Michael Alig On Prison Drug Treatment (Or Lack Thereof)

By Julia Beatty 08/21/15

"Party Monster" Michael Alig talks recovery, solitary confinement, and how it's easier to get heroin in prison than methadone.

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Michael Alig
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Michael Alig, the club kid-turned-criminal convicted of murdering his drug dealer, Angel Melendez, in 1997 has spent much of his adult life using drugs, both in exclusive Manhattan nightclubs and the most exclusive area in all of prison: solitary confinement. 

Sentenced to 10 to 20 years behind bars after pleading guilty to manslaughter, Alig began a drug program that would ultimately fail him, and, as he states, countless other inmates across the country. He would serve 17 years for the murder—a crime especially memorable for its horrific details and for its role in James St. James’ sensationalized memoir “Disco Bloodbath” that led to the 2003 movie Party Monster starring Macaulay Culkin as Alig.

I sat down with Michael at his apartment in the Bronx, where he has lived since his release from prison one year ago, where he told me about receiving prison methadone with his co-defendant Robert “Freez” Riggs, getting kicked out of the drug program, and his eventual path to sobriety. 

When you first entered prison you were still addicted to heroin. Is that when you were given methadone to help curb withdrawals?

Yes. They take you directly to the infirmary and don’t let you continue the process of intake until you get your methadone. And so you’re there in this one room with all of these withdrawing heroin addicts, and we were there for almost 72 hours, sleeping on the floor—really gross and sick. It was awful.

And afterwards, you were still able to get substances in prison…

It was easier to get heroin than it was to get my methadone.

So drugs are just kind of everywhere? And everyone knows someone that sells?

Uh huh.

Do you think that your reputation made a difference? Did people know who you were?

Yes.

So that made it easier for people to seek you out? 

Yes, and it was a real problem because even if I didn’t want it, they would bring it to me thinking that they were doing me a favor. They genuinely thought they were doing me a favor. 

There was this one guy named Dutch who was the leader of a drug ring. Because there are main peddlers, and then each facility has a president or something, and he just happened to be at this one where I was at. He is white but in the Bloods, and he was the leader of an ecstasy ring in the street when he was arrested. There was a story about them in Details magazine called “The Ecstasy Bandits.” 

He was showing me the story, and apparently he used to send runners to our clubs to sell ecstasy and so he was kind of, I guess, appreciative of all the money he made at my clubs. So he would tell all of the Bloods (because the Bloods have all the drugs), he would tell them, "Whenever you see Michael, give him whatever." And so they were coming up to me literally just handing me drugs. I had more than I could use, and was giving it away to people.

But normally do people buy them through the commissary or something? Like how would people pay for drugs? 

No, you can’t do it through commissary! (Laughs).

No, I mean like transfer your funds or something. Not that they sell it there…

Oh, yeah, you could do that. Or you could have money sent to your account. 

You tested positive for opiates in your system and then they kicked you out of the drug program?

Yeah, isn’t that weird?

I didn’t know that was a thing. Is that a mandatory law?

The medical department and the mental health unit are at odds with the Department of Corrections, because they’re all separate entities, and the DOC sees drug addiction as a disciplinary problem, obviously, and medical and mental health see it as a medical problem and a psychological problem. And they want to treat it with treatment, they don’t want to treat it with punishment, so they’re fighting about it all the time and, I mean, there were some huge fights because my psychiatrist kept trying to get me out solitary confinement because he was saying that it was damaging to me psychologically because it was such an extended time. And they don’t see it that way because that’s where they get their money. Like they get x amount of dollars for every inmate, and they get more money for inmates who are in solitary because it’s supposedly more expensive to house them. And so it’s kind of a money thing, which is really gross.

But normally it’s a year that you get [in solitary] if you test positive?

A year, and—

But you were in solitary for 2 and a half, is that correct?

Five! So they were trying really hard to get me out. They were trying so hard that the DOC had them under investigation. They were accusing them of accepting bribes from me, like because they said that they were working so hard to get me out, there must be some reason for it. And they’re like ‘Yeah, there’s a reason: because we think it’s wrong!”

And one person actually quit. One of my therapists actually quit because she said she couldn’t stand it.

After solitary, you were not given any more methadone. So did you just quit cold turkey? 

I quit actually in solitary. Because, it’s weird that I needed to be told this, but I didn’t understand why the media kept calling me a sociopath, and my therapist said that it was because I realized that I committed a terrible crime when I was on drugs, and yet I continued to use drugs. And she said that she understood that it was because I couldn’t face what I had done, and so I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. Like, literally, I couldn’t shave or anything. So she realized that that’s what it was, but to people who don’t know me it looks like I’m having fun and don’t care, and partying or whatever. And I don’t know why I had never seen it that way. Because I think I always knew what the truth was.

