A couple of years ago, on a steady diet of booze and sedatives, waking up in my car with pee all over me and the seat, I would have laughed in disbelief at the thought that one day I would have to clean up the wreckage of my alcohol and drug abuse. I choose drugs over everything and everybody. I was reckless. The scariest part came when I unconsciously chose drugs over life itself, I was too high to notice that death was upon me. After checking into Detox at The UCLA Medical Center, I learned about my disease of addiction and how my brain works when using my drug of choice. From UCLA, I traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada and began my 2-month stay in a semi-posh rehabilitation center. Upon completion of the treatment program I moved back to Los Angeles and entered an outpatient program in Santa Monica. I relapsed 3 times in my first year and after losing my apartment and job for the 2nd time in 2 years I checked myself back into treatment, this time into a rigid “tough love” type program in Hollywood. After 30 days, I was thrown out of their facility for being manipulative and still exhibiting drug-seeking behavior. Totally defeated, the idea to use drugs again entered my mind, but instead, I went to an AA meeting and asked around for a place to stay. While sleeping on a sober friend’s couch I received the first of many gifts in sobriety. A calm came over me. I had a moment of clarity and it was then that I knew as long as I stayed sober, everything would be fine. I have been sober ever since. Honestly, it has been a rough road. Getting sober, that’s the easy part. Staying sober, that’s another story. Let me explain.
My drug counselor at my first rehab said, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging!”
I decided to clear up the wreckage of my past, including my troubles with the law. After going down to Burbank Court House one afternoon, I quickly discovered my legal problems were bigger than I thought. I had a dozen or so traffic tickets, 2 misdemeanors, and 3 bench warrants, not to mention $1,300.00 in unpaid parking tickets. I handled one at a time and last week, the Burbank judge slapped me with a 24-day jail sentence on 3 counts of driving on a suspended license and ordered me to The Lynwood Correctional facility. I was shocked but I knew in order to move beyond it, I had to face it. To think, all of my legal troubles began one balmy summer night 3 years ago when I drunkenly insulted a police officer at the Bob Hope International Airport from my car. I was parked in a tow away zone. “Could you please move your car? Ma’am?” he looked down his nose at me. “Could you please go f**k yourself,” I countered. Then he got out of his car and flashed his light in my face. After this one encounter, the traffic floodgates were open and I couldn’t stop from being ticketed all over Los Angeles. A dozen or so tickets later and a sob story about going into treatment and getting clean, the judge still takes no prisoners.
Lynwood Correctional Facility is “The Big House” for women in Los Angeles. Unlike Lindsay Lohan, who went in last week too, I served time in the same cell with hardened criminals, prostitutes, gang bangers, meth lab trainees and drug traffickers. I got the “real” experience, one that Lohan will not be getting but one that I am grateful to have received. Why? Because while Lohan is overindulged and helpless, I am learning a new sense of humility; one that makes me realize how people who have real self-esteem do esteem able acts. I never cared about anyone. I only wanted what I wanted. I cried in court just like Lohan, completely unwilling to take responsibility for the way I chose to live. I was an overindulged over privileged sissy. From driving all over Los Angeles high on pills or in a blackout on booze to stealing thousands of dollars from my father’s company, I deserved far worse for the poor decisions I made under the influence. I’m very lucky I didn’t injure or kill an innocent person. When the sh*t finally hit the fan for me, there was no one left to help me and that helped me.
In Lynwood, crammed in a small cell with 45 or so other women, elbow to elbow, rubbing up next to some of the nastiest infected skin I’ve ever seen and breathing thick rank air with sickly looking women coughing all over me, I knew the harsh reality. Maybe I didn’t belong in a place like this now but once upon a time I would have fit in very easily and this is what I have to look forward to if I don’t stay sober.
“There are some people, that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”
36 hours later, I left the Lynwood Correctional Facility. News reporters and photographers from the New York Post stalked the dirty grounds. They stopped me. A woman with black thick-framed glasses and a snooty British accent leaned forward, “What will it be like for Lindsey?” “Are the women playing games inside their cells?” “Are they scary girls?” I chuckled. They took pictures of my haphazard outfit and my shoes without laces. I rolled my eyes. I had been up for 36 hours, unable to relax or smoke a cigarette. “You haven’t a clue,” I answered a few more of her questions tersely.
