Episode 5: Substance Use, Abuse, and Avoidance

From Bubbles to Nick Carraway: “They find themselves searching for godliness.”

I can spend $20.00 and not care about shit for three days.

[Intro music plays]

Dale: “I mean–I’ve died on the streets so many times”

Analyn: I say are you helping me to get out of this or are you taking my kid from me? I just had that feeling.

Marissa: “My new lover now thinks that he keeps saying, “Be stronger.” But I am stronger. There’s the difference.”

Eryka: I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.

Donjuan: “But I was always kind of in the gut of the city, so to speak, looking for things, trying to – curious. Even here, just curious and roaming.”

Nicole: When I get stressed out, I’ll color. Or if my mind starts thinking too much, coloring is how I cope with a lot of – just about everything, actually.

Lucky: and pretty much he saw the crown that I wear on top of my head which is invisible to most, sometimes even me.

[end intro music]

Alison: Welcome back to When You Are Homeless. This is episode 5. This is Alison. I’m here with Blake.

Blake: Hey.

Alison: Before we jump into episode 5, we’re going to talk a little about Eryka’s story, which recently dropped. Eryka, when I spoke with her, there were a lot of noises happening in that recording but one of them there’s a weird ruffling sound, and she was it was cold out and she was messing with some bandage on her arm and kind of like ripping of bandages and putting them back on I think her hands were like cracked from the cold. So that’s some of the noise you were hearing in the background.

Blake: That’s interesting because when I hear her I hear a lot of fidgetiness in her voice. She’s very I found like dissatisfied with a lot of things. And now that you say that I can picture what it might have looked like for her to be there speaking on these issues that might be frustrating for her. 

Alison: Yeah, you’re right. She almost couldn’t sit still. I think she was a little nervous too. 

Blake:  Ok.

Alison: Yeah. Um, so I just I mean I’ve listened to Eryka’s story several times now, and what constantly sticks out to me is how compared to say like Dale or Nicole or Lucky, some of our other storytellers, it’s like they know the drill and they’re like, this is tough and I’ve been through a lot of this. Eryka seems so like at the beginning of this experience. I feel like she’s struggling with she’s like, “I know who I am. I’m not a shelter person. But I might have to start calling the shelters because my feet are frozen and they’re not thawing out.”

Blake: There was a lot of that kind of conflict between her seeing why people are kind of frustrated by homeless people and also realizing that she’s a homeless person. And she doesn’t want to be in that number. And also I would say that she doesn’t. In many ways she distinguishes other homeless people and herself in certain behaviors and yet she has this really incredible empathy for the perspective of a person who would be looking upon her in the same way that they might look upon other homeless people. That was really fascinating. 

Alison: Totally. And it’s so fascinating how she expresses that. She like her thought process she really let us in on. I see both sides and then she would kind of work through both sides. 

Blake: Were there any specifics of her frustrations that I wonder that stood out to you as you listened to her story again? 

Alison:  One other thing she has this like kind of endearing sarcasm and cynicism. She’s like “Anyone would be lucky to have me as a friend blah blah blah.” I really like that. And then one time she was talking about wanting to store her stuff. She’s like, “Of course I walked some ridiculous amount of miles to get there and then I couldn’t leave it.” So this sort of like it’s not gonna work but I’m gonna keep trying.” It felt like a strength actually. 

Blake: I see. 

Alison: That kind of sarcasm. I thought

Blake: Yeah, it’s reliable 

Alison: Yeah

Blake. It’s always going to be there. And it’s somehow maybe a kind of coping mechanism probably. 

Alison:  Yeah, I think so. 

Blake: It’s maybe not so atypical of those in that kind of situation. I’m curious about your idea that she seems new to it. Is it mainly this kind of like raw frustration. She hasn’t yet been hopefully won’t be hopefully she’ll get over it but is it that she hasn’t yet been sort of accustomed to the particular frustrations of life on the street? 

Alison:  I think so. And just the way she talks about like the things that she’s encountering seems surprising to her. She says, “I keep trying and nothing works.” And she seems sort of surprised by that I think. 

Blake: Ok. 

Alison:  Like this is the way the lotto works and they kick you out. Almost like she’s just realizing it. “If you can’t keep me there more than three weeks, then I don’t need you.” It’s like she’s in the process of learning that. 

