By Susan Dominus, The New York Times
One day last summer, Ann and her husband, Tom, walked two and a half hours to reach Hazleton, a onetime mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. They had lived there until July, when they were evicted and moved in with Ann’s mother in Sugarloaf, a more affluent township nearby. There was not much to miss about Hazleton, with its decaying downtown and its fading homes spotted with satellite dishes, but to Ann and Tom the town held a shimmering appeal: It had heroin, a lot of it. They had called the usual friends for a ride, with no luck, and their own car had been repossessed. So at midday, the two left Ann’s mother’s condominium by foot and followed the asphalt out of the valley all the way to Hazleton. Eventually they turned onto Alter Street, where, especially in summer, heroin dealers greeted customers outside a packed barbershop and a busy pawnshop, clustering around them, competing for business. Sometimes Ann and Tom joined other users they knew behind a building, where someone had left a tattered couch. Sometimes they got high in an abandoned garage on a side street. Though the walk that day to Alter Street was long, it was worth it to them both: Tom, especially, loved heroin, and Ann loved Tom, and the march to Hazleton was as much about need as it was about love.
Months later, when downtown Hazleton’s streets were lined with piles of dirty, crusty snow, Ann (who along with Tom asked that they be identified by only their middle names) thought about that walk with something like nostalgia. It wasn’t the kind of nostalgia she felt for the days when she was a new mother, taking care of two small children, going to a job at a warehouse, fussing over car seats and relaxing over lunch with co-workers. That was a nostalgia for the person she had once been; this was a nostalgia for someone else—Tom—and a less lonely time.
Now her husband was in jail, and she knew she needed a plan to avoid ending up there too. She tried a rehabilitation program in the fall and managed to get off heroin for 18 days, but within hours of getting out, she was holed up with a new friend she made at rehab, as high as ever.
Now, at 25, she was trying a different way to save herself. She was working with the police, who had told her she was going to be charged with possession. If she wanted to stay out of jail, they told her, she would have to help them. All she had to do was set up her best dealer.
On a frigid day in early February, Ann hurried into the back seat of a red Honda waiting outside her father’s small home near Hazleton. She said a quick hello to the people in front: Carol Davenport and John Brennan, longtime narcotics agents, who were taking Ann to buy heroin from someone who had sold to her many times before.
“He actually is a very nice guy,” Ann told Davenport and Brennan as they drove. “He’s just in the wrong occupation.” Unlike everyone else in her life, her dealer, whom she considered a friend, seemed to trust her: For the past month, he regularly fronted her three or four bricks of the drug worth $150 each. She could easily sell one brick—50 bags—for $200 or 10 bags at a time for $60. Either way, she could pay her dealer what she owed him and keep at least a brick for herself, which would supply her for about two days. Ann was flattered when the dealer originally approached her to suggest that they might work together, which seemed to imply a certain faith in her general competence. He was sweet, in Ann’s opinion. Once, she told him that her mother might kick her out, and she half-joked that she might have to live with him. “No problem,” he told her. Not that he would tell her where he lived. Not that she even knew his real name. He had moved to Hazleton from New York. She thought he was Dominican, like a lot of dealers in town. He was about her age, good-looking, with blue-black hair. He made a nice living, was professional. After they made a deal, they always hugged.
Davenport twisted around from the front seat to look at Ann. “If you think this guy is a nice guy, you need to re-evaluate your idea of the quality of a good person,” she said. Davenport had raised a daughter, who was about Ann’s age, as a single mother. Forty-five and trim, she had long hair that fell in waves around a face that no dealer could refuse, no male dealer at least. One dealer Davenport had worked with for months wept when he realized Davenport had been gathering evidence on him. “I liked you,” he said when they met after he was arrested. “I took care of you."
Ann wore a black hoodie over a T-shirt with a hot pink sequined star and black leggings tucked into black boots. Davenport patted her down, poking around inside the fake fur of the boots, to confirm that she wasn’t hiding money or drugs. She smelled of shampoo, and her eyes were carefully made up. “I don’t even know if I want to ask you if you’ve been clean,” Davenport said. Ann said she’d been off heroin for three days and gone through withdrawal, which she describes as “the flu times 100.” Now she was even beginning to eat again: “My mom says she’s starting to see the old Ann.” Brennan and Davenport were not sure whether to believe her; she did not seem high, but some users were like that. Tom, who started out with prescription pills like Percocet, managed to hold down a welding job while he was using and drove a forklift under the influence; he had even been promoted twice at an Amazon warehouse. He was about to be hired full time when he failed a drug test.
