Thank God My Son’s in Jail

800px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USA  wiki commons Adam Jones PHdI’d been waiting for a call from the Coroner’s office when I found out that, instead of lying in a morgue somewhere, my son was “safe” in jail. For now. Thank God.

I’d like to say I was overjoyed with relief, but that lasted only a few moments. Then the anger and frustration and weariness descended, and I felt heavier than stone. Because the hope that had once kept the grief and fear from crushing me is slipping away. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get it back.

I remember the first time he’d gone to jail for a DUI charge 20 years ago (before he became a heroin addict) and how freaked out I was. I talked to a substance abuse counselor on the phone, and he told me to calm down. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a young man. He’ll be okay, he said.

And I learned through the years he was right. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to my son. Prison isn’t the worst thing, either. Sometimes they can be the best thing that can happen to him. Sometimes they can be a life saver, like now.

The last time I heard from he told me he didn’t think he had long to live. He’d had two overdoses the week before. One where he woke up in the hospital. The other where he woke up in a motel room. His companions had left him for dead after stealing the little he had (a bike and a backpack stuffed with dirty clothes) and even the shoes off his feet. He was barefoot when he called, using someone else’s phone. He’d lost his own weeks ago (again).

I begged him to get help, to go an NA meeting, go to a church, go to a detox facility, go to a shelter. But he was too embarrassed. He was covered in staff infections, he said, and he looked like a zombie.

I’d seen him that way before. I knew what he meant.

I begged him to go to an ER and get medication for the staff infection. Then I gave him the address and phone number of detox, and told him to get there. He said he would. But it didn’t sound like he meant it.

“Say it,” I told him. “Say it like you mean it.”

“Promise me,” I demanded. “If you don’t want to die, promise me.”

“I feel like I’m dead already,” he said. “Like I’m in Limbo, you know? Or purgatory. Everything seems so surreal, like I’m walking around in a nightmare.”

I thought about driving the 200 miles to get him and pack him in my car and bring him home. But I’d already just done that, only a few months earlier. And it hadn’t helped. He wasn’t safe, even at home anymore.  I’d picked him up off the streets so we could get him into a drug treatment program and brought him home, so he could make the daily calls you need to make while waiting for a bed. He sounded ready, optimistic.

“A few more days,” they told us. “A few more days and we’ll have a bed ready for you.”

The next morning I found him on the floor of the bathroom with a needle in his arm. He looked gray and lifeless. I called an ambulance and the medics revived him and took him to a hospital.

Two days later a bed finally opened up, and he got into the program. Then he got a job, and he got back in touch with his girlfriend and his baby girl. He sounded so happy. They applied for low-cost housing as a couple (she was also in recovery). They were going to make a life for their baby together. He came back home to pick up the rest of his clothes and books and surfboard. He looked healthy and happy.

“Okay, now’s the time. Now he’s going to make it,” I told myself.

Then a few weeks later I found out he’d relapsed. He was kicked out of the program. He lost his job. His girlfriend turned her back on him. He became homeless, strung out on the street (again).

And I was urging him to get into detox before the next overdose killed him.

“Call me,” I told him.  “As soon as you get into the hospital, or get to detox, call me so I know you’re safe.  You have to do one or the other,” I urged. “Today. Do it!  If you don’t want to die, do it.”

“I will,” he said, but he wouldn’t promise me. And it was just as well. He’d made and broken those kinds of promises before.

I hung up the phone and the tears came and wouldn’t stop falling. I’d given up hope, you see. I didn’t think he’d do any of the things I told him to do. And I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again.

How many OD’s can you have before you have your last? Has his luck run out?

Apparently not. I didn’t hear from him until a week later, from jail. He said he was stopped by the police the day after our conversation and arrested for outstanding warrants. Thank God.

But the relief, as welcome as it was, was short-lived. Because jail is a kind of limbo too. For him and me.

As soon as he gets out, the insanity will start up again. All the nearly overwhelming logistics of starting over again from scratch will begin (again). We’ve been through this a dozen times already: The mad scramble to find some place to live, to get a job, to buy a phone and a bike and clothes and all the other things he needs to live a normal life, after having just lost all those things, again and again and again.