Blake: Yeah. She’s sorting through what it means to not be selected for the lottery. And there’s one line I remember where she says, “Well, I guess everyone does deserve a chance.” She’s so caught up in in her own experience, which is really natural, I think, for where she is. 

Alison:  Yeah, yeah.

Blake: Shoot, there was something else I was going to ask you about, but I can’t remember what it was now. Was there anything else that you wanted to bring up about her story? 

Alison:  I think those were the big ones that stuck out to me. 

Blake: Oh, I remember what it was now. All of what she talked about the entire time was her present.

Alison:  Right.

Blake: And so many of our other storytellers immediately  dive into their past or what was great about it or what was terrible about it, the traumas or the successes. She is living minute to minute.

Alison:  True.

Blake: That’s very much the sense I get from her that was maybe kind of distance from the others. Would you agree? 

Alison:  I would agree. I mean she does tell us how she came to Denver and her past experience with her mom. I think we did quote her in the trauma issue because she had that kind of trauma coming out as transgender to her mom. But I agree with you and I think that that’s what was adding to that sense of newness. Maybe it is a sense of presentism

Blake: I see.

Alison:  Like she’s so in the moment. 

Blake: Right. Ok. 

Alison:  Yeah. It’s interesting.

Blake: We are going to transition today into talking about substance abuse as a theme that we saw emerge but also that we want to be careful with because I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us have a kind of awareness of this stereotype as being applicable to many homeless people that they’re drug abusers or alcoholics and so I know for me anyway in the interviews that I conducted I was very sensitive to how I would respond to any mention of drug use or alcohol use and not want to in any way press too hard to get them to speak on that issue if they didn’t want to. And yet it did come up in plenty of our stories, and so we thought it would make sense to dedicate an entire episode to giving you some excerpts from really almost all of our storytellers about this issue, and I think you’ll be surprised I think that the ways that it comes up are not at all what conform to the stereotypes. Would you agree with that?

Alison: Yeah.

Blake: And yet there are a couple of stories that actually maybe do, which is uncomfortable for us as we go through this process. And as we dive into this as a kind of context for it, I’m thinking as I have become this person who thinks about contextual pop culture things I was thinking about this in the last couple of days preparing for this episode and I’ve thought of two characters who are kind of on either end of the spectrum of this issue. I think on the one end would be someone like Bubbles from The Wire. I’m a huge Wire fan and that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s listened to this. We’re basically like NPR wannabes and everyone who listens to NPR likes The Wire.

Alison:  Except for me. I haven’t seen The Wire. I’m sorry. 

Blake: Let me tell you about it. It’s about Baltimore and it’s set between 2002 and 2008, I think the show ran. And it traces the drug war in that city as seen through the eyes of cops, users, pushers, the criminal organizations that sell it. And it’s just exquisite in its ability to kind of move between all of those different perspectives on this and humanize the characters that are a part of it. I’ll stop my Wire rant now because I’m sure that everyone who’s listening to this probably like has heard some version of this crap already. I just want to focus on Bubbles, who is a character whose real name is Reginald, I believe. But you hardly ever hear it. Everyone always calls him “Bubs” or “Bubbles” and he’s a drug addict who lives on the street. And across every season, which spans these six years, you see him in various states of disrepair just scrapping by. Often addicted. Sometimes trying to kick the habit sometimes not. Always funny. Always clever. He’s a criminal informant. So he helps the police try to tag certain people as being on a certain level of the criminal chain. And he’s a main character in the sense that he’s got so many endearing charming qualities. He’s really smart, he’s very self aware, even in the moments where I think for example he’s training almost or trying to educate this friend of his that he’s come into contact with who’s a new user of heroin—that’s his drug of choice—and he’s trying to tell him how to be, how to be street wise, how to make sure that when you run a scan on somebody selling you the dope that you’re getting that you do it in these ways that are safer than others. And of course, he finds himself in all kind of unbelievable terrible situations as a result. So that’s one extreme. The character who in some ways fits the stereotype that certainly is depicted as a drug user who is addicted.

