My Journey from Heroin to Prison

By Na'im Masuud Rahim 11/27/18

As soon as I was out of prison, it took one argument with a girlfriend for me to go running right back into the arms of the one that always made me feel better: heroin.

Prisoner behind bars with head down. Heroin addiction.
I never wanted to hurt people. The things I did on my missions made me feel like I was a losing a part of myself.

I have been a man of many realities. I’ve been a son, a student, a friend, a lover, a brother and finally a drug dealer. Well, at least, I thought that was my final phase. But then I shot heroin for the first time and I entered a new world. I felt warmth comparable to a mother’s embrace. It was something in my life I no longer received. It was a feeling I craved desperately, setting me on a course of destruction and pain that I tried to blot out with even more heroin. And every time I came to, the pain seemed to get worse.

I didn’t start off as a heroin user. I found my niche in high school selling weed. But when I was forced out on my own, I knew I needed a better source of income. So, I started selling the Adderal and Atavan that I was prescribed. In that life, it really was only a matter of time before I started abusing the drugs I was selling. To support my growing habit, I started selling cocaine. It was fast and easy money from an older crowd. I didn’t plan on using it myself; my biological mother was addicted to crack cocaine and I was afraid of following in her footsteps.

But there came a day when I gave in to temptation. Coke took me to another level. After cocaine it was Percocet and then, eventually, at the prompting of the girl I loved, I tried heroin. As I pushed the plunger, I felt all of the pain in my life fade away as the warmth of the dope enveloped me. It was a night of warmth and sex. When I woke up in the morning, all I felt was sadness that the feeling was over. Reality came crashing over me and all of the feelings that I had so desperately tried to bury came rushing back to me. It was a toxic mix of guilt and anger and disappointment. Pain.

I never liked dealing with my feelings, and heroin helped me to avoid them. But I tried to avoid them too much. Two nights before Christmas 2009, I overdosed for the first time. The life I had been living took its toll on me, mentally and physically. I was alone and the pain of losing my family and my friends to my addiction became too much for me to handle. All I wanted was to keep running from it. I ended up using too much heroin to blur out the pain.

I didn’t want to die but I just didn’t know how to live.

When I opened my eyes, it was like a dream. Ambulance lights flashing, people overhead asking questions. All of the voices seemed as if they were under water. Christmas morning, when I came to in the hospital, my family was there at my bedside. I hadn't seen my brothers and sisters in a long time because my mom wanted me to stay away. She wasn’t my biological mom, of course. The woman that gave birth to me was too in love with crack to be a mother to me. She abandoned me when I was five. But my mom, she took me in and looked after me until I was 14. Then she kicked me out too. 

When I woke up in the hospital bed and saw her face and the looks on my siblings’ faces, I broke down. At that point in my life, I thought I had forgotten how to cry. But I cried because they cried. I cried because I realized my siblings were seeing their hero at his worst. I cried because I felt bad for all the things I did to my mom. I always wanted to make my adopted parents proud. I felt like I owed them my successes because they gave me a second chance at a decent life. I had to show them it wasn't for nothing. But looking into my mom's eyes that morning, all I saw was the pain and disappointment I had caused her.

When I was released from the hospital, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to show my face to my brothers and sisters. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of what I had done. Instead, I crawled backed into bed with my new love, heroin, who kept my emotions nonexistent as long as I stayed with her. I turned away from my family and searched for a new one – a family that would accept me without me having to change my destructive behavior. I found that sense of belonging with the Latin Kings.

My “Original Gangster” – the Latin King member who took me under his wing – showed me a side of gang life that I hadn’t ever expected. He told me the Nation was dedicated to uplifting the Latin community from poverty, oppression, and abuse. He showed me broken families, homeless people and how my life would be if I continued on the path I was on. He was a man who didn't owe me a thing but tried to show me a better way. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. And I wanted what he had: respect, power, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people who looked up to him. I had no direction and nothing going for me so I agreed to be a part of his world, with no consideration of what that really meant.

I began living a lie. I pretended to be clean, but anyone who stayed around me long enough could see that I was on drugs. My OG would ask me occasionally if I was using and I would always make up a story. He never pushed me any further on it. But the other Kings knew. They didn’t care, though, as long as I did what they asked of me. Some of them even supplied me with drugs to make sure I was ready for a “mission.” In our world, a mission involved shooting at the opposition or robbing someone.

In my heart, though, I was never a gangster. I never wanted to hurt people. The things I did on my missions made me feel like I was a losing a part of myself. My life became an endless cycle: wake up, get high, complete my mission, get high, be with my girlfriend, get high, black out, wake up, repeat. Then one day I was given a mission that no amount of drugs could ever convince me to do.

I had sworn loyalty to my gang but when they told me to kill my OG for being a suspected police informant, I couldn’t do it. Three members of my gang beat me unconscious for violating their order. When I came to, I was in the hospital with a concussion and my phone was ringing. My OG's wife was crying on the other end. He was dead. My heart sank and hardened at once. I detached myself from the machines and left against medical advice. I needed to get back to heroin. It was my love, and at that point, it also became my life.

Supporting my habit got harder. I was using too much to be able to sell and still have enough left for myself. So, I found a new profession as a male escort. It was during that time that I was raped by one of my drug dealers. I was unable to live with myself after that happened. For the first time, I intentionally overdosed and ended up on a friend's front porch. He brought me back to life. Throughout the night, he talked to me about life. He told me “life is good, good is life.” I eventually had those words tattooed on my forearms to serve as a reminder. He not only gave me a second chance at life but also a new outlook. From that day forward, I tried to fight my addiction.

It wasn’t easy and I didn’t manage it very well. I tried my first stint at rehab at 17. That lasted two weeks. Soon after rehab, I caught my first case for armed robbery. Strangely, when they put me in the cop car, I was relieved. My first night in jail put me in a bad place mentally. All the pain I was running from was suffocating me. I had the phrase “life is good, good is life” in my mind but, at that moment, I had no idea what was actually good in my life. All I knew is that I wanted to live.

I served three years and change on my first sentence. I was in the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally, and I thought I had everything figured out. But nothing had really changed for me. As soon as I was out, it took one argument with a girlfriend for me to go running right back into the arms of the one that always made me feel better: heroin. I wasn’t out of prison four hours before I had a needle in my arm.

Seven months later, I caught my second case and that’s what I’m serving now. Since going back to prison this time, I’ve worked hard to better myself, gain an education and become someone. But I still carry around the fear that I might not be strong enough to stay clean and make something of myself when I get out. In the past, that fear would have stopped me from even trying. But during this sentence, I’ve learned that the only way for me to succeed is to have the courage to fail and pick myself back up without having to turn to my old love for support. I used to believe I was nothing and that meant my life would amount to nothing. But I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that I have the tools I need to succeed. And that gives me hope that, maybe this time, everything will be different.

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Na'im Masuud Rahim is a writer and a poet based in Massachusetts. He writes about addiction, mass incarceration and street life. His play "Freedom from Myself" was recently published in the Columbia Journal.