Prison Was the Only Place This Addict Was Safe
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because every victim has a face.
By Anne Emerson
Ryan called. “Babe, I’m on my way home. See you soon, I love you.”
“I love you too. See you when you get here!”
Those were the words we spoke on Nov. 28, 2017, at 1:26 a.m. Those would also be the last words we spoke. This is the story of my fiancé, Ryan, a wonderful man, son, brother and friend, and a battle with addiction that took his life.
Ryan was a fun, charming, outgoing guy with the most beautiful blue eyes. He could make you crack a smile with little effort, telling one of his “it doesn’t make sense but they’re hilarious” jokes. His presence lit up a room. Everyone loved him, he gathered crowds.
Ryan was in prison, in solitary confinement, when he got the news: His brother was dead. Heroin overdose.
But because Ryan had been addicted to drugs since he was a teenager — heroin, meth, Xanax — he spent years in and out of jail and prison. He’d done about five years of prison time before we met, and the jail time kept on coming.
Ryan and I met in October 2012, when he was in a halfway house, just out of prison in a work-release program. I was living in a sober apartment and attending school for addiction counseling. Most first dates don’t include a child, but ours did. When Ryan called and asked me to dinner, I told him that I’d love to but had no sitter for my son. His response: “Oh, well, that’s OK. He can come.”
“You’d be OK with my son coming along on our first date?”
He was. So off to Old Chicago restaurant we went. Ryan and my son played the crane game forever, while I watched them laughing and having fun. We were inseparable from that night forward. Ryan was sober when we met, but a few months later, he was using again: meth followed by Xanax and eventually back to heroin.
Ryan had a couple of overdoses. One put him in the hospital on life support for eight days. He had aspirated vomit when he overdosed and suffered a minor brain injury because of lack of oxygen. He was OK, though, just some minor memory issues. But his life started to change on Oct. 27, 2013.
Ryan was in prison, in solitary confinement, when he got the news: His brother was dead. Heroin overdose. They let him out and gave him one to two hours, shackled and alone, with his brother at the funeral home. When time was up? Back to prison and into that cell, alone.
When Ryan came home after Eric died, he started drinking, daily. A liter of Eric’s favorite whiskey a day. That’s when I noticed some changes in Ryan and his behavior: the little white lies, the sneakiness, the shadiness. Ryan was using again and more than just occasionally. In addition to drinking heavily, he was snorting Xanax and using heroin, and trying to hide it all.
He also cheated and that led to nothing but arguments. I’d give him the opportunity to be honest, having proof of his lies, but he still chose to lie, especially about his drug use. But I refused to give up. I knew behind this person who was addicted to drugs was an amazing man who wanted nothing more than to get sober and live a happy life.
On Nov. 28, 2017, Ryan was given heroin mixed with fentanyl. He got home barely breathing.
Then another twist: In 2015, I went to prison for 13 months. When I went to prison, Ryan was already in prison, but he got out six months before I did. And he started using again. After I got out, I told him there was no point in lying about his heroin use, it was too obvious. He’d hide his heroin, I’d find it and flush it. I didn’t care if it was a $300 bag, I was not going to let him die from it.
Ryan did outpatient treatment, as ordered by the courts. He wanted to get sober, but he was afraid to step into a world that he didn’t know. He had been using drugs since he was a teenager, and being sober was scary, especially since the only sobriety he had was when he was incarcerated. I wrote the probation office many times, trying to get them to see that this man needed help, not jail. I pleaded with them to send him to treatment so that he could get the help he needed. They never listened. Yet they wondered why he kept ending up back in jail.
In drug court, they treated him like another junkie going through the system, while treating everybody else like humans, giving them a chance, treating them with respect. Ryan was the first person in the history of Anoka County Drug Court to get kicked out of an inpatient treatment program, even though 90 percent of the clients there were using meth. Unsurprisingly, Ryan ended up relapsing while he was there, which got him kicked out, which led him right back to jail for the last four months of his life.
I never left Ryan when he went to jail, but it took a toll on his family: His mom and dad were frustrated and fed up with the drug use and with him being in and out of jail, so they kept their distance. It was very hard for them, but it was very hard for Ryan as well.
On Nov. 28, 2017, Ryan was given heroin mixed with fentanyl. He got home barely breathing. His buddy thought he had just “passed out” and called to tell me to come help get Ryan out of the truck. When I got to the truck, I knew Ryan was overdosing. I yelled for his friend to call 911 and began giving him rescue breaths. I administered naloxone. CPR continued until paramedics got there and gave him a second dose of naloxone. Still nothing.
Ryan went into cardiac arrest in the ER and was put on life support. After four days, he was taken off life support and I watched the love of my life die. Ryan was gone about 2 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2017. My heart is still numb; the pain inside is overwhelming. His poor mother, though, lost her two sons to heroin, and that makes my pain feel small.
I believe that Ryan’s life purpose — to save others — came through his death. By sharing his story I hope to touch the lives of addicts, and that they’ll seek the help needed so another family doesn’t have to suffer the way we’ve suffered.
- Anne Emerson, OZY Author Contact Anne Emerson