Alison: And is homeless 

Blake: And is homeless

Alison:  Kind of because of the drug using

Blake: Exactly. And then on the other end you have this character, this real person that I was describing in a couple of episodes earlier, Lars Eighner, who wrote this book Travels with Lizbeth, that I’ve mentioned before. He in his introduction to that book speaks very openly about the fact that he has never used drugs and never will. And yet he is homeless for these other reasons. And through these misadventures that he has on the road, getting rides from people, hitchhiking, he is pretty much every time offered a joint or offered some sort of drug and always refused. And every time the people are just stunned. They can’t believe it that someone’s homeless and doesn’t want to do drugs. So in the same way that I think that earlier in this podcast we were trying to make a clear point that the state of homelessness has no defining set of characteristics, I want to make it clear that drug use is absolutely another of those characteristics that some people have and some people don’t. And I think you’ll see that in these excerpts that we will pull from today from the stories of these eight people some of them are really in a bad place when it comes to substances and other seem to have had brushes with it that they don’t really feel addicted. They don’t need to go back. In fact, they never really wanted to be there in the first place. So anyway, that’s sort of like my cultural frame for this whole episode I would say. 

Alison: And not to be repetitive about this is yet again, we did not ask directly about drug use. That was not a question we asked. This was all things people chose to just start talking about as part of their story.

Blake: Exactly

Alison: One thing I did want to bring in and we didn’t want to bring in a bunch of stats and stuff because you all can go look those up and whatever, numbers, numbers. But just one thing that’s kind of entering the public consciousness more and more I think is this idea of safe injection sites. And I know that it’s happening all over the states and apparently there are 100 safe injection sites all over the world, mostly Canada, Europe and Australia. These are places people can go and usually bring their own drugs and inject safely and so it’s clearly very controversial because some people think that this enables and encourages drug use. Other people think that it gets users out of the alleyway so at least they can have a clean injection and be safe in that way and people can protect against overdose. So none of our storytellers mention these sites. I just thought it was an interesting thing to think about as it is something that people who are not drug users are sort of like kind of being brought into the conversation because of these sites. Whether it’s as voters or if tax dollars go to them, etc. etc. 

Blake: Right.

Alison:  And this article I read, we’ll post a link to it. It’s just an NPR article on . . . 

Blake: NPR! 

Alison: Yeah, see we love NPR. It says just showing all of this research. Basically the bottom line seemed to be this is one of this topics where you’re going to read the research you already agree with. In the end, it’s not really about the numbers. It’s how you feel kind of morally about what is “right.” 

Blake: Yeah, and there are bigger issues that I see playing out in the news these days where drug companies are being held to account for really pushing opioids through doctors and getting them to prescribe it. 

Alison: Wow

Blake: delivering it en masse to these particular places where there were already lots of issues. So those issues are playing out in the courts right now in a big way.

Alison:  Wow

Blake: And you know, again, that’s not something you’ll see any connection to directly in these stories. 

Alison:  Although some of our storytellers are kind of implicated in that structural drug system. They’re given too much medication.

Blake: That’s right. 

Alison: You know

Blake: That’s right. And you’ll hear that

Alison: prescribed by whomever they’re seeing

Blake: That’s right. So maybe it is even more direct than we were thinking.

Alison: Well, I guess on to our storytellers. 

Blake: Yeah, for sure. We’re going to start with an excerpt from Marissa. And Marissa, you might remember, is our storyteller who sees herself as a kind of a mentor to these other transgender people who are trying to come into that world, and she’s been around for enough time that she feels that they’re her drag daughters. That’s just a way to kind of refresh your memory about who she is. And she speaks to the question of drugs from the point of view of dealing them. And here’s–I’ll just give you the quote from her. Here she is talking about that aspect of her life: 

Marissa [recorded previously]:

Homelessness been really hard. But it’s not as hard as I used to make it. But it can make you very vulnerable to certain things. You can become a drug dealer. That’s making it harder for yourself. Even though it’s easy to make the money, then you can get thrown back in jail and start the cycle all over. Or you can do the right thing, get housing, get into school, get a job, get Social Security like I should.

Blake: And I think there you can see that reflective quality. She’s been through this cycle before, and she understands it, and yet by the same token it doesn’t make it any easier necessarily to turn away from it. Because it offers a lot of things that in the short term, which is often homeless people are sort of focused and have to be focused, it provides money. 

Alison: Totally

Blake: And you see her fighting that urge to do this thing, which she knows will be a short-term fix. 

Alison: And the way she’s talking about it, I feel like she’s kind of like been there. You know like she knows this through experience, I think. And several of our storytellers it seems like their experience with drugs sort of started with how easy it was to sell drugs. Nicole, who I don’t think we’re quoting in this episode, but if you remember you’ve already heard her story. She kind of hides in her room and does drugs but that started because she lost her job and the newest quickest job was for her to sell drugs because she know people who were doing it. Um, so I feel like Marissa is sort of like she knows it’s easy in the short term but it’s harder for yourself in the long term as she says.

