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High and Inside

Drugs May Be a Bigger Problem Inside Maryland’s Prisons Than Out On Its Streets

Photos by Frank Klein
ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: Ex-offenders say drugs can make their way inside all of Maryland's prisons, perhaps even the state's Baltimore "Supermax" unit.
IN AND OUT: (top) Amy Stealey helped send her son Michael Rabuck to prison to help keep him off drugs, but he died of an overdose inside
I Can't We Can's Sonnie Price helps addict ex-offenders in recovery.
BOTH SIDES NOW: Former correctional officer Shelby Stern says that even the most well-meaning COs are flummoxed by the drug problem in prisons.

By Ron Cassie | Posted 3/22/2006

Amy Stealey sent her son Michael Rabuck to prison for the last time. Rabuck was a heroin addict and had a history of crime and incarceration that included at least 16 arrests in Baltimore. In September 2002, exasperated by Rabuck’s addiction and the toll it took on him and everyone around him, Stealey turned her son into police herself after Rabuck’s former girlfriend told her that he had just committed three robberies earlier that day to pay for dope.

“I set him up myself,” Stealey says of the day she called Baltimore County Police to her Dundalk home. “The cops knew Michael like the back of their hand. They came into the living room right here and chased him out the back door. Michael could run, but they caught him. I watched it from the kitchen.” Stealey knew that, as a three-time loser, Rabuck would be looking at a 25-year sentence, but she feared more her son returning to the streets.

Rabuck went into prison that November a full-blown addict. And he stayed that way. He never went through withdrawal inside, Stealey says. He was able to use heroin at least every few days to stave it off.

“He used to call me on the phone,” Stealey remembers. “‘Ma, you can’t get away from it in here. You go to the bathroom—it’s there. You go to the shower—it’s there. It’s inescapable.’”

On Nov. 19, 2005, Rabuck, an athletic, handsome 29-year old, died of a heroin overdose. He was found on a shower floor in the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.

“They call it ‘chasing the pain,’” Stealey, a legal secretary in Towson, says. “He had a big tattoo on his back that said DOWN WITH THE PAIN, but he couldn’t quit on his own.”

While Rabuck didn’t have trouble getting drugs in prison, paying for them was another story. His parents often had to pay off what he owed inside to dealers on the outside.

“He’d call, and I’d have to run around to North Avenue, Harford Road, Security Mall—you know, ‘I’ll be parked here at this time, in a red car’—and have to pay these people off,” Stealey says. “I was in some pretty bad neighborhoods, but otherwise they would kill Michael over the debts he owed inside.”

“If you come over, you’ll see I don’t have any living room or dining room furniture,” says Larry Rabuck, Stealey’s ex-husband and Michael’s father. “I sold it all to pay people Michael owed money. I knew better than his mother—I was more afraid for him on the inside than outside. Ten times more.”

Despite the fact that incarceration is supposed to be a deterrent to drug use, Rabuck was the fourth overdose death in a Maryland prison in 2005. Stealey says her son had overdosed at least three previous times in Jessup during his most recent incarceration, only to be revived in the prison’s medical clinic and sent back to his cell. His was the 21st overdose death in a state prison in the last four years, according to Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett.

“It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it?” says Adam Brickner, director of the quasi-public nonprofit Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., when asked about the overdose deaths inside the state’s maximum-security facilities, adding, “I don’t mean that in a good way.”

Seventy-percent of all arrestees nationally self-report a substance-abuse history. Greg Warren, the director of substance-abuse treatment services for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, estimates the number of offenders with serious substance-abuse problems at “probably 80 percent.” But of the 27,000 men and women locked up state prisons and various facilities in Baltimore City, only about 2,000 are in long-term drug treatment. And so, year after year, perhaps the single fundamental issue driving crime, violence, and recidivism in the state—addiction—is left untreated inside the state’s correctional facilities. Untreated, it only becomes a bigger problem, especially since, as former inmates, addiction counselors, and even corrections officers and officials note, getting drugs inside isn’t hard.

