Beth Macy Quotes in Dopesick
Though the opioid epidemic would go on to spare no segment of America, nowhere has it settled in and extracted as steep a toll as in the depressed former mill and mining communities of Central Appalachia, where the desperate and jobless rip copper wire out of abandoned factories to resell on the black market and jimmy large-screen TVs through a Walmart garden-center fence crack to keep from “fiending for dope.”
Three months before visiting Jones, in the spring of 2016, Kristi Fernandez and I stood next to Jesse’s grave on a rolling hillside in Strasburg, Virginia, in the shadow of Signal Knob. She’d asked me to meet her at one of her regular cemetery stops, on her way home from work, so I could see how she’d positioned his marker, just so, at the edge of the graveyard.
It was possible to stand at Jesse’s headstone—emblazoned with the foot-high number 55, in the same font as the lettering on his Strasburg Rams varsity jersey—and look down on the stadium where he had once summoned the crowd to its feet simply by running onto the field and pumping his arms
Harm reduction remained slow to catch on in most of the Bible Belt, including Roanoke. When I told Janine about an idea hatched at an opioid brainstorming session in Boston—to segregate users on a boat in international waters, where they could legally inject under medical supervision, ideally then transitioning to counseling and MAT—she was repulsed. “That’s crazy! We’ve created this problem, and now we decide we’re just going to continue to let it happen, and that’s the answer?”
And yet she was miles ahead of most leaders in her conservative community. She’d told her son’s story recently to the local school board and county officials, hoping to raise money for the county’s risk prevention council, which was currently running on fumes and a few small federal grants. She’d explained how she’d pulled strings to get her kids into the Hidden Valley school zone because she considered it a superior place to raise children. But the affluence she believed would protect her family had instead allowed the festering of shame and inaction. Almost daily the Hope Initiative took a call about a heroin user from Hidden Valley or nearby Cave Spring, and police data showed that the problem was worse by far in those two communities than in other, less affluent areas of the county.
I hoped the stories of Ronnie Jones and his victims would illuminate the ruts in both a criminal justice system that pursues a punishment-fits-all plan when the truth is much more complicated and a strained medical system that overtreats people with painkillers until the moment addiction sets in—and health care scarcity becomes the rule.
I hoped, too, that my interview with Jones would help answer Kristi Fernandez’s questions about what led to her son Jesse’s premature death. Was Ronnie Jones really the monster that law enforcement officials made him out to be? Had the statewide corrections behemoth that returns two thousand ex-offenders a year to Virginia’s cities, counties, and towns played a role in his revolving door of failures?
Tess was still homeless, and another week passed before she called Patricia with an address via a borrowed phone, possibly belonging to a current or former pimp. “Are you in danger?” her mom asked, and Tess claimed she was not, repeating a line she often said: “I’m a soldier, Mom. I’ll be fine.
“Yes, love.” Patricia responded. “But sometimes even soldiers fall.”