While in Honolulu recently, I met “Jayne Dough,” a slender young woman dressed in a conservative business suit. She works as an occupational counselor, and I learned that she is among the many successful graduates of Ka Hale Ho‘ala Hou No Na Wahine, a community transition program for women who have served prison time. She is also the author of The Making of #A0210208, the story of her childhood and her development into a crack addict, prostitute, and dealer.
The east side of the island of Oahu consists of a relatively slim strip of flat or gently sloping land, hemmed in by the Pacific on one side and the Koolau mountain range on the other. The main road passes near the beaches, where the more affluent locals and mainlanders have houses. Between the road and the steep mountain cliffs lies a lush hinterland, home to nurseries, farms, ranches, and the bungalows and shacks of the rural poor. It’s a place where bright, curious, active, gutsy young girls like Jayne grow up. It’s also a place that shelters some of the creepiest men on this planet. When Jayne, then 15, gets pregnant and tells her boyfriend she wants an abortion, he tells her that he’s dying of cancer, and her baby will be the only trace of his having lived. She believes him and has the baby. Then his best friend rapes her, and she has another baby. In frequent fits of rage, her boyfriend beats her and the children, and threatens to kill her if she leaves him. Meanwhile, on a neighboring property, her best friend’s father, a marijuana grower, murders his wife. After one particularly violent explosion from the boyfriend, whose cancer story was just a lie, Jayne leaves the children with her mother and flees to Honolulu, where she has a friend in Chinatown.
Her friend introduces her to crack. Jayne sees it as The Answer to her problems. To buy more crack, she becomes a prostitute. Eventually, the leading cocaine wholesaler in the area takes her under his wing. She stops turning tricks and becomes an expert small-bag dealer for him, always seconds ahead of the police, hugely enjoying the adventure and the money. She’s now able to smoke as much crack as she wants. But that doesn’t last. Her supplier goes to prison, and her life falls apart again. She has become an addict. She has to turn tricks again, and she has to buy from unreliable sources. A shadowy dealer kidnaps her at gunpoint, rapes her repeatedly, and makes her his prisoner in a ghetto apartment. At the end of the book, he puts a gun in her face and tells her she will die now. She tells him to do it, do it! In that moment of choosing death, she begins a new life:
Tonight I begin to reclaim my power. I know I will never surrender my power again to anyone, ever. I realize that my power has been seeping from me most of my life, sometimes in slow trickles, sometimes in floods. Sometimes given, sometimes taken.
The book is structured in chapters that alternate between Jayne’s rather happy childhood — she loved nature, she was resourceful and self-reliant, she was an outstanding pony rider, she had good friends and a loving Mom — and her dismal young adulthood as an abused woman, prostitute, and addict. The contrasts could not be sharper. She also has a keen eye for the two worlds where she lives:
Everyone knows what goes on in this part of town, but does anyone really know? There are small business owners, the shoppers, the businessmen and women, the average citizen, the police, sharing the same space as the hustlers, dealers, addicts, pimps and prostitutes. Two separate worlds, cohabiting one, each denying the other.
The author vividly describes the broken promises of addict life. On the one hand, she is enveloped by a feeling of community:
The addict needs the seller and the seller needs the addict. Neither blames the other for anything. There is a sense of community in this place. Not a community most people approve of, but an essential one for those part of it. We each are a vital piece of a larger whole.
But once her wholesale supplier is gone, that community evaporates:
It is amazing to see how quickly people change when you are no longer rolling big time. People who wanted to befriend me, have now moved on to someone with more to offer. People who I thought respected me, no longer eager to show it. I have become someone in the middle, someone invisible…. I get so lonely. … There really is no such thing as a loyal friend down here. Just opportunities, advantages of temporary bonds to one another.
Jayne came to drugs as a traumatized young woman who had learned to protect herself by hiding her feelings and retreating to an inner space disconnected from her outer experience. She was emotionally comatose. The drug, for her, was a way of experiencing emotions again, and very intensely so:
I feel it crawling, swirling, winding down my throat and into my lungs, caressing them. Suddenly grabbing my heart with an unexpected jolt, then whispering like wedding bells in my ears, like the whisper of a satisfied lover. Like falling in love for the first time, like getting kissed for the first time, my heart races with freedom, pleasure, security, it feels like I’ve finally found my way Home…. It happens just like that. One second becoming a promise of eternity.
But a minute later, the feeling is gone, and she needs another hit. And another. Months later, she realizes that she has become an addict. Exhilaration turns to desolation.
There is a sense of desolation when someone realizes they have become an addict. When everything has become nothing. When the wheels of time have changed the purpose of their drug use. When they have gone from using to live toward using to maintain. When the feelings that came with initial use are now intangible, elusive, always a hit away, but never attained. With each new hit, futile hope, then frantic desperation, followed by predictable disappointment, and finalized by the recurring realization that it can never be that way again. It is devastating to become aware that their escape has slowly become their imprisonment, and finding themselves imprisoned yet again, they must now devise another escape.
There is a large body of literature in which addicted persons tell their life stories. Jayne Dough’s The Making of #A0210208 is a valuable contribution to this genre. The story stops before her incarceration and before she began her recovery. The expected sequel will undoubtedly be worth reading.