“You gotta understand,” says Sonnie Price, an ex-offender who did six years in Jessup and now is the program director at the Baltimore-based residential treatment and recovery organization I Can’t We Can Inc. “Drugs are bigger on the inside than the outside.”

 

DeCoursey Smith is inmate No. 316-212 at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. Now 41, he first went inside in 1985, and has largely been locked up ever since on charges ranging from conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance to strong-arm robbery. In 2003, he was convicted again on a distribution charge and sentenced to 15 years. And while he used to do drugs, Smith doesn’t anymore. Determined to change his life, he goes to a weekly Narcotics Anonymous meeting inside the prison and is involved with his church. He coaches a basketball team at the Hagerstown facility and says he kicks off anybody who uses.

“I was surprised,” Smith says of when he was first locked up. “I had access to everything. It’s as frequent as getting up and brushing your teeth in the morning. If you have somebody to put some money in your account, you can cop forever.”

“I used heroin inside,” admits Quinton A., who has been clean for four years and is now a deacon in his Baltimore church. He says he did his last three-and-a-half-year stretch at Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown from 1999 until ’01 for possession and intent to deliver. “There is a lot of drinking and drugging in Hagerstown. I’d say 50-60 percent of the inmates are drinking and using—as much as you can get it in.”

There are plenty of ways to get contraband in, too. Just because inmates get caught and wind up in jail doesn’t mean they aren’t clever.

Back in the early 1980s, the Rev. Manuel Baerga was arrested at a gas station on Hanover Street in South Baltimore for possession and intent to deliver 1,000 pounds of marijuana and 100,000 Quaaludes. He was also charged with possession of a handgun. Baerga, who wrote a self-published book about his drug-dealing days and subsequent religious conversion called Inside the Miami Drug Cartel, did almost a year in Baltimore City detention facilities awaiting trial and sentencing and then almost a year and half in Jessup. Baerga says he knows about smuggling drugs into prison and insists it was—and is—easy to do. After all, he’s got personal experience.

“There are two ways to get drugs into prison,” Baerga says. “One is through visits, one is through the workers.”

As for the first method, he says, “girlfriends pass it in. It’s all about the kisses and hugs. Other times, they’ll tape it underneath a desk or chair, or some agreed upon place. An inmate who is a trustee, whose job it is to clean up the visiting room or the hallway, will pick it up later.” Other workers, several ex-offenders say, such as the guys who deliver the furniture or kitchen workers, brought in larger amounts.

Baerga says he also recruited inmates who were about to get released to help with his New York-based operation . “Everybody wants to make money,” he says.

After doing six months on an outstanding charge in North Carolina following his release in Maryland, Baerga has been going back to prisons for 20 years as part of Teen Challenge’s outreach program; he is now executive director of the Maryland chapter of the Christian organization. Though he has changed, Baerga, who sees ex-offenders on a daily basis, says, “Nothing inside has.”

Rick B. agrees. He was 19 when he was first incarcerated in 1975. He says he’s been locked up in Hagerstown and “all over.” Most recently he did 90 days in a Cecil County work-release prison in 2003 for assault and battery. He confirms that balloons aren’t for birthdays behind the fence.

“In Hagerstown, there was a guy who’d visit his girlfriend, and she’d blow 12, 13 balloons [full of drugs] into his mouth,” B. says. “He’d get the latex gloves and wait till he shit it out. It’d take a day and half, two days. Mostly it was marijuana and hashish.

“He had a balloon break at least one time I know of,” he continues. “He tried to sort it out of his shit and smoke it. But it smelled. Smelled bad. I was never desperate enough to smoke anything that came out of a broken balloon—I should say, not that I knew about.”

There are almost as many different methods of smuggling in drugs as there are crimes. “It’d come in shoes and slippers,” B. says. “One guy had his girlfriend cut a slit into the band of his underwear. She’d put it in there, sew it up, and then she’d bring it in for him on a visit. A couple of hits is all you need.”