And they haven’t a clue really. No one does but the girls inside. It was a more than a sobering experience. And as I write this, Lindsay Lohan is still in jail. Alone in her cell. Alone with her thoughts. She might be faced with shame and guilt or maybe prideful regret. Who knows? Who cares? While she was alone I was smashed inside a bus with 50 or more women chained to each other. I sat cuffed to a fast talking Aileen Wuornos look-alike (Charlize Theron portrayed her in the film, “Monster”) who showed me a purple vein in her neck, collapsed from shooting up. They parked the bus at The Twin Towers Correctional facility downtown Los Angeles where we stayed for hours in a holding cell. It was hot and sticky. There were bloody maxi pads on the floor, an overflowing toilet, piss and food in the corners and smeared gang symbols written out in peanut butter all over the walls. Young black prostitutes yelled Lil’ Wayne lyrics. Some slept on each other. Some slept on the floor. Many were missing their teeth. I was the only white girl. Two women who looked like they were drag queens fanned a young pregnant Latino girl with flushed cheeks. A bird looking woman was screaming incoherent phrases and coming up to me and touching my hair spitting a pocketful of old crackers into my face, into the air. I was shell-shocked. I didn’t want to appear too concerned about this environment. I had seen “Escape from Alcatraz” and “Shawshank Redemption,” but nothing could have prepared me for this. Many young ladies looked like they had combinations of heat stroke, pink eye, and staph. A few were dazed and withdrawn.
Another bus came to pick us up. They chained us together and made us file onto the bus. The bus driver blasted old R&B hits and many of the ladies sang along and swayed to the music unencumbered by their shackles.
Once inside Lynwood, all 50 of us were pushed into a smaller cell and given one small juice box and one small bean burrito that I refused to eat on account of the smell inside the cell. Hours later, the guards took us all into the outside garage, had us strip, auswitz style, and stand naked. We exposed ourselves to the guards and put our prison fatigues on. After, we went back to our stuffy cell. We were left without water and a broken sink faucet for what seemed like 12 hours. Some of the young gang bangers started to cry. A few got visibly violent and started screaming out of the hole. “F*ck this! I’m not an animal! We need some tampons up in this mothaf**ker!” Yelled one girl with purple streaks in her hair. She dropped her pants, revealing her vagina and menstrual blood running down her thighs. Suddenly, a large amount of maxi pads came oozing through the small slot in the cell door. Women went crazy, frenzy broke out. Everyone was trying to get to the maxi pads. Ladies stuck them to the wall and used them as pillows.
The worst moment came when my new buddy, Pierson, started having a seizure on the crowded floor amid piled up sleeping bodies. No one came to help her. She seized again, this time for a longer amount of time. I was pressing the emergency button on the wall. A guard came. Pierson had been asking for her epilepsy medication for 10 hours. Cries broke out: “How could you let this happen?” One troubled black woman asked the guard. Another girl with tattoos all over her face told the guards they were inhumane. The guard barked “If you need medicine don’t come to jail!”
They chained Pierson to a wheelchair and put her outside our cell. She was slumped over for hours but they never brought her any medicine.
The real stories of Lynwood are the voices of the women in the cells that will never be heard. Never be helped. The invisible. Lindsay Lohan is not invisible. The poor black girls picked up for prostitution for the 4th or 5th time are unhealed and unheard and their problems get bigger everyday. It is a whole other culture in there; one obsessed with violence and street cred. It’s culture that rarely gets addressed. I was given so many chances to get sober and get on the right track. At 27 years old, I started my journey. How many chances did some of those ladies get?
While sobriety hasn’t always been easy, and no one said it would be. For me, being inside jail was particularly hard. It could’ve been easier if I were drunk. I would have been numb. That is why this chapter of the story has been the most ambiguous. If only because I don’t know what’s next in sobriety. I have been through interventions with friends still unable to get sober. Some of my friends are dead. I have had to make amends, pay debts, tell people I lied to them and then reveal the less glamorous often, embarrassing truth. Still unsure, my ego bruises easily because some days I compare myself to others. I mourn the loss of so many years inebriated and wonder if I will ever “catch up” to my peers who have careers, families, and new homes. Or does that even matter?
Luckily for me, I live one day at a time. All hope isn’t lost. When I get scared, I try to be easy on myself. I realize that I am used to changing my feelings quickly with substances. It’s important for me to think back to those days when I slept on that woman’s couch. I had nothing. Not a penny to my name. No home to go home to. No family to help me. And a miracle happened. A natural calm came over my whole body like a drug.
Just hold on. Stay sober and everything is going to be all right.
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