Then will begin the anxious, nail-biting wait to see if this time, this time at last, he’ll stay clean long enough to turn his life around. Or if the struggle to regain all he had lost will take its toll (again).

Everything is twice as hard as it should be. And it’s so heartbreaking–trying to pump up the hope and optimism again and again, so we both don’t sink down under the weight of the knowing that his chance of making it this time is slim to none.

But he’s safe now, I remind myself. That’s good! I don’t have to jump when the phone or doorbell rings, fearful for the worst. I can relax. When he’s in jail have been the most peaceful times of my life during these last fifteen years. And the most hopeful: “Maybe now he’s hit rock-bottom,” I tell myself. “Maybe now he’ll turn his life around.”

But those days of optimism are past. I know better now.

So. Jail is as good as it gets these days. Not knowing where he is and waiting for the Coroner’s call, that’s bad. And worse than that, as I’ve imagined a hundred times, is getting the call. At least I’ve been spared that. For now.

Count yourself lucky, I tell myself. And I am.

33 thoughts on “Thank God My Son’s in Jail

    • I’ll take it, and thank you. But you know what’s truly solace-fying, for me at least? The understanding that we all need solace. We all have parts of ourselves that need healing as well a nurturing. It helps me to know that. I’m not alone. This is part of the human condition. And while I rant and rave sometimes, and it has a healing affect (that’s what this blog is all about), so does reaching out to others. And having others reach out to me. So thank you. It helps.


    • Sounds almost exactly like my story except, my son did die. I had lost all hope years before his death. He o.d. more times than I can remember and always thought “this is rock bottom”. Not so. Even nearly having to have his feet amputated due to serious infections due to just drinking for weeks and having no food, wasn’t “rock bottom” for him. I’m at least thankful he’s at peace now with no pain or struggles. He did leave behind 2 beautiful sons.


      • I’m so sorry that you experienced the worst outcome, and I hope you have a faith that sustains you. To me, life isn’t about doing things perfectly; it’s about experience. How can we know God fully without first experiencing His absence? Your son did a lot right; his sons are proof of that. Now, whatever he may have done in life that seemed wrong gives him greater joy.

        That’s what I believe, but words are poor consolers; I hope mine don’t offend in any way.

        Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit. “Perhaps someday, even these things will be a joy to remember.” –Virgil


  1. Thank you for sharing this, I have a sister (35 years old now) that battles with meth and there are a lot of aspects to your story that match hers. I just cannot imagine how difficult it must be for you to always know that there may be a call coming in like that.


    • It’s sad that there are so many similar stories. When he OD’d at my house that last time and was in the hospital, while I was waiting for him to “come down” or “wake up”, I had a long conversation with a woman who worked at the hospital, who told me of her own struggle with her son, also a heroin addict. It turned out our sons had gone through some of the same treatment programs, unsuccessfully. “He’s smart, he’s good-looking, just like your son,” she said and looked at me, bewildered, as if saying “what did we do wrong?”

      Thank you for coming here and commenting. It helps.


    • There’s no program while he’s incarcerated, but it sounds like they want to enroll him in one of the federal-funded out-patient state programs, where you test everyday and attend meetings, etc. So I hope it will help. He’s been through them before. The last time he managed to stay clean for nearly 18 months! But then he relapsed, and stayed that way for a long time.

      The tragic things is, the judges have tried to help him. The last time he was in he was “sentenced” to go into a 6-month residential treatment program, and I was so happy! So was he. He was so tired of this. But guess what? The social worker assigned to find him a bed couldn’t! They tried for three months! And then, through some glitch, I think, they let him go. Kicked him out on the street. That was like seven months ago.

      Then a couple of judges tried to get him to go into an 18-month residential treatment program, on in LA that had a good success rate. But he wouldn’t go. He preferred to do the time. And the truth is, he wouldn’t have lasted. He can’t seem to make it in a residential program for more than a few months. All the rules, all the meetings, all the “bullshit” as he calls it. He has ADHD on top of everything else, and has an extremely difficult time staying focused, and organized, and on top of things. The way he managed in that first 18-month program was being on anxiety medication. But he gained 50 lbs and hated the way it made him feel. He refuses to take those meds anymore.