“Those road crews you see along the highway?” I Can’t We Can’s Price asks. “People used to plant shit out there, and [inmates would] pick it up and bring it back in.”

For his most recent stint in jail after years of off-and-on incarceration, Ken M., 50, did about a year in 2003 split between Central Booking in Baltimore and Jessup’s pre-release unit. He estimates that 40 percent of his fellow pre-release inmates were using cocaine and/or heroin that “came in with the bread truck—they buried bricks [of drugs] inside the large loaves of bread. Somebody [on the staff] was getting kickbacks.”

Once the drugs were inside the facility, he says, “little pieces would get into each of the barracks. It’s like everybody had it—it spread throughout the population.”

Joshua Brown, 26, has been in the Teen Challenge residential treatment house on Calvert Street for four months. He’s from Philadelphia and learned about the program from an aunt in Cecil County after four years in a Massachusetts prison. He says his heroin addiction actually got worse while incarcerated. “I used the whole time, from day one,” he says.

Brown says most of the drugs he used came in when somebody would receive a visit from a wife or girlfriend and swallow a balloon full of dope. “Then they’d come back, drink a mixture of shampoo and water, and throw it back up,” he says.

Brown describes what would happen next: “My buddy was down a couple of cells. He’d pass it to one of the tier workers, a trustee who cleans up. He’d pass maybe a quarter gram, in a little two-inch fold of paper, always with a syringe, spoon, and matches, and maybe a Q-tip.” After “cooking” the heroin in a spoon filled with water, to dissolve the drug and evaporate some of the impurities, Brown would drop a small piece of cotton in the water—“you can use a piece from your T-shirt or a cigarette filter”—and draw the brown liquid into the needle through the cotton, to further filter it.

“It’s immediate,” Brown says, his eyes lighting ever so slightly. “Your face feels like pins and needles. It’s a hot rush. You have an overall feeling of euphoria, well-being. Nothing matters, life is a bed of roses.”

Even inside a prison cell?

“Anywhere,” he says. “It’s a feeling I wished I never had. My brain tries to trick me into it all the time.”

 

Today, Sonnie Price tries to teach guys like Brown how to live with that compulsion. Price says he’d love to go back to Jessup as part of a drug treatment program. He thinks he could make a difference. After all, the life of an addict inside is no more pleasant than the life of an addict on the street. It may even be less so.

“I sniffed heroin inside, smoked crack,” Hagerstown inmate Smith says. “Coming off crack on the outside is bad, but you can always go get some more. Coming down inside, it’s you and that cell. That is an ugly experience.”

Smith decides to share another story.

“I tell you one about how it is,” he says. “When I was in ‘the Cut’”—the House of Correction in Jessup—“this 17-year-old came in, doing time for shooting somebody—his girlfriend, I think—and he buys two $5 bags of weed from this gay guy who is built like Lou Ferrigno and can fight, too. This youngster was expecting his parents to put some money in his account that weekend, but they never did. Two weeks go by. Then [the dealer] tells the kid, ‘Go get your shower slippers.’

“I’m laughing about it now,” Smith chuckles. “But it’s sad. He’s getting fucked over some weed. You want to do something about it, but inside you got to mind your business.”

The real trick for most inmates is paying their dealers. Some have cash inside. Others must pay someone on the outside with the help of a girlfriend, buddy, or family member. Otherwise, they need someone on the outside to put money into their prison commissary account so they can purchase food, toiletry items, radios, or even televisions in some institutions, which can then be exchanged for drugs. Porn, DVDs , jewelry, clothes, anything of value can be swapped or stolen and used to pay off a debt. Sex is occasionally traded for drugs. It’s a harsh economy. Nobody—except those hustling—is working a paying job.

“Guys borrow drugs, and try to pay for it later,” Ken M. says. “I saw a guy who couldn’t pay his debt get hit with hot baby oil boiled in a microwave. It just blasted his skin right off. Pretty nasty.”