The plan that day was to drive to the parking lot of a nearby convenience store called Sheetz. The police had given Ann $400 that she was to give to the dealer. She owed him that money, and she would get another two bricks to sell. “How are you going to let us know you have it?” Brennan asked. She told him she would text him one word: “Good.”
Brennan was sturdy, 57 years old, with horn-rimmed glasses that seemed at odds with the hoodie he usually wore. He put four children through Catholic school, solid kids, every one, and Ann’s mother trusted him implicitly, frequently turning to him for advice about how to deal with her daughter. He spoke to Ann with the deep, confidence-inspiring voice of a successful coach.
Brennan was based in Philadelphia, where he worked as a narcotics agent for the state attorney general on long-term cases—getting warrants for wires and aiming for dealers who trafficked in kilos, not bricks. He was in Hazleton as part of a 10-person task force called the Mobile Street Crimes Unit that was designed to rotate in troubled towns throughout the state. Near the intersection of I-80 and I-81, Hazleton, a town of around 30,000, has long been a convenient distribution hub for drug traffickers. In the late ‘90s, officers in Hazleton considered cocaine and crack the town’s biggest problems; but about a decade ago, they started seeing an influx of heroin. The town’s police force of 38 could hardly stem the tide. Hazleton had developed a reputation as a town where users from surrounding areas knew they could find heroin; Alter Street had become the kind of overt drug market linked to crime and social decay. “An open-air drug bazaar is the ultimate broken window,” Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at U.C.L.A., says.
The Pennsylvania attorney general, Kathleen Kane, intended the task force to provide towns like Hazleton—there were easily a dozen around the state—with a temporary blitz of manpower.
By locking up Ann’s dealer, Davenport and Brennan knew they were probably only creating a business opportunity for someone else; but there they were anyway, trying to at least keep things from becoming worse.
In the car, Ann was cracking her knuckles, pink fingernails digging into her palms. “I don’t want him to know it was me,” she said. “He won’t,” Brennan said. Ann got a text. There had been a misunderstanding; the dealer was coming all the way from Philadelphia. He said it would be an hour and a half, but that probably meant at least two, maybe more. Davenport slapped her leg in irritation: “Ann—this guy exhausts me.”
Brennan and Davenport dropped Ann off at home and told her they would see her in an hour. Neither felt particularly hopeful about the plan, but they came back around 6 and settled in at the parking lot. The two detectives had spent more hours than they cared to consider killing time in the parking lots of dollar stores and fast-food restaurants in downtown Hazleton, waiting for deals to go down. Now they drank coffee and talked about Brennan’s low-carb diet and Davenport’s quinoa recipes. Texts from the dealer dribbled in. “Do you want your money or not?” Ann texted, impatient. “Yesss,” he texted back. “Waittt.”
At 6:40, Ann went inside the Sheetz to wait, occasionally popping out into the cold air. Her phone was dying—what if she couldn’t text Brennan “good”? She ran back to the car to charge it, which made everyone edgy: The dealer could pull in at any minute.
Inside the Honda, Davenport and Brennan were fending off boredom and anxiety. Forty-five minutes went by. An hour. Brennan, staring out at the snowbank in front of them, started dreaming about summer, a coming James Taylor concert. Then he and Davenport were singing: “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain/I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. . . .” No one mentioned it, but Taylor has said the song is about praying for deliverance from the pain of heroin withdrawal: “My body’s aching and my time is at hand. . . .”
Inside Sheetz, Ann was on the phone with her dealer. He was telling her he was in the parking lot, but she couldn’t see him or his white van. In the middle of this confusion, Ann’s phone died. In a panic, she asked to use the store phone, dialed three, four, five times. Finally the dealer picked up. He was at the wrong Sheetz, about 15 minutes away. He said he would come to the right one soon. Hearing his voice unnerved her. For the first time that day, Ann was tempted to try to abort the plan. It was hard to betray a friend—hard, also, to commit to cutting herself off from a steady supply of heroin. She could tell Brennan and Davenport that he had called to say he wasn’t coming, and they would all go home. But there was that problem of the $400 she owed him. She was broke. She ran to the Honda to update them, then ran back. And finally there he was, in a baseball jacket, with that blue-black hair, driving a white van. Ann got in, and they drove up a street near her dad’s house to make the exchange, the way they always did. The deal was a blur: She had bought from him dozens of times but never felt this nervous. When they pulled back into the parking lot, Ann hugged him goodbye and got out of the van. She didn’t even have time to text “good” before she realized what was going on.
