"Why I Really Went to Jail" by Gavin Howley

Photo copyright 2012 Gary Miller

Photo copyright 2012 Gary Miller

Since I am generally extremely concerned about how people perceive me, and worried that they may not have the complete picture of my amazing depth and complex personality, with like, real issues and stuff, you know, such a fascinating person that all I think about is myself and only those events going on that have a direct impact on me, I agonize over appearance and every spoken utterance, usually agonizing over making myself look like I don’t care about any of that, again, because I’m so deep, man. And if I’m around a woman I don’t know too well, but whose proximity increases my heart rate out of fear she might not like me, all this nonsense is of course multiplied by infinity. I’ve been in this state yet again recently, which seems to be a pattern I like to repeat. I’m just dying to demonstrate to her that I’m a person worth being interested in, but how do I do this? Trying to be funny seems to be my default mode, and that includes trying way, way too hard. To the point where it is obvious that I spent a scary amount of time preparing whatever it is, a thing or a wacky personal anecdote, anything. But ever since a friend called me flaky, years and years ago, I have this desperate need to show that I’ve been through things, dealt with pain and bad things, and consequently have all these deep emotions and shit that other people might just not get. Yeah it’s a tiring way to live life and the payoff, if you will, for all this anxiety and time spent mostly doing and saying nothing because that would involve decisions has been basically zero.

 What does this have to do with jail? Reasonable question. Just about all of the pain and bad experiences I’ve racked up happened simply through being an addict, a pretty bad one I’d say. So lately I wonder a lot about using any of that as a way to show normal people why I’m interesting and stuff. Since over the years the only constant life events and growth has been in the field of drinking a lot and devouring powders and pills, that is, or feels like, the major part of who I am. So of course I try to figure out how to let new people know this in a way that makes me look good somehow. And adding the year in jail as the latest accomplishment only makes my brain try to spin that in a way that shows I like, have a badass side or something. Since jail in Swanton, Vermont is as rough as it gets.

 The question of exactly how I ended up there probably would come up. At first I like to say just “drugs” or “heroin” or “drug stuff.” Never alcohol, and especially not DUIs. There’s nothing cool at all about DUIs. The thing is I got the first two through textbook alcoholic drinking. I may as well have just followed an instruction manual. Probation, CRASH, all that stuff. It is true that DUI 3 had nothing to do with alcohol, and yes I had started heroin by then, and shooting everything, and all the cool stuff like that, but it just came down to driving a car while all fucked up, and getting caught, again.

The sentence was 1-3 years but I could stay out if I was sober and completed a lot of time in programs and groups. At the time I hated my PO but he really did try to keep me out and have a chance to lead some sort of life. But all I wanted to do was steal drugs from sharps containers in the exam rooms at my job at the Community Health Center. Prying the lid off, dumping everything on the floor and pawing at the pile of needles for disposed pills. Hoping no one would come in. Then a doctor left a box of fentanyl patches on a desk one day. That was a no-brainer. Also getting caught was a no-brainer for the police. I was a known addict on supervision at the time and only one of a few people who could have possibly taken them. So with that, I got put in the car and driven up to Swanton. 

They even tried to get me out of jail and do some more programs and another rehab. I, apparently, was determined to “keep coming back” just not exactly in the AA manner. The booking officers shook their heads the three times I left and then returned within a month. I had no way to get alcohol and drugs anymore but still needed to fuck up my brain. I remembered hearing in a rehab that teenagers were getting high on dust-off, the canned air for electronics. Anything was something I would try by then, and Kmart and Radio Shack were close. Not good. That stuff is bad, bad news. I would stand in front of a mirror with it and feel outside myself and like I was staring at someone I did not recognize. I thought I left the planet, I thought I was a ghost, I was positive I was in an alternate dimension. It just about always ended in a blackout and collapsing wherever I happened to be. You can basically feel the brain cells dying. So naturally I had to have it constantly.

Within probably less than two weeks I got myself banned and issued no trespass orders from any CCTA bus, the downtown mall, the YMCA, any public park, and any UVM property. My life was getting up, walking to Kmart and standing by the door until they opened at eight. I’d get let in with my big down jacket on, fill it up with all the cans I could, and walk out. I have no idea how I avoided arrest with that. It wasn’t subtle. Then I’d find an indoor place, since it was winter, and suck down cans until I blacked out. Sometimes I woke up, kept going, and blacked out somewhere else and sometimes I awoke in the ER. They released me from the ER once without removing any cans from my backpack, and I was back in 20 minutes not even making it out of the building. Someone found me in the lobby bathroom. One time the collapsing part was in the street on Shelburne road. I got delusional, paranoid, forgot who I was, and just plain hallucinated stuff. The places I could legally enter in the winter were getting slim so a bus shelter or the woods had to do. Suffice to say these activities somehow kept bringing me back to AB or I unit at Northwestern State Correctional Facility. The last time they let me out on supervision I returned in less than 24 hours after bringing the stuff to my check-in at the Phoenix House.

So this is the recent history that I want to misguidedly twist into a reason to be likable. My fear of not being liked and rejection or god forbid someone having a not-positive thought still runs the show a good percentage of the time, so I get caught up in constant self-centered thinking mode feeling that I need to be liked by others in order for me to feel ok with myself. And especially agonizing when wanting a particular woman to think I’m likable. Some of the stuff I’ve done in just the year since getting out and a job at a building that doesn’t only contain men is super cringe-worthy. “Desperate flirting” I’d call it. No wonder people are maybe not backing away, but giving me a little space. I’m so self-centered that I cannot even attempt fictional writing or creating characters that are not just myself. I don’t think I could write about a different personality and have it be believable. It would be a shallow movie-poster person. It’s like my mind just cannot grasp the concept of other thoughts besides my own. I need to stay aware of this. The next time I consider using jail to appear a certain way to someone I need to just think about saying: “I spend a year in jail for huffing. That’s right, I huff things. I’m a huffer. A bad one. Huffer Seeks Soulmate.” Well, enough. That’s a sad world to get lost in. 

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