The Weal / 14 April 2012
Photo by Valeria Versier
“I went to hell and I came back,” he said with a sad smile. You would not notice him among others inside SAIT halls.
He wished to be identified as Johnny. He is 23 years old, a SAIT freshman, and a crack addict.
In a lonely classroom Johnny told me how crack, like a lighting crash, ruined his life.
His voice is relaxed, but the shaking of his body reveals that he is anxious.
“I just wanted to be a cool kid.” Johnny was a 16 years old boy in his eleventh grade during 2006.
A friend offered him crack during lunch break in school. “It was like the best feeling of my life, like sex, but better and more euphoric,”
After that first hit, it started the craving that still haunts him.
He bought the “rocks” with his lunch money.
At the beginning he consumed around $40 a week
Now Johnny was under control of crack craving and it “sketchy, paranoid and depressive crashes.”
Johnny first experience with drugs was with marihuana in seventh grade.
“Crack was a whole new level.”
Johnny attended a high school in Forest Lawn.
“Everybody did drugs there, that school was my gateway to drugs.”
Johnny was among the 45 per cent of students in Calgary that Alberta Health Services reported using drugs in 2008.
None of his teachers were impressed.
Johnny was a shy child. His father abandoned him when he was a kid.
“I was afraid of talking with people and making new friends”
Johnny tried other drugs like crystal meth, opiates, coke, pot and all sort of pills, but “crack was the most addictive of all.”
The relationship with his mother deteriorated quickly.
“She kicked me out of home after the first three months after my first hit”
Johnny wouldn’t know anything about her until three years later.
He moved to his aunt’s house because she was never at home.
“School became just a social meeting place to get high with my friends.”
Johnny’s mind became rewired.
His brain became less and less sensitive to dopamine because of crack.
Eventually his mind would need crack to be able to feel pleasure.
When lunch money was not enough, Johnny started to steal.
After, he met his first crack dealer outside school at “Crack Mac’s.”
He barely graduated from high school.
In 2007 after graduating, Johnny went to his first crack house in Marda Loop.
“It was so scary… I remember it so clearly.
“From outside, it was so beautiful, but inside it was just destroyed.”
He found a house with the paint peeling and floors full of needles and crack pipes.
There were 23 people inside buying, smoking and living for the sake of crack.
He bought a rock, and locked himself alone stoned in the bathrooms for 12 hours.
When Johnny woke up with nothing depression hit him.
He tried to use anything remaining inside the broken needles and pipes.
Places like this became his “home” for the next three years.
Johnny became part of the 43per cent of the street-youths that consume crack according to Aids Calgary.
2009 was his worst year; Johnny now 20 was smoking up to $1000, over 50 rocks, on crack each day.
He started to do anything to sustain his addiction from robbing prostitutes, breaking in cars, selling drugs and stealing cars.
During that year, there were more registered crack crimes, 1118, than marijuana, 893 cases.
“Some people live for the next meal; I lived for the next hit,”
For him there was no such thing as days, but continuous 96 hours of craving without sleeping.
He would do at least ten crimes each day, and get between some dollars to $10,000 in a week.
“I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was my next high”
Johnny couldn’t stand any relationship.
He had a crush for three years on a prostitute and crack addict 20 years older than him named Maria.
Maria would sleep with whomever to sustain her addiction.
“I was so in love with her, but she didn’t have any interest in me.”
They had nothing more than sex and crack.
“Sometimes it would be a whole day without stopping.”
Johnny heard that Maria died from a crack overdose the last Christmas break.
Johnny tells me that “crack heads” are very self-absorb people.
“Anybody that could help me to get high was my best friend at the moment.”
He would wake up many days knowing nothing.
“One day I woke up in a ditch two miles south of Crossfield, Alta.
“I didn’t have any idea about what I was doing there.”
The only thing he thought after waking up was crack.
“It was a long walk back to Calgary.”
He tried to go to narcotic anonymous unsuccessfully.
I asked him what he used to think about death.
He rolled up his sweater and showed me his arms.
“My arms are horrible,” said Johnny.
The deep scars of cuts all around his arms are silent witness of three suicide attempts.
The last one, probably the worst, happened around 3 am during a summer night of 2009.
“That night I started to realize what was happening in my life, and that I hit rock bottom.”
He took a broken pipe and started to cut his arm in the bathroom of a crack house in a downtown apartment.
The last thing he saw was the floor painted with blood.
The next day he waked up in the psychiatric wing of the Peter Lougheed hospital.
“I was lucky. It’s rare that someone call 9-1-1 in a crack house.”
After that summer he moved with his mom.
Everything started when he met his mom unexpectedly at Chinook Mall.
After that, he decided to visit her, and he never left.
He lost the contact with the street life.
“It was like nothing ever really happened.”
Johnny’s mother still doesn’t know of his addiction.
He didn’t quit, but he dropped his consumption to $40 a week.
Johnny was lucky because he had support.
His crack friends had bad problems; they had a broken home or were abused.
“The only thing they knew as families were crack heads and the only home they had were the crack houses.”
“There is no turning back if you don’t have the proper support.”
Johnny is among the 10% of Albertans that Canada Health reported consumed crack last year, but that is probably just the top of the iceberg.
Johnny decided to come to SAIT to get a better future.
“I was tired of dead-end-jobs.”
Today, he craves the flavour of crack, but he fulfills it with alcohol.
There aren’t words that could tell Johnny’s entire story, and many like him that are unnoticed by us in this city that has become a hell for them.
Johnny’s life turned 180 degrees. Crack may only left him a requiem for his teen age dreams.
Johnny doesn’t want to do crack anymore, but it is everywhere.
“Is like going to a 7/11 for coffee.”
“You can’t get out, there is no way out.
It is like digging a grave for you and throwing yourself in.”
Hopefully for him the sun is rising at “crack city.”