Joshua Brown says he got other young guys hooked when they came in to help pay for his own habit, but, like Michael Rabuck, he often needed his family to bail him out of debt. “I had $400, $500 sometimes I owed,” Brown says. “You’d usually call your family. [Dealers] would give you a P.O. box or somebody on the street they trusted. There were a lot fights and stabbings over bills not being paid.”

Quinton A. says that inmates commonly steal from one another to pay drug dealers off, or, as he puts it, “Sometimes you gotta rob Peter to pay Paul.”

He contends that unpaid drug bills fuel fights inside on almost a daily basis, often resulting in stabbings, which he says occur a couple of times a week. “Sometimes it’s just a scratch, but I’d love to see the numbers on how many inmates are taken to medical,” he says. “You have them flying people out of there to Shock Trauma.”

The state Division of Correction wouldn’t comment on how many inmates are flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center each year for medical attention. However, Ron Bailey, executive director of the corrections officers’ union (AFSCME Council 92) and a corrections officer himself for 20 years at Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup, confirms that he saw this happen several times.

Newly minted Teen Challenge counselor Rob Murray, 37, says he has spent roughly 15 years total inside. “The last time was for five years, for drug possession—heroin,” Murray says. He went to Baltimore City high schools but quit in 10th grade. He did his last bit at Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore. “I got busted at Greenmount and 22nd—I was dealing drugs to support my habit,” he says. “Right on the street. I was bold.”

Once inside Eastern Correctional, however, Murray says he learned to be a little less bold. “I’d smoke a little marijuana inside, but not the hard stuff,” he says. “I’d hustle a little heroin to make some money, but I didn’t want to get started again after going through withdrawal.” (Maryland inmates are not currently allowed methadone treatment or given medical assistance with withdrawal symptoms.)

“What you got to understand is drugs, fights, stabbings are normal in prison,” Murray says. “Normal. That’s not news to anybody who has been there. It’s been going on for 50, 100 years. Normal.”

On a late December visit to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, correctional officer Chris Warden and a female counterpart attempt to screen visitors. Girlfriends, moms with babies, and children off from school flow through the front door. One woman is sent away after failing on three tries to get through the metal detector. While the detector may help catch weapons or a cell phone, it cannot catch drugs or money. Bags are searched, but visitors aren’t strip-searched, so it’s relatively easy to hide small items on your person or in your clothes. You take off your coat, and if the machine doesn’t go off, you’re in.

“We strive for no drugs, no alcohol,” Warden says. “We need a safe environment—but you can’t catch everything. You see how many are coming through today.”

Other than the walls and bars themselves, correctional officers are the only line of defense preventing contraband from entering prisons. But the ex-offenders interviewed for this article all say that correctional officers are a part of the problem, and that some guards regularly smuggle in tobacco, cell phones, and drugs.

Division of Correction spokeswoman Doggett says that more than 300 cell phones were confiscated in Maryland prisons last fiscal year. In a single-day sweep in September 2004 at the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore, she confirmed, 25 packets of heroin were found. Two days later, in another sweep at the same institution, 109 packets of heroin were discovered. “The drug recoveries are a result of officers being attentive and thorough in their searches,” Doggett wrote in an e-mail about the incident.

Doggett notes that the Division of Correction is “concerned” whenever prison security is breached. “Division of Correction staff work very hard to control contraband entering into the facilities,” she writes. “In addition, no prison administrator takes lightly the fact that inmates manipulate some staff into bringing contraband into the facilities. The agency confronts this issue consistently and takes disciplinary actions against staff as warranted.”

AFSCME head Ron Bailey says that when he was a correctional officer, “at least a couple” of guards were fired each year for bringing contraband into the prison. It appears “to becoming more and more blatant,” he adds.

