I’ve had the honor of getting to know an amazing young woman. Christina’s life spriraled downward from drug addiction to prison. She’s out now, celebrating a drug-free year, and has courageously agreed to talk to me about her experiences.
Your problems began with drug addiction. Please tell us a bit about that. What was your drug(s) of choice? How and why do you think the addiction began?
When I was younger I was able to do what I wanted; my mother didn’t care whether I smoked or drank so I took advantage of it and started smoking cigarettes by age 14. LSD, marijuana, and cocaine by 15. By the time I had my son I was clean off everything, then was introduced to Vicodin. That became my love at first; I liked the energy I got from them and felt like super woman. I then tried Methadone by 21, and became a dancer. I was going to a doctor that prescribed me Methadone and Vicodin in mass quantities. By the time I was 23 my addiction was so strong that the effects were hard to get, and that led to Heroin … my addiction. I became so careless to everything that I gave my son to his grandma and had a life just hopping house to house. Used men for money to feed my addiction. I like numbing myself then from the constant reminder of what I did for the money to get the drugs.
What do you think led to your drug abuse, and what, if anything, do you think would have worked as an intervention between the time you began experimenting with drugs and the time you became addicted to heroin?
Honestly I believe that my addiction began because I didnt know any other way. I was always allowed to do drugs when I was younger and didn’t have much discipline, so I believe that played a big part in why I tried drugs to begin with. I didn’t try heroin until I was 23 years old, and I tried seeking help through a detox treatment in Champain, Illinois, but I wasn’t ready yet because I left after 60 hours. I do not know if I would have stopped any other way than prison, because nobody really stepped in and tried stopping me. They just hoped for the best and let me continue my destructive path, and hoped they didn’t get that dreaded phone call that I had died of an overdose.
What crime were you charged with?
I was charged with possession of controlled substance. First time I did 3 months in county and 30 months probation; then the 2nd time I revoked my probation so I got 2 years IDOC.
When wealthy people commit a crime associated with drug or alcohol addiction, they typically end up in rehab rather than prison. Was rehab an option for you prior to prison? How much of an advantage do you feel money and the right connections have with rehabilitation options?
They never once offered me rehab. I couldn’t afford an attorney and my public defender said that there was no way; I had to take prison time. But a girl I was in there for the same thing and was able to get TASC probation and a rehab program because her paid attorney got her that.
Tell us about your prison experience.
I was in Dwight Correctional center, a maxium security prison. I was pregnant so all pregnant girls had to stay in Dwight until after birth. They would room us with baby killers, violent offenders. They did not treat us any different from the rest. I was a minimum security risk and most of the roommates (two man cells) were with murders or people there on a violent charge. They would like to mix the lower aggression levels with the higher aggression leveled people because they thought it would have been less of a risk for a fight. The day room in the prison there would get so hectic that I mainly stayed in my cell because one time I was bumped by this young girl into the dryer. The dryer door hit my stomach and there was nothing done about that. I was in a drug program there called WELLS. A lot of people were just there to get days of their sentence. For every 90 days you complete of wells you get 45 days off your sentence. It was hard to take serious when there were so many people allowing it to be a joke. The women that were in and out of prison knew that if you were in wells you would have an assignment (job) because that became our assignment.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience giving birth while in prison? Were you taken to a hospital and given the same care any other woman would receive? How much time were you allowed to spend with your son afterward?
I was taken to Morris hospital that was 45 minutes away from the prison. A female guard had to stay in the room at all times even through the birth. Some of the guards and nurses weren’t the kindest but for the most part I did have a lot of great people that were there to support me any way they could with not knowing me. I was not allowed to have any family members there by my side, and after I gave birth I was allowed to make one 15 minute phone call to whomever was getting my child to let them know I had the baby. Then they went by whatever time you gave birth you had exactly 24 hours with the baby; after the time was up they take the baby then handcuff you to the bed until they are ready to transfer you back to the prison. It was the most heartbreaking feeling in the world to have a child then hand him over. Even though he was going home with my father and my stepmother, it hurt to know that I wouldn’t be there for several more months.
Drugs and homemade alcohol are big problems within some prisons. Were you aware of any drugs and/or alcohol being used by inmates? If so, what was that like for you, as you struggled with your addiction?
I never saw any type of homemade drugs or alcohol, but what I did see was a lot of women abusing psychiatric medication. They would save up their medication and then sell it for commissary. I saw this one girl almost die from a seizure medication, and it scared me and saddened me to see girls that were in a treatment program still trying to find ways to get high. And taking medication that they had no clue what the effect would be. It was uncomfortable at times because, like I said, I was in a treatment to seek help and had to watch people still getting high.
Do you believe prison is the answer to drug-related nonviolent crimes? What, if anything, do you feel would be a better option?
I believe that everyone should have one chance to give rehab a try before prison. I was so far into my addiction that my mind kept going back there. I would be clean for a couple months off heroin but would substitute for other stuff. I don’t think prison is the right answer for people like me. If anything you learn more about all the other drugs and how to try to get away with everything better. For someone in my case that has never had a violent charge and just kept struggling with my addiction. Was buying the drugs not selling them. And I never tried rehab before and they knew that but didn’t want to give me the chance because I didn’t have the money to buy my way into one. I believe there should be a state funded rehab for people that have been in my shoes. First offense only though.
How are you doing now?
Today I am two days away from my one year sober mark. I have not been clean like this since I was 14 years old and I am 27. I am doing everything possible to better myself. I am still looking for work. It is hard living in such a small community being on parole and having this on my record. But I have learned the hardest way I believe. I am a mother of two, a 9 year old and a 7 months old. They are my life. I cherish every moment with them and they are my strength to live this sober life I am living today. I am very restricted for a lot of schooling options now but I have faith in myself and if I ever think of the drug it takes me back to that hell of a place and how I had to leave my children and sit with real criminals. I know I broke the law but the government should find a better way for people like me even though I learned my lesson. A lot of people just become more of an addict because they learn about the other drugs that they haven’t tried and that what they do when they go home. But I always keep this experience in the front of my mind and a high is never worth my freedom, with my family.
You mention that your school options are now restricted. Can you explain what you mean by that?
When you become a felon, you’re restricted to a lot of jobs. For 7 years you cannot work in the medical field or any government jobs. After that 7 years you are allowed to get that expunged off your record, and then would allow you to go to college to get a degree in the medical field. I haven’t really looked up that much on this subject yet but this is what I know for now. I don’t agree with this because I went to prison for an addiction and did my time, and I think that they should be more lenient on people that didn’t committ that serious of a crime. I had possession charges. I did not steal or hurt anyone but myself.
What are your thoughts on prison versus rehab for nonviolent drug addicts?
Come back on Friday, February 15 to read Bob Helle’s experiences as a journalist venturing into prisons to talk to inmates.
You can see the full month’s schedule here: Criminal Justice Blog Series
Thanks for reading.
Tags: Battling Drug Addiction, Christina Wilkinson, Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Stories, Drug Addictions, Drugs and Prison, Female Inmates, Heroin Addiction, Prison vs Rehab, Stories by Inmates, Stories of Addiction, Stories of Female Inmates, Surviving Addiction, Women In Prison