That it was a coping thing…

Yes, exactly. And I always knew that. And my psychiatrist knew that, too. But now, looking back, I can see that of course people saw it that way. Because I see other people, like what’s his name—the one who killed the girl in Central Park with the panties—and then he used drugs again outside. And I realized that that’s how I must have looked. But when you’re on drugs…I just didn’t see it. 

Did you do 18 months of drug treatment? 

You know, I did more than 18 months, but not at once because I would start and stop.

And get kicked out… But do you think that that program actually helps people?

No. 

It’s just a mandatory—

It’s not possible, really, for a treatment in prison to do any good because so many people don’t want to be there and they disrupt it. They make it impossible for anyone who does—the people who do want to get better don’t even try because there’s no point. 

Why did they keep having you bounce around at different prisons? Is that typical? 

Um…yes. With me it was a little bit more than others because they don’t like when you get too comfortable in a facility, because they don’t want the inmates to feel at home there because it causes all kinds of problems. Like if you get to know the officers. So especially with me, they thought that I was becoming…because the officers would become very friendly with me very quickly and they don’t like that.

And do you think that was partly because you had access to the media, so if they did something wrong it would get out?

Yeah, I think so. 

Did you at least find any of the counselors helpful?

Yes. Counselors and the people who are in charge of the drug program actually try really hard. And they really care. And I found myself always feeling sorry for them and feeling ashamed because other inmates were so mean to them. But I noticed how fulfilled and happy they seemed when they felt like something they were doing was helping somebody. And, so, whenever we did group therapy or something like that nobody would participate but I would participate. And when I did, I could see how happy it made them, and I didn’t want them to think that what they were doing was totally going to waste. Because I think that most of it was, but a little bit of it wasn’t. And I wanted them to know that. And they did know that. So that made me feel good. But they are just mistreated. By the officers, too. 

Really?

Yeah, the officers look at them like they’re the enemy. 

Because they don’t see the point of having the program?

Right. And they think that they’re like lawyers. That they’re just there to kind of fight a legal battle, and to remind you that you have rights.

You mentioned on “The Pee-Ew” [Michael’s YouTube talk show with roommate Ernie Glam] that you’re on the prescription drug Wellbutrin? I am, too, by the way- 

Do you like it?

I do. I think it’s probably one of the most helpful. 

It’s very motivating.

Did you start that in prison?

Yes. 

That’s good to hear that they actually prescribe anti-depressants in prison, because I didn’t think that the doctors would be that attentive.

No, they are. Because it’s not the Department of Corrections. So it’s still state run but it’s real. They’re regular doctors.

And do you still see a parole officer?

I do. Not very often. Like four times a year. 

You were telling me that you just graduated a drug treatment on Monday. So that was an outpatient program for how long?

A year. 

Did you go to AA and NA type programs?

Very similar to that. But they remove the, uh…

The religion? 

Yeah. So they say to give yourself over to a higher power but that higher power can be you. 

Do you find it a challenge to maintain sobriety outside of prison?

I thought I would, but, amazingly Wellbutrin acts as an opiate blocker, so it wouldn’t even work. It even lessens the effects of benzodiazepines, speed…

What was the most popular drug that you saw traded around?

Heroin. Oh, I guess, actually, that the most widely used is probably marijuana. 

Where do people smoke?

All over. 

So, if not sobriety, what was the hardest part of adjusting to the outside world?

Time management. I’m still not able to do it. I’m so busy that I’m not able to get anything done. I don’t budget enough time for things. I write a column for Gay Times, pitch TV shows, and so many other things. I’m used to doing a project, then going to a program, then five minutes later I’m in the yard—so I don’t realize how long it takes to get places and manage everything. 

And finally, what did you think of Party Monster the film?

I don’t know what to say about Party Monster. I mean, its hard to be objective about a movie that is about your own life! Obviously, I think that no matter what it's like, there is always going to be the feeling that they weren’t able to capture the true essence of what was happening. I felt the character development was lacking, slightly. I didn't feel like I knew the characters in the movie. The music, clothes and makeup was spot-on because they used Richie Rich and Kabuki to style the party scenes. 

But besides that, it was a Hollywood, fictionalized account of the truth. James and I never lived together, he never complained about my drug use being out of hand, etc. Not to mention the crime itself. I mean, it can’t be easy trying to portray something that in itself is unrealistic. They actually toned down the craziness because they felt normal people wouldn’t be able to relate or even believe the way things really were. 

Michael is currently writing a memoir chronicling his prison experience. You can follow him on twitter @Alig_Aligula and find him at ‘Love Gun’ nightclub in Brooklyn on Saturday nights, filming live episodes for The Pee-Ew, starting on August 15th. 

Julia Beatty is a student and freelance writer in NYC. You can follow her on Twitter @juliabeatty1. She last wrote about Baltimore, the Heroin Capital of the U.S.

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Julia Beatty is a college student from Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter.

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