Bailey contends that the amount of drugs getting through and the number of inmates using them is likely to ebb and flow depending on how lax the security measures are at any given institution, but acknowledges that the problem is endemic. Presented with stories of drugs entering prison through myriad ways and asked whether he was aware of such activities when he was a guard, Bailey says, “Oh, absolutely. All of the above.”

Often leading to violence when inmates can’t pay their bills?

“Oh, absolutely.”

Bailey is forthright about the issue of corrupt correctional officers. He says a few bad apples spoil the rank and file’s reputation, but adds quickly that the Division of Correction hires too many young guards, and that they are underpaid and undersupervised. Starting salaries for correctional officers have only recently been bumped to $28,000 a year from the $23-$24,000 range. Bailey says some young guards come in planning to hustle.

Even the most well-meaning correctional officers sometimes find themselves at a loss when facing the problem of drugs inside. Shelby Stern, 45, a correctional officer from 1979 to 1987 at the Baltimore City jail, confirms the various ex-offenders accounts of prison life then—and now. The drug trade is the main impetus to violence inside, he says. He recalls seeing a prisoner killed over a debt with a loose 10-pound free weight while the inmate was bench-pressing out in the yard. “This guy had a lot of weight up on the bar,” Stern says. “This other guy walks up, picks up a plate, and just smashes his head in.”

As a correctional officer, he says he occasionally smelled inmates smoking pot and knew they were drinking homemade prison wine. “Jump-steady, they call it. Oh my god—Christmas, New Year’s, the Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs,” Stern says. “You’d come in to work, and half the section would be blitzed.”

Stern guesses 40 percent of inmates drank or used drugs when he was a correctional officer. “The other 60 percent would if they could,” he says. “They just don’t have access to it because they can’t pay for it.”

Just as prison drug dealers and addicts attempt to hook and co-opt new inmates to their own ends, they do the same to correctional officers. Inmates are expert manipulators, Stern notes: “There are officers with drinking and drug problems. And a drug addict knows another drug addict, an alcoholic knows another alcoholic.

“They know what week you get paid and what is your off-week,” he continues. “They’ll approach you about depositing a money order someone sent them or doing some favor. I remember one time a guy asked me to go to his house and pick up some clothes for him for a court appointment—offered me $800. I thought about it but didn’t do it. But he got the guard on the shift after me to do it on that particular day.

“We’d be searched, but they wouldn’t check our bags,” Stern says. “And [the correctional officer] had the guy’s clothes in his bag, and they searched it this time. I don’t know how much, but they found heroin sewn in the cuffs of the pants, in the heel of shoes. The guy did have a court date, that was true. The officer had no idea.” He adds that at least three guards where he worked were fired for bringing contraband inside.

Stern says otherwise upstanding officers get complacent and occasionally look the other way at transgressions. For a period, he says, he dated an inmate’s sister and once let the inmate slide when he caught him smoking pot. It led to a stabbing that night after his shift was over. “Some guys knew he was holding and they rushed his cell,” Stern says. “But he was ready for them. He had a knife. I felt bad about that. If I had done my job, it wouldn’t have happened.”

It’s not unusual, he adds, for inmates and officers to have mutual friends or some history in common. They might come from the same neighborhood. Stern believes, too, with more and more women becoming correctional officers, it’s becoming easier for inmates to seduce their guardians into wrongdoing. “Point blank, that’s not even a question I want to answer,” Bailey, the union head, says when asked about coercion of female guards. “More than half my membership now is female.”

Less than a year ago, Stern got a lot look at things from the other side. “I got locked up for driving without a license,” he says (he is currently in treatment for substance abuse). “I’m in the bullpen at [Baltimore City] Central Booking for 24 hours with maybe 20 guys. One guy pulls out some crack and matches from the heel in his shoe. He was strip-searched beforehand, too. I see one pull out a cell phone he had hidden underneath the tongue in his sneaker. Another had a pack of cigarettes squeezed in between the tongue and side of his sneaker. Three different guys, I couldn’t believe it.”