Blake: And I think more so with her than with other of our storytellers, I’ve felt as I listened to her that she actually I believed her that she might be beyond selling drugs. 

Alison: Yeah.

Blake: I don’t know if she’s fully beyond using them

Alison: Right

Blake: But she’s definitely beyond selling them. She feels to me someone who’s very adamant on that point. When you listen to her story, I think you’ll maybe see that. 

Alison: Which you will soon. The next kind of storyteller we’re going to highlight is Lucky. And there were so many quotations that we could have pulled from Lucky because I think her relationship with drugs is so fascinating, particularly the connection between drugs and music. She has that quote where she’s like, “I feel like I sing better when I’m on drugs.” And it kind of releases her and helps her create better music, but then it also like takes her away from music. So there was that complicated relationship. However, the snippet we’re going to play for you from Lucky is the moment she describes basically when she starts using meth. And she calls it the moment that like she kind of describes as a kind of pivot point. She doesn’t use the word “pivot” but the moment where it all fell apart. 

Blake: And for me this is one of the most dramatic moments in any of the eight stories

Alison: Totally, because she really brings us in there. Here’s Lucky telling us: 

Lucky [recorded previously]:

So I roll down the window and he’s like, “Well, if you’re high already, you might as well just hit it.” Now mind you just a few days ago I moved into my friend’s house because my baby daddy’s cheated on me and my mom relapsed, I have to leave my daughter with him. I lost my job at 5280 because there was just so much shaken up at one time and I’m displaced. And within being displaced there just so happened to be something that was offered to me while I’m feeling all of this, where I have all this baggage.

This guy doesn’t know this. I didn’t let him know what’s going on in my life. I just showed him the positive side of me, sing him a song. I didn’t talk about all the hurt that I was feeling. So when he offered me that, he didn’t know he was offering me pretty much to shake hands with the devil. He didn’t know he was offering me something that was gonna keep me stagnant and something that numbs the pain and something that makes sex better even though I was already numbing my pain with being promiscuity. Like he didn’t know he was handing me my good, my bad and my ugly at one time. And so I hit it in the backseat of that car with him and I stayed with him for about another eight more hours after that. 

Blake: uh

Alison: Yeah

Blake: Just uh

Alison: Yeah. And I love how reflective she is thought and how she, like speaking with Lucky it just seems so clear that she’s really thought about her story and she knows this is the moment. She knows what made this moment possible. 

Blake: Yeah

Alison: You know all of these factors added up to why. It seemed like might as well hit it in the back street of this car with this stranger. 

Blake: Yeah. I mean, just as a person who’s interested in stories, the way that is constructed when you listen to it, it’s a person who’s got that kind of like I mean this is an absurd comparison, I realize, but like that Nick-Carraway-Great-Gatsby level of like reflecting with some amount of insight into a moment that mattered.

Alison: Yeah. I think so 

Blake: Really dramatic

Alison: Yeah.  So kind of following Lucky, we’re going to give you a quotation from Eryka, Eryka whose story you heard most recently. In Eryka’s words, she does say. When she says they used substances then that in its own thing is its own topic. Which I thought that was interesting. She said she would talk about it briefly, but it also does seem to play such drug use plays such an important role in Eryka’s experience as well. 

Blake: Yeah, we were like, “yes, Eryka. It is its own topic, and we will do an episode of the podcast on that issue.”

Alison: Exactly. While Lucky has this one moment she narrows in on, Eryka I feel kind of she talks about it much more like this is substances are really affecting my everyday kind of more like that presentism we talked about in the beginning like, it’s not narrowed into this one moment but it’s like a daily thing that’s helping me get by.

Blake: Right

Alison: So here’s Eryka talking about substances: 

Eryka [recorded previously]:

I do use substances. And that in its own thing is its own topic, I feel like, but I’ll try going in real quick. I feel like people misconceive homeless as people who just wander around getting high and stuff, but it makes a lot of sense to me being on this side, because I’m very intelligent. I’m not close-minded and I see different sides of every situation, because I’m an adult and that’s what I’m supposed to do.

