Paul Responds:

Dear Catherine,

I remember you as "Cathy" but I guess you’re all grown up now. So how are ya doin? Still giving bone crunching hugs like the one in the photo there? Yeah, my childhood seems like a dream to me now but it’s good to be reminded of a happier time.

Don’t be embarrassed about wondering how I became a crack addict. Hey, it happens to the best of us . . . ha ha. I find myself constantly apologizing for it. That and being a bad son --- bad father --- bad husband --- bad friend and now, thanks to you (!) a bad cousin.

I know people think I don’t blame myself enough or I would have quit by now but it doesn’t work like that, I wish it did. How about trying to commit suicide umpteen times --- is that enough self-loathing for everyone? Can anyone possibly believe I, and other unfortunates like me, enjoy being zombies answering cracks call? Risking death every time we flick our disposable lighters? Yeah, I guess we’re enjoying ourselves in our walk through hell, suffering unspeakable degradation and wretched humiliation. In and out of jail and prison (are we having fun yet?). Existing instead of living in a lifestyle loaded with danger, abuse and high risk.

I’ve sat in groups of smokers passing the pipe around where the typical subject of conversation is about smoking til our hearts burst so we can put an end to our misery once and for all -- and to our families misery. Does this sound like people enjoying themselves? Believe me, there’s no fun in watching tears stream down the faces of your loved ones, knowing you’re the cause of it. No thrill in seeing the look of disgust on your former friends faces. Only shame and horror at the sight of my own face in the mirror, transparent skin hanging on cheek bones, eyes bugging out -- complete and utter hopelessness.

How can I begin to explain the mind bending power crack or crank have over the user? I was able to work steady and manage my life for years before I passed that point of no return and my life was totally consumed by the quest for the drug. Recreational became required and required became mired. I searched in vain for treatment as did others on my behalf. Everyone assumes there is help "out there" --- and then they find out differently. If that were true there wouldn’t be so many addicts in jails and prisons. Insurance only covers a couple weeks and this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the help that is needed. Most rehabs are just high-priced hotels anyway -- no medication to help the addict resist the urge. Addicts laugh and give a knowing wink to each other at the mention of rehabs --- it’s big business just like prisons.

People are forever wanting to know why crack addicts start in the first place. Some start while drinking or smoking pot with friends and someone pulls out some crack. Some bend to peer pressure, whether a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Personally I started while working on a construction site. Beer, pot and finally crack were used on breaks and after work. The point is, it just doesn’t matter how or why, inhibitions get lowered in a variety of ways and the damage is done.

When I think of how people look down on crack addicts, I wish I could tell them about the bigger picture. How opportunists prey on our vulnerability. These oh so clever entrepreneurs who search us out to be their "personal shoppers" or should I say "personal slaves" because that’s what we really are: slaves. They give us shoplifting lists of meat, perfume, jewelry, appliances and designer clothing. Stuff worth thousands in exchange for $10 for a "dime" of crack or crank. This dime rock lasts about 5-15 minutes and then we have to go out and do it all over again. Sometimes they keep the loot for themselves but more often they sell it to friends, relatives and neighbors anxious for a bargain. Everybody wants a piece of the action.

And let us not forget the lovable guys at the pawn shop. They’ve got shopping lists too. Tools, construction equipment, bicycles, jewelry. They have no hesitation about putting out orders or receiving these stolen goods because they know the crack addict is going to take the fall if anything goes down. They love the fingerprint requirement, it takes all the heat off them! And the addict, the poor sap will give a fingerprint to hasten the deal and get one step closer to relief from the agony of crashing.

The public hears nothing from the media about the small-time thugs who rent crack addicts cars for $10 and never return them. This "renting" is very popular because they know the cops don’t pursue car theft reported by suspected crack addicts. Which is surprising since these cars are used as getaway cars for robberies, smash & grab from store windows and drive-by shootings to name a few.

Crack addicts who first sell off all their own hard earned valuables and then go on to steal aren’t making a choice, they’re in excruciating mental pain. This mental torture compels them in their urgency to get the drug. 24:7 that’s what they call it. Twenty four hours a day. Seven days a week. No food, no sleep, non-stop until all their resources or their body is totally exhausted.

Men who prowl the streets looking for addicts for cheap sex know they’ll risk life and liberty to satisfy their brains craving. They know they have no choice, why doesn’t society? Society says: "you just need to learn your lesson" The cemetery is full of people who have learned their lesson! We need treatment, not scorn!

I’m not an alien deposited here. I had a family, ambition, joy in living life to its fullest. Music, NASCAR, fishing, work -- I prided myself in a job well done. I loved going to the beach with my family ---I had a life! Well, cousin, I hope this clears up a few things for you. Forgive me if I unloaded on you a little bit there. I hope to hear from you again. Until then --- Just Say No! ha ha Just a little humor there.

Cuz , Paul

P.S. Hey, ya know that bully I saved the kitty from when we were kids? I think he’s a guard here at the prison --- ya think?