The Division of Correction does run random urinalysis tests on inmates each month, screening 8 percent of the population, in addition to routine testing of inmates in substance-abuse treatment programs and “spot check testing . . . when suspicious activity is observed,” Doggett says in an e-mail. The number of inmates testing positive for drugs in 2005, she says, was 2 percent. The Department of Public Safety’s Warren says the number is “lower than national average, which is 4 to 5 percent.”

Those are numbers no else interviewed for this story takes seriously. Drugs such as cocaine and heroin can leave the system in as little as three days; clean urine is as much a hot commodity in prison as drugs are. Even the correctional officers are wise to the scam: Stern acknowledges beating his own urine tests when he was a correctional officer with “a miniature lotion bottle filled with someone else’s pee.”

 

Warren says there were 108,000 bookings last year at the Baltimore City Detention Center involving, as he puts it, “60,000 unique individuals”—meaning that most people arrested are arrested more than once in a given year. Of those 60,000, Warren says, 18,000 self-reported heroin addiction. Since that number only counts those who acknowledge heroin use, the number could be double that, and it doesn’t take into consideration at all those with alcohol, cocaine, pot, PCP, OxyContin, crack, or crystal-meth issues.

Ask any city cop or state trooper and they’ll tell you that 80, 85, 90 percent of the people they pull off the street on a given Friday or Saturday night are intoxicated on something. These numbers are not just for drug- or alcohol-related crimes, but crimes committed overall.

If it was possible to remove alcohol and drugs from the equation, it seems, there would be a lot fewer criminals, committing a lot less crime. “Take the drugs and alcohol out, and all of a sudden you have a reasonable person,” says John Hickey, director of West Baltimore’s Tuerk House addiction treatment facility. “And treatment does work.”

Of the 27,000 inmates incarcerated in state institutions, nearly all with documented drug and/or alcohol issues, “at this moment we have e 2,200 in treatment,” Warren says. In May, he adds, once the Department of Public Safety’s RESTART re-entry program kicks in, the number of Maryland inmates undergoing substance-abuse and addiction treatment will jump to 3,500. (At press time, RESTART funding is caught up in the budget debate in Annapolis; see Quick and Dirty on page 13 for more details.)

But each year Maryland prisons release 13,000 to 15,000 ex-offenders back into the population; of those, two-thirds—8,000 to 9,000—move to Baltimore. Those numbers don’t include those released from the various city and county detention facilities in the area. Even if RESTART proves some sort of magic bullet against addiction, more than 10,000 untreated convicted criminals are going to be sent back into society.

Teen Challenge’s Rob Murray never got treatment in prison, and his addiction was always waiting for him when he got released. “Every time I’d get out I’d tell myself I’ll get myself together,” he says. “I’d sleep on friends’ and cousins’ couches, like that, but I’d get myself messed up again and end up homeless”—and, eventually, back in jail.

While Public Safety officials have high hopes for RESTART, the treatment aspect of the program only lasts for six months. Some critics note that yearlong programs such as I Can’t We Can, Tuerk House, and Teen Challenge often have a better track record in actually beating addiction.

Israel Cason, 54, had a heroin addiction for 30 years. He first went to jail in 1968 and got out for the last time in 1993. He got clean at Stop and Surrender, a long-term treatment center in Philadelphia, after sleeping in an abandoned car for two years. Since founding the nonprofit I Can’t We Can in 1997, he estimates 9,000 people have come through its doors, and 4,000 have graduated from the yearlong program. For him, extended treatment is the only effective treatment.

“You have people with 20-year histories of drug abuse and all the behavior that is associated with that,” Cason says. “How is a 28-day program or meeting once a week going to change that?”

I Can’t We Can clients must attend three group meetings a day to address their addictions. Over the course of the program, I Can’t We Can helps addicts get off drugs and alcohol, helps them stabilize their emotions and daily routines, helps them deal with the reality of their lives and their disease, and helps them work toward living a new kind of life devoid of their old habits. “You have to change behaviors,” says Cason, who adds nearly all his clients have been incarcerated. “If you don’t do that in jail, you are going to have the same thing.”

