I met Paul in 2018, at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. I was an admin orderly; he was a new intake, one face in the sea of people being processed into the system from the county jails, soon to be shipped to whatever facility they’d be assigned to long-term. Just passing through. We had chemistry immediately, but there wasn’t any chance to pursue it. It would be more than two years before we ran into each other again.
In 2020, I was transferred to another prison and recognized him right away. There was a rare authenticity in the care he showed for others, and I knew I could trust that he cared for me. We fell in love.
After years of using meth to cope in prison, I’d stopped just a few months earlier. I didn’t expect to lean on anyone during this time, but I also didn’t expect to meet anyone who knew how to support without judgment. Paul encouraged me to honor my recovery because that was the path I wanted. He also promised that if I ever chose a different path, he’d love me and support me just the same.
Meth had always helped me through breakups. Now, it was like the cravings flooded in through my every pore.
In May 2023, Paul was shipped to a different facility. There was no warning; that’s just how it happens. We barely got to say goodbye.
As a trans woman, the decade I’ve survived incarceration in men’s prisons has brought trauma I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I didn’t think there was a kind of pain I hadn’t already experienced. But this was something different, a separation that cut deep into my peace. Fatigue and depression crept in. And soon, for the first time in a long time, I recognized a familiar feeling: I wanted to be high.
Meth had always helped me cope with breakups. Now, it was like the cravings flooded in through my every pore. I could almost taste the bitter ammonia that would hit the back of my throat after I snorted a line. I remembered how boofing good dope would make my stomach clench and drop. And how I’d then (after a bathroom break) be off in a tilt-a-whirl of productivity, of losing myself in music or sex. A brief escape, from the reality everyone here wants to leave. I longed for that so badly.
I don’t think of drugs with any moral value attached to them. I wouldn’t have been ashamed to get high. But I chose not to because I liked the path I’d been walking these past few years. As much as I missed meth, I was also used to not having it. I was used to being the person I am without it. Paul had made sure my recovery wasn’t clouded by any fear of losing him, so I could know I was doing it for myself. I’ll always love him for that.
Many people would call this trading one escape from reality for another, and those people are 100-percent right.
I still got absolutely shitfaced. I searched for a healthy coping mechanism and found chain-gang liquor, savoring a weekend of intoxication and Latina love ballads.
Many people would call this trading one escape from reality for another, and those people are 100-percent right. It was a good decision. Alcohol helped me dial back the intensity of loss enough to process it, and the fact that it wasn’t meth was empowering in and of itself.
After that weekend, I continued on the path I’d been walking—the one without substances, including alcohol. Instead of running from my pain, I sat with it and allowed myself to feel it. I grieved for everything I missed.
I appreciate the many times I’ve used drugs to amplify my life, and I recognize when I’m using them to hide from it. I don’t want to spend any more time ducking what I feel. I want to feel it all.
Photograph courtesy of Kastalia Medrano