But the drug addiction and homelessness coinciding so well each other, that makes a lot of sense. If I get high, then I don’t got to worry about what I’m going to eat or where I’m going to sleep. It makes sense. I can spend $20.00 and not care about shit for three days. For me, it’s not necessarily a not caring thing. It makes stuff easier to deal with, obviously. Thankfully I’m a person that’s in control of my addiction and I know where the line is. I don’t overdo it or put myself in positions that I shouldn’t be in. 

Blake: I’m really curious what you think about that last line: thankfully I’m a person that’s in control of my addiction

Alison: Yeah

Blake: Did you get the sense that she is in charge of her addiction? 

Alison: That’s a really good question. I think I got the sense that it was another one of those qualities that was being very challenged by her situation. So just as she said I’m not a shelter person, but I think I’m gonna have to get into a shelter.”  I feel like it was sort of like “I’m in control of my addiction but I might just fuck it and go a little harder because this is really tough right now.”

Blake: Yeah. We talked earlier about Eryka as a person who felt very much in the moment.

Alison: Right.

Blake: So even though I feel like thematically there’s a connection between how Lucky describes why she hit it in the back of a car, it’s sort of just like a release and a very understandable way even if we see that it’s a really bad idea and I think the same is true with Eryka. But in the case of Lucky, you sense that she knew she had made a decision that she wasn’t entirely in control of. She was just sort of like going along with this. And then with Eryka, I feel the opposite. I feel like she’s saying she’s in control, but she’s really just living moment to moment. 

Alison: Yeah

Blake: It was very painful for me to hear that and to sense at least from my perspective that she’s got a long way to go maybe before she comes to the realization that there’s work to be done on that front. I don’t know if that aligns at all with how you see it. 

Alison: I think that’s right, and I mean it also seems to really affect her relationships with other people like that scene she talks about where she kind of confronts a guy for leaving a needle in the toilet. And it’s almost like this way of ostracizing herself from other people 

Blake: I see.

Alison: I don’t know. It seems to play a part in her loneliness in a way that surprised me a little bit. 

Blake: That’s really interesting. And of course, we got another episode coming up. In episode 6 we’ll discuss loneliness and companionship in its own way.
I suppose we can move now to Devin who I think brings up in his excerpts that we’ll share maybe some different issues of how substance abuse plays role in the lives of those experiencing homelessness. I’ve got a couple of different quotes that I’ll read from him. And I’ll start with this couple of quotes that have to do with specific moments when he was sort of confronted with the possibility of being well he was offered drugs and how he responded.

Alison: And just real quick a reminder that Devin, you haven’t heard his story yet. I don’t think we’ve talked too much about Devin yet. But he was the one who experienced being imprisoned in a very physically confining way

Blake: That’s right

Alison: I think we talked about him in our trauma episode

Blake: He had come from Raleigh to Denver on a plane. His story is quite fascinating. So here are a couple of quotes with him being presented the opportunity to have drugs: 

Devin [recorded previously]:

I’m lost. As soon as I started to smoke, I calmed down. That’s where I met the dude. He was like, “The Denver Rescue Mission is over there. Please be safe. It’s a dangerous place out here. The people in Denver are good but where you’re located at, it’s really dangerous.” So, we finished talking. I walked towards the Denver Rescue Mission. This dude stopped me. He’s like you need any crack? I’m like, “Hell, no. I’m good.” I ain’t gonna front, I was nervous as hell.

Blake: Here’s the second quote from Devin that’s similar. 

Devin [recorded previously]:

So, I went to New Genesis and that’s $65.00 a week. They put me on some medication that was way too strong. I went to sleep in the alley. I lost my wallet. I had $60.00. I had my ID, my driver’s license. I had my social security card. I lost everything.

Blake: And so, here we have two different moments in which Devin is confronted with the possibility of drugs. Actually three. 

Alison: Three, yeah.

Blake: Because in the beginning of the first quote, he smokes and he distinguishes, as I think many people do, between what marijuana might do for him, to him, versus what other might drugs might afford or diminish in him.

Alison: Right. Marijuana to calm him down, crack that’s offered to him that makes him nervous

Blake: and then prescription medication that’s given to him. 

Alison: Yeah.