Cason says the full recovery process—just getting to the point where an addict can maintain a day-to-day drug-free existence—can take anywhere from three to six years. But his own success story, and those of other former addicts, are the best testimonies that offenders and ex-offenders shouldn’t be written off, or simply “warehoused,” as Bailey puts it.

“We have a guy who has seven years clean. He was a crackhead,” Cason says with affection. “Now he’s teaching music to elementary school kids. He went and got a master’s degree from Morgan State and now he’s working on a Ph.D. from Towson.”

The state is banking on RESTART to address addiction and recidivism, but Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems director Adam Brickner, like many interviewed for this article, believes more needs to be done while prisoners are under lock and key. After all, inmates have nothing but time, and that time could be used as a motivator—especially if successful completion of drug treatment might cut it short. “I think coercive treatment [in prisons] might even be more effective because there is a carrot at the end,” Brickner says.

“You have a captive audience,” Manuel Baerga adds. “The problem is convincing Maryland representatives and senators to make the funds available.” After all, inmates not only don’t have big-money political clout, but felons can’t even vote.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s proposed fiscal 2007 “budget calls for roughly $4.2 million of new drug treatment money,” says Tara Andrews, executive director of Justice Maryland, a coalition of advocacy groups for former convicts. “Of that, I believe about $850,000 is earmarked for programs behind the walls,” including RESTART. “We are calling for $50 million in new drug treatment money,” she continues. “We know right now, that $25-$30 million could be absorbed by existing organizations”—nonprofit community treatment programs. Andrews adds that a 1994 study prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Army showed that every dollar spent on treatment saves taxpayers $7 to $8, largely through reduced crime and increased productivity.

“This is the issue that trumps all others,” says Rada Moss, director of the Maryland Reentry Partnership, a nonprofit organization serving ex-offenders. Moss contends that addiction affects “80 percent of our [clients]. If they don’t recover, the chances are very remote they will hold on to any jobs or housing we help them with.

“It’s a human investment,” she stresses. “Ninety-nine percent of these guys don’t want to go back to jail, [but] they have don’t have much of a chance when they go back into the same environment.”

 

“Michael never got treatment when he was locked up,” Amy Stealey says of her deceased son. “Never. If he had, he’d be alive today.

“I used to just think he was a bad kid,” she adds. “That he couldn’t make the right decisions. But I finally saw when he was locked up in there, that it was a physical, psychological illness he had. It was more powerful than anything I ever saw.”

For the foreseeable future, life behind bars (and subsequently in the street) will remain the same. Undoubtedly, for other addicts like Michael Rabuck, this year their prison sentence will become a death sentence.

“The majority of the inmates in the correctional system have substance-abuse problems and would benefit from extended drug treatment,” Division of Correction spokeswoman Doggett writes in an e-mail. “However, treatment has to be balanced with good security procedures, cognitive programming, education, and public awareness that drugs, cell phones, and tobacco in prison create an unsafe environment. Staff must also maintain their integrity and not be compromised by the inmates they supervise.”

But there is no massive extended-treatment effort planned or even contemplated to address the overwhelming substance-abuse problems; even if RESTART is wildly successful, it would be, at best, a small start. And until that changes, rampant drug addiction among inmates and ex-offenders is going to continue. It’s going to lead to more crime—in and out of prison—and more incarceration. Then the process will begin again.

“Guys would go and come back so fast, it’d be like they never were gone,” former correctional officer Shelby Stern says. “I’d tell them, ‘Boy, you never even left out of here. We haven’t filled your house yet. It’s still empty—waiting for you.’

“By house,” Stern explains, “I mean cell.

“‘Go ahead, walk it back up there,’ I’d tell them. ‘Walk it back up there.’”

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