“Police! Don’t move!” she heard men yelling. There were 10 officers surrounding the van, their handguns drawn. Ann took a step, and no one stopped her, so she kept moving. If she looked back, she would have seen the dealer splayed on the ground. Go to John’s car, go to John’s car, she thought, willing herself toward Brennan’s Honda. She threw herself into the back seat, breathing heavily, and rested her head on the headrest.
“Why did you do it like that?” she said. Ann had not asked for or been given too many details that day, but she assumed the police would arrest the dealer some time later, so her involvement would not be apparent. “We had to, Ann,” Brennan said. Just a few days earlier, another agent saw Ann getting into a car with the dealer without alerting them. They had no reason, really, to trust her, and she didn’t know how much to trust them.
“I don’t feel good,” she said. “I’m shook. I got scared—they were coming right at me.” But it was worse than that: Her dealer had to know she set him up; it was obvious, he knew, he knew, he knew.
“You did good,” Brennan told her. “Just relax—you don’t have to worry. And now you can’t get dope.”
“I hope so,” she said. “I want to be done. I want to be over with it.” The ride back to Ann’s mother’s home was quiet. Davenport suggested she find herself a new set of friends, make a clean break. “You did a good job,” Brennan said. “Here’s $50, O.K.?” He stopped her before she got out of the car. “And, Ann—stay off that stuff.”
When it was all over, Ann walked into her mother’s apartment, a small two-bedroom intended for an empty-nester, now packed with Ann’s belongings, her children’s toys. She explained to her mother, Lucy, how the evening unfolded, and Lucy focused on the aspects of the story she considered hopeful: Maybe this was the beginning of the end of it all—the late-night phone calls, the strange cars pulling up to her condominium.
For a long time, Lucy (her middle name), a medical technician, managed to ignore the signs that her daughter was using heroin. When Ann started asking for money about a year and a half ago, Lucy assumed it was Tom who was blowing their income on drugs—Tom, who always had that empty look in his eyes, who once nodded off right in the middle of one of the big Sunday-night family dinners Lucy used to host. If Ann and Tom’s apartment was suddenly disheveled, and the kids looked a little ill kept, that was only because Ann was exhausted, Lucy told herself. By the time she was 24, Ann had two children and was working the 11-to-7 night shift at the Hershey plant, getting by on almost no sleep during the day. She knew Ann was not perfect—she could have a mouth on her, was never much for schoolwork—but this was the girl she’d accompanied to Girl Scouts and watched play field hockey. When Lucy and her husband divorced, Ann, who was 18, chose to live with Lucy. The two were like girlfriends.
It all came out in the fall. Tom, who had been charged with possession, went to jail. But even after he left, Lucy found syringes around the house and demanded that Ann show her arms. She knew then that Ann was shooting up, but it still took time for Lucy to appreciate just how far gone her daughter was. One day, her 4-year-old grandson came running into Lucy’s bedroom, telling her to hurry—“Mommy’s shooting drugs.” Lucy found her daughter in the living room, needle in hand. Not long before that, Lucy realized that her gold jewelry was missing: her grandmother’s rings, the diamond pendant a young man had given her just before leaving for Vietnam. Only Ann would have known where to find all those velvet boxes.
Lucy went round and round in her head about what had gone wrong. She had done everything for her daughter, from buying every Barbie she wanted as a girl to co-signing a car loan when she was grown. Maybe that was it—maybe Lucy had done too much, spoiled her.
Now she was simultaneously housing her daughter and trying as hard as she could to put her in jail. At least in jail, Lucy believed, she would get clean. “Couldn’t you just put her somewhere where she couldn’t get drugs for like a year?” Lucy once asked Brennan. “Like kidnap her?” Brennan told her. “That’s not how it works.”
Ann sometimes accused her mother of plotting to get control of her grandchildren. “You think I wanted to be raising two toddlers at 63?” Lucy would respond. “You think that was my plan?” But Lucy was grateful for the grandchildren: If she had nothing to do but worry about Ann, she would have collapsed from all the strain.