      I know . . .excuses, excuses. Enough, already. I thank you for your comment, and will indeed keep on writing.


  2. I’m lost for words. Here I am begrudging my son for not leaving home, for not taking on a full-time job, and only recently, for asking his girl to come live with us under the same roof. I shed a tear or two for my lack of gratitude, and for your incredible strength.


  3. I think all our trials are relative. I think of the grieving families of the people on the lost plane in the Indian Ocean, or the parents who lost their children at Sandy Hook, and I count my blessings too. Thank you for coming here and leaving your message. It means a lot to me.


  4. Bless your heart. I cried reading your posts. Have any of the rehabs offered Christian counseling? Those are some of the most successful, I hear. Friends that support YOU as well, with time and prayer? That’s where I get my strength and hope. I pray for you and your son.


    • Thank you, Kimberly! That means so much to me. I wish my son was open to Christian ministry, but he doesn’t seem to be. We can’t talk about God anymore, or rather, I can talk, but he seems annoyed and changes the subject. He’s more open to Tao and other alternative spirituality practices, so I encourage that instead–to seek a higher power in whatever form he can find.


      • It does help. Maybe it sounds bad to say this, but it helps in letting go and gives the loved one of the addict more peace. But it takes a really good room to if you go that route, and you would need to be prepared to try different ones. The anon version of NA would be a place to start, but the search might not end there. If he’s a multiple addict you might find your help anywhere, even in a Gam Anon room. It’s the steps and the attitude of the room, not the addiction that matters.


  5. I shutter when I think about all the hell I put my mom through. But stick with for as long as you can there was a while that the only reason I knew I was worth anything at all was because my mom still loved me. But at a certain point( I tell my mom this too) You have to let go for your own sake and safety.


  6. For me, the absolute hardest part of addiction is the effect it has on your family. I live completely across the country from my family, but I’ve always been extremely close with them. We talk often and I visit as much as I can. For over a decade I was able to hide the fact that I was an IV drug user. That all changed about six months after my last serious meth relapse. My life was an absolute mess. I nodded of on the subway an someone stole my phone – with all of my pictures – kinky pictures with my boyfriend, but most importantly, drug and drug paraphernalia pictures. Not only did he post all the pictures online, he also sent them to my parents. Nudes are nudes it’s not like they didn’t know I have sex. But the pictures of syringes, those were another story. I came clean about everything, the extent of my use and my problem with addiction. They were floored. They had absolutely no clue. In a way, I wish it had stayed that way because I hate them worrying. But part of me was really glad to finally not have to hide anything anymore. Six months later boyfriend got arrested with 13 ounces of meth. That probably saved our lives. We were able to quit meth and significant cut down our heroin use. Its been a year now and life is infinitely better. But it’s terrible knowing how much they worry about me. I want to reassure them that I’m okay, that I’m not going to overdose. And as much as I believe that’s true, I rarely even take enough to nod off anymore, there is never a 100% guarantee. There’s no way to truly promise. I never want my use to compromise the rare time I’m able to spend with my family and I really don’t want to be their biggest source of pain and worry. Things have been better lately. My career is going well, I’ve got lot accomplished this year. So I know I’ve put their minds at ease a little. But I can always tell they are just dying to ask about my use. They know I’ve tried to quit a couple of times and the struggle I’ve had with it. But it’s not like a mention when and how much I use and they rarely ask. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t want to hear the answer, ignorance can be bliss. Or if they just don’t want to invade my personal space. They have a lot of misconceptions about heroin, they same type of hype that plays on the news, which only causes needless worry. It’s hard because they are devoted Mormons and don’t have any experience with drugs and can’t even fathom how I could have ended up this way.I don’t have a traumatic back story that drove me to use and I came from a very loving family. I try to reassure them that it had nothing to do with how I was raised. But I know my mom constantly wonders what she could have done differently to prevent this. But I don’t think she could have done anything better. It’s really tough not knowing how to make them feel better or not blame themselves. But without their unconditional love and support, I would be in a much worse place today.


