s eye and it finally sunk in. Prison is hell. Addiction is hell. Addiction in prison is off the charts! The tension and emotion is beyond anything you can imagine. It’s something you NEVER want to experience.

So, I kindly ask you to remember my friend’s story if and when you are feeling weak and fear you may relapse. Alcohol and drugs are cruel masters. However, you’ve already seen the fury of addiction and rock bottomed once. Please let it be your last because sometimes just entering the prison gates alone isn’t enough to make someone reach their true rock bottom.

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Lawrence Hartman was a functioning addict for his entire adult life as he graduated from Columbia Law School and began a prestigious law career at top international law firms and as General Counsel of a Real Estate Company traded on the NASDAQ. He became a serial entrepreneur and moved to Costa Rica as his addiction spiraled out of control, and landed him in Federal Prison. Mr. Hartman is now in Recovery and shares his experiences and insights with other addicts hopefully helping them to avoid the same fate.



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