When I was in jail, the hardcore drug addicts and alcoholics told me not to accept a drug treatment program in the place of jail. Treatments are a hassle. Do your time, get out and get high, my junkie jail buddies told me.
So when I heard that the city has a new plan to treat the city’s chronic street drunks, I was a little skeptical. Alcohol is a tricky foe. The Serial Inebriate Program, as it’s called, will offer repeat drunken offenders a treatment option in stay of increased jail time. While it sounds like a sweet deal to the average person, I’ve met many a drunk and druggie that will choose jail over treatment almost every time. I preferred treatment. Not because I wanted help, just a way out of jail. I had a hard time getting loaded locked up. But when I did go to jail, it wasn’t all bad.
I look back fondly on the time I served at the Santa Cruz County Men’s Facility, or Jail Farm. It was a brief reprieve from the hard-scramble pursuits of thieving every day. A 60-day window etched in my mind, made clearer and brighter because of the surrounding years of darkness.
After getting popped for my third petty theft, I figured it was time to clean up and pay my penance. When I first got arrested for stealing, the judge told me if I got caught a second time, I could get a felony charge and do a year in San Quentin. So, only doing a solid 60 days was not bad. It was the least I could do. I stayed clean almost the whole time, only smoking weed twice.
The jail farm wasn’t particularly fun or exciting, but it was much better than being in the downtown county jail. The farm is a minimum security jail nestled in conifer woods on the edge of La Selva Beach, outside of Watsonville, Calif. Inmates called it “Camp Snoopy.” There was a pond with ducks and geese. It even had a peacock, which strutted around the yard.
Inmates at the farm had to get jobs. Some were off the grounds. I got a job at the nearby dump. It was only a stone’s throw away from the jail, but I could smoke as many cigarettes as I wanted there. I got to do hard, back-breaking work, like carrying old rolled carpets full of dirt and piss, and stacking them accordingly in a semi-truck trailer. I would return sun-beaten, tired and hungry. I ate a lot of empty calories and slept well. Although there were many good things about the dump, the best part was that I didn’t have to be around the other inmates.
Some of the inmates called me “suicide boy,” which wasn’t too bad. I secretly liked it, because the other name they called me was “spanky.” I think; it was spank-something.
It was my second day in jail and I was sick. Kicking heroin isn’t fun. I hadn’t slept much and would discreetly vomit in the bathroom garbage cans.
The buzzing ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach had me laid up on the top bunk shaking in misery. A couple of tough guys came up and asked me if I was rubbing one out under my blanket. I peeked out from under the blanket and told them to fuck off.
Wrong move. The biggest one looked pissed. The other guy shook his head, and mouthed that I shouldn’t mess with this guy. Other inmates came over and started making fun of me, calling me spanky or something. I was mortified. The name only partially stuck and I didn’t get beat up, so it wasn’t too bad. The whole jail farm experience reminded me of middle school. But jail wasn’t nearly as miserable and at least there I had a purpose: working at the dump.
For 60 days I didn’t drink alcohol or shoot smack. It was the longest stretch since I began using. The morning of my release, I was loaded again. Neither jail nor rehab ever kept me sober for long.