It’s ironic in retrospect that drugs were part of why I went to prison, because drugs were also why, while in prison, I went to college. And graduated. Twice.
I’d used crack before prison, but had stopped by the time I went in. But I was barely a legal adult when I was arrested, and 21 when I entered the prison system—the men’s prison system, as a trans woman, in Georgia no less. I had a 14-year sentence ahead of me. I wanted to be high.
I started using methamphetamine, mostly snorting but sometimes smoking. Though it came into my life as a coping mechanism for despair and for the endless boredom, eventually I figured that if I was already going to be up for days and nights on end, with warp-speed energy and enhanced concentration, I might as well do something productive with it.
Since I had to fight for access to hormone therapy and every other gender-affirming, life-saving care I had a right to, I was already litigating two simultaneous legal actions. Each would have normally had an entire dedicated legal team, but I took both of them on alone (one I would eventually win; the other, to overturn or at least reduce my gravely disproportionate sentence, I would not win). I decided that I could handle school, too. And I could. Because I was on drugs.
Meth carried me into becoming an informal jailhouse lawyer.
I often doubted my own abilities and my capacity to see so many different tasks to completion. But meth powered me through writing legal briefs, complaints and responses, and the literally hundreds of letters I had to send in order to secure financial sponsors for correspondence education. It powered me through reading case law and procedure and section codes and legislative statutes and the history of those legislative statutes.
Meth carried me into becoming an informal jailhouse lawyer. I was able to give a few other prisoners, whom no pro bono attorneys nor legal advocacy organizations really seemed to care about, something a bit closer to justice. I filed successful sentence modification motions; withdrew two terrible plea bargains; won an Americans with Disabilities Act claim; assisted with four family court scenarios; and did what I could for one or two immigration cases.
Without meth, I never would have turned my love for history and scripture into theology and religious studies degrees. Friends and lovers would help me run flash cards for my Greek and Hebrew language requirements, and it was like I was on zoom mode. The information was mine to command.
I can honestly say that the material I absorbed during my companionable meth-fueled study sessions is what has stuck the best in my brain. It was kind of beautiful, this small community of incarcerated druggie friends who believed in me and wanted this for me. This education and the hope for me to make something of myself. We got high and I got passing grades.
I stopped using meth about three years ago. It made me irritable, prone to arguments. The comedown was the worst part. I’d feel so miserable I’d pray to God for strength to give it up, but keep using because I felt like I had no reason to give it up, and also like I’d just give up the ghost without it. Prisons are kind to no one, but especially not to trans women of color in the South. I felt like if I couldn’t at least get high, I would simply die.
“Though I no longer use it, meth put me on the path to becoming the better version of myself I am today.”
Even before prison, there were things in my life I’d long struggled with—gender dysphoria, my attraction to men, trauma from abandonment and physical and sexual abuse. Meth helped in coping with those things too, not just by making me feel good but by steering me toward work from which I gained a sense of purpose.
Slowly, an image coalesced in my mind of the person I wanted to be, the things I wanted to do and the life I wanted—in fact, was owed—for myself. I saw a sequel to the book my life had been so far, one that told a better story with a better ending.
There was a time when I was lazier, less motivated, content with just daydreaming and wishing. It’s a fair characterization to say that, though I no longer use it, meth put me on the path to becoming the better version of myself I am today. It helped mold me into a scholar and a warrior. It helped me believe in myself, until I was able to without it. Action with the wishing.
Photograph by Kastalia Medrano