Blake: He has a kind of like natural radar that tells him uh yeah I definitely don’t want crack and also the fact that I’m being offered it here makes me nervous to be in this space. And this happened, that one scene that one quote describes was his first three hours in Denver. And so he was nervous for that reason too. But I think his nervousness was heightened by being in this area where drugs were being sold, and you got this sense that he had a kind of deer-in-headlights moment there where he was really trying to not immediately get off the plane in this new place where he had never been and be put in that world. But then he goes to New Genesis, which is a shelter, and through that place gets hooked up with some prescription meds that like cause him to fall asleep for a long time in an alley and get robbed

Alison: Yeah

Blake: In these two instances, you see something that bucks up against the stereotype. This is not a dealer. This is not even an addict. This is someone who’s just by virtue of being homeless in a place where drugs exist is confronted with them and has to deal with the consequences of them. Which feels I don’t know, quite just heartbreakingly coincidental and a measure of happenstance.

Alison: Right, like here he is entering a new city kind of trying some sort of fresh start

Blake: Right

Alison: And right away, all of this falls into his lap.

Blake: And then I’ll give one more quote from Devin. And this speaks to his period in Raleigh in North Carolina before he came here. He spoke on that a little bit. And you can tell by this quote that he’s lived a life that’s much older than his years. I mean, he’s been around drugs clearly as a  teenager, and he never went into any of those details. But this is him reflecting on what he saw on the streets of North Carolina: 

Devin [recorded previously]:

I also learned that in the streets there are a lot of lost young teenagers and young adults that don’t have a voice. They find themselves searching for godliness. They go to the wrong individuals. The wrong individuals have them feeling like it’s support but it’s not. So, they feel like they’ve got to be gangster. They’ve got to be killers. They’ve got to be drug dealers. I met some of them. They’ve got life sentences. Art wise, they could’ve painted so many perfect pictures. They could’ve been good chefs. They could be lawyers. They never come home again: 30 years, 40 years. That’s what the streets do to you. 

Blake: And so that’s the attitude that he’s coming to Denver with. He’s seen this. He has this attitude. And so when he’s offered crack, he’s like, “Hell no. I’m not touching that.” Because he’s seen that. And so, he’s very much got this notion of like I’m trying to get away from a life that I’ve seen turn out badly where I come from.

Alison: And his phrase that people are searching for godliness 

Blake: Right

Alison: That’s a reason to maybe become a drug dealer is so interesting to put next to Marissa’s comment that people become drug dealers because it’s easy and it’s a quick way to make money.

Blake: What a good point. Yeah, that phrase is just beautiful.

Alison: Yeah, absolutely

Blake: Searching for godliness

Alison: mmhmmm

Blake: So we’ll transition to our final excerpt for this episode and it comes from Dale, who is I think comparable to Devin in a sense of how he comes to the drugs that he’s offered. Here he is speaking on it: 

Dale [recorded previously]:

And nobody – I was in Morrison for five months and the center there, Bear Creek Center, after the hospitalization, they dumped me on the street cold when I was doing ten milligrams of oxycodone every three hours. And so I had to deal with the oxycodone withdrawal

Blake: And that’s it. That’s the only time really in the whole hour and 45 minutes interview when he mentioned drugs. I get the sense that Dale is not a person who very often uses drugs.

Alison: Right

Blake: And his way of speaking on it, this very quick almost aside was as a way of expressing frustration about you know the way that he was medicated

Alison: Right. And dumped. The word “dumped.”

Blake: Right. “Dumped on the street cold.” Knowing that he was on these milligrams of oxycodone. And I guess that is potentially the most direct connection to that stuff I was talking about earlier of how a lot of opioids are just being pushed from the highest levels down and they trickle into the hands of someone like this. I can imagine. I’m trying to picture the scene. You’re working at a clinic. You’re seeing 10 to 20 people per day who have issues. You’ve been told by drug companies that this is a potential way that you can ease pain and that’s it’s safe. Even though clearly it might not be. It could be even easier than we’d like to imagine to kind of relent to that. And I think for Dale we see often in his long interview he just feels like too often the people who are in some position to help are kind of taking an easier route maybe toward helping him than he wishes that they would. What he really wants more than anything is a kind of attention.

Alison: Right

Blake: A recognition that 

Alison: Like, “Hey I have Lymes. I have this history.” 

Blake: Yeah, all that. Plus, “Hey, I exist. I’m here. Look at me. Talk to me.” I think that for him drugs became this kind of symbol of that inattention that the way that he was given attention was “Here, take this and you’ll feel better.” 

Alison: Right.