    • Thank you for sharing your story. My son has always had my unconditional love and support too, and I know it has helped him through the worst times. But it hasn’t helped him quit. I don’t know what the answer is yet. I just want him to be happy and safe and have a good life. It sounds like you at least are able to have a job and support yourself. He doesn’t seem to be able to do that when he uses. I know it’s not my fault and I know that I’ve done everything I can think of to help him and probably more than I should have. But I do know that if the worst happens at least I’ll be able to say that much. And strange to say, that is some comfort to me. Bless you and your family. There are so many like us. Sad to say.


  7. WoW…it sounds like you have been to hell and back yourself. As I read your story, it reminded me of my oldest daughter(w/my 3 grandbabies.) The constant turmoil, the constant worry and bailing them out over and over again…getting phone calls in the middle of night because she was going to jail and I would have to go get my grandchildren,before the police just call child services to take them. Living without utilities or running water.
    As parents and grandparents we hate seeing our children like this,my daughter was wrapped up into any drug she could do…and then she became addicted to the demon of all demons,and she started running off and leaving her kids…I know the pain and frustration you must feel…I have been there myself and heard the same crazy stories.
    My daughter had to move 8 hours away…to get away from the crowd she was mixed up in…its only been 6 months clean for her drug of choice and she is taking care of 2 out of the 3 children…and we will see how long her job lasts. I will pray for your family


    • There’s so many of us mamas walking on the wild side with our sons and daughters through the desolation that drug addiction brings to loved ones. I’m glad your grandchildren have you in their lives when their mom is unavailable. But so happy to hear that your daughter is 6 months clean. That’s something to celebrate. Thank you for sharing your story here. It really helps when I feel connected to others who know what I’m going through. We all need to hold each other’s hands when we’re going through the worst of it.


  8. Pingback: Am I Crazy? Or Is He? – How Addiction Warps Us | A Walk on the Wild Side

  9. My brother struggles with alcoholism, I’ve cut him off but my Mom can’t/won’t. It’s a hard situation, thanks for writing and sharing I wish good things for you.


  10. Thank you for your story. I’ve been crying for the last 4 yrs. My 20 yr old drug addicted son recently was arrested and is in jail. I’m not going to bail him out and so he is angry and even blames me.
    I’m trying to love him and see past his anger but he is verbally abusive and my heart hurts.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sorry you are here with me but I’m glad i’m not alone. U know.


    • You are not alone. I stopped bailing out my son long ago. At first he was angry, but now he doesn’t even ask or expect it. Letting them suffer the consequences of their actions, as long as it doesn’t cause a life-threatening situation, is one of the best ways we have to help them see that they must get the help they need to turn their lives around. Wishing you and your son all the best.


  11. Your story is so familiar,however my son is only 19. He was in and out of juvenile Justice facilties from age 14 – 18. Two weeks after his 18 birthday he went to prison. Hes is an addict, marijuana, and has done a 3 month residential stint. At the moment I fear he is on stronger drugs as his behaviour is out of control. Whilst my son is on pending criminal charges and due to go to trial in early 2015 I feel like I am the victim. His father and I are totally devastated, exhausted and destroyed by his behavoiur.
    Thanks for sharing your story


  12. This was like reading my own life, my heroin/multi addicted son is currently in jail for the umpteenth ( the can’t remember it has been so many ) time,,,

    He has been in and out of juvenile and jail since around 15 years old, he is now 27.

    I feel your pain and know what that hopeless hope feels like. My son has not overdosed because he smokes heroin, but may have come close from mixing in other drugs like xanax and valium.

    He did 3 months in rehab and Buprenorphine programs for small but sadly un-sustained periods of time.

    He has been bailed to my home about four times only to make my life a living hell of stress and despair, but with no where else for him to go I have felt I had to hope for the best each time.

    He is desperately unhappy, but like the majority of addicts has not managed to find his way out.

    Take care and I wish the best for you and your son.


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