Blake: Ok, so those are our storytellers who had some kind of direct connection it turned out to substance abuse and Alison, I wonder, as we kind of re-listen to all of these now, are you thinking of any particular trends or patterns you see across them all or notable differences between them that stand out to you? 

Alison: One thing that has just occurred to me is that I think alcohol was only mentioned by Nicole. Nicole mentions alcohol as something she used her previously in life after becoming homeless the first time she turned to drinking. But I don’t think any of our other storytellers really talk about alcohol and that just because that’s one of the big stereotypes too right? The wino that we talked about earlier. And it was interesting that that was sort of absent. 

Blake: Yeah, the only person I can think of who mentioned it was Donjuan, and the way he mentioned it, like he came into this money around Christmastime, and he loves winter, it’s a big season for him in terms of thinking creatively and he had had the notion that he wanted to go out with a friend, and so he went to a bar here in Denver called Historians, he mentions it.

Alison: Oh, ok

Blake: But he talks about it the way any person talks about going out and having fun with friends. It wasn’t anything like the picture 

Alison: brown paper bag

Blake: This was not a haggard man on the corner with a brown paper colt and a Colt 45. This was a guy in a bar where beers are $7

Alison: celebrating the holidays

Blake: celebrating the holidays with friends, Right?  And he spoke about that experience in a really kind of poetic way. It wasn’t the way that normally you’d hear I don’t know drunken frat boys talk about “Dude, I was so messed up. It was so crazy.” It was like I had this real connection with this guy and he really wanted my help, and he didn’t realize that his car was parked illegally, and I told him. And he really thanked me for that. And it was this moment, a connection, like he really felt like it was a moment like feeling like a real person. I’m not trying to in any way to glorify alcohol usage, but I’m just trying to normalize it. The way that he describes it was the way many people who socially drink in the middle class would describe it. 

Alison: Absolutely, and I guess along those lines too marijuana was very normalized, which probably goes without saying. I think that several of our storytellers said the one thing I will never stop doing is marijuana. I think you mentioned this earlier, Blake, it’s like separated from the category of drugs. There’s marijuana and then there’s drugs. 

Blake: You can even see it in Devin’s quote. I mean that the first line is I had to smoke some and it calmed me down. And he’s thankful for that. 

Alison: And then “Whoa, I was offered drugs.” 

Blake: And then I was offered drugs. Right. Exactly. And it bears mentioning that we’re living in Colorado which is a state where marijuana has been legalized for recreational purposes, so it’s perfectly within the realm of what’s normal for people in the state to think of it that way. There are pot shops on many corners around where I live and have been for I think 6 or 7 years, so we don’t even think about it in this state maybe in a way that people in others might. 

Alison: So I think a lot to think about there. I felt like drugs was one of those intersection topics that it really intersects with people’s relationships, with their situations, with their emotions, and hopefully the quotes we’ve pulled really showed a spectrum.

Blake: I think they do. They’re eye opening to me just to go back and look at now.

Alison: Me too. And so we’re going to end this episode with a quote from one of our storytellers. Thanks for listening. 

Blake: Thanks everyone. See you next time. 

Analyn [recorded previously]:

When you are homeless and people notice, you’re way down the bottom to them. You’re worth nothing. But people have to understand what’s the reason why they’re homeless. Every situation are different. Alison: lot of this reason is these people been beat up – this woman getting beat up by their husband. They choose to be out there. Alison: lot of this reason here is prostitution and drugs comes together. And the quick money they getting out there.  

I want someone to learn from all the social services, people like me been abused from my husband, and learn about the process and social services what they do wrong in getting kids from a mother who is capable of taking care of their children. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke. I’m a good mom.

[exit music starts]

Alison: For web design and sound support, thanks to Jonathan Howard.

Blake: Our theme music was composed by Geoff Stacks

Alison: For support for interview space and scheduling, thanks to Melanie Deem and The Gathering Place

Blake: And at St. Francis Center, thanks for Andrew Spinks for permissions and support. Also thanks to the DU—the University of Denver and its Executive Director, Doug Hesse.

Alison: And another special thanks to Juli Parrish , Director of the University of Denver Writing Center

Blake: Thanks also to Kateri McRae for sound support and equipment, and to Andrea Sanz for social media outreach and photography.

Alison: Thank you, Chris Bunch

Blake: And thank you, Sarah Hoffman. See you next week.


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