Not long after Brennan and Davenport dropped Ann off, they called her again: They needed to deal with some paperwork about the $50 Brennan had given her. When the car pulled into her mother’s parking lot she noticed another police car behind it and felt uneasy.
She went outside. Brennan told her to get in the car. He asked her to show him the $50, then grabbed it out of her hand. “Where’s the money?” he wanted to know. “Where’s the $400, Ann?” Brennan, gentle Brennan, was cursing at her, his coach’s voice booming. When they searched the dealer, they didn’t find the $400, and he claimed Ann never gave it to him.
“I didn’t take it,” she said. “I swear on my life—I swear on my kids!” A cop she didn’t know handcuffed her in the back of the car; someone told her she was being charged with theft. She turned to Davenport: Didn’t she believe her? “I want to believe you,” Davenport told her. “But I get lied to every day.”
“I know I’m a junkie,” Ann said to Brennan, wildly, a self-description that pained even him to hear. “I know I’m a junkie—but I wouldn’t do that.” Brennan and other officers went inside the house and tore through a pile of shopping bags and hampers where Ann was storing her clothing. As he tipped up a couch, Ann’s young son tried to help, putting all his weight behind it. Lucy, exhausted, in pajamas and glasses, shook her head. “Just lock her up, John,” she told him.
Brennan did not find any money. And Ann could not have left and bought drugs already, that much seemed clear. Then a call came in: Someone had searched the dealer one more time. The $400 was in his coat pocket all along. Brennan, stricken, looked at Ann. “I’m so, so sorry,” he told her. The handcuffs were off by then, and Ann started to cry.
As February wore on, Brennan started to feel tired of the snow, of the small-town desperation, of the sense that no matter how many dealers they locked up, others would take their place. He expected the endless supply and demand in Philadelphia but not in a town of Hazleton’s size.
The Drug Enforcement Administration considers prescription-drug abuse, not heroin, to be the country’s fastest-growing drug problem: 2.4 million Americans used prescription drugs nonmedically for the first time in 2012, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Many of those people abuse opiates like OxyContin and Percocet. Some small percentage of them, unable to afford expensive pills or finding their tolerance too high for those drugs, seek out heroin as a cheap, potent fix. Increasingly they find it with some ease. For all the billions the U.S. government has spent fighting drug trafficking over the years, Mexican gangs have been flooding the market. The resulting competition among dealers has made heroin cheaper and purer than it ever has been. From 2007 to 2012, the number of people who reported using heroin in the previous year grew to 669,000 from 373,000, a statistic that represents a tiny percentage of the population but a significant rate of increase.
One week after Davenport and Brennan arrested Ann’s dealer, Attorney General Kane arrived in Hazleton to oversee the last days of the mobile unit’s work there. A few dozen extra officers were brought in, and about 30 small-time dealers and users were rounded up over three days, in addition to the 90 or so who were arrested over the preceding six months. That Wednesday, the attorney general held a news conference to talk about the unit’s success. “I will tell you that this Mobile Street Crimes Unit is about street fighting,” she said. “I’m a street fighter. . . . That’s what we do—we are down on the ground. . . . We’re not think-tanking. We’re not talking about concepts. We are out on the streets, on raids.”
But David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, questions the approach of these sorts of task forces. “The people on the ground are doing the best they can do. But the level of effort is never remotely equal to the work that remains to be done. If they stayed there forever, it wouldn’t change.”
An agent for the special-operations group, brought in to help with the roundup, cheerfully accepted the futility that he understood to be an integral part of his job. “This,” he told me, gesturing at the 50 or so officers there to help clean up the town, “is a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”
By Friday, most members of the task force, including Brennan, had returned to their own corners of the state. The drug trade on Alter Street had at least temporarily quieted, no small step for a town trying to dispel its reputation as a drug hub, but Ann had no problem finding heroin elsewhere in town. She was still using despite what she told Davenport and Brennan. That night, she was inside a Giant Food Store, reveling in the privacy of its bathroom. It was big and bright, a cathedral of a space, where she could comfortably kneel down and find peace. The chain stores in Hazleton—Giant, Turkey Hill, Rite Aid—all represented refuge to Ann.
Right out of high school, Ann fell in love with cocaine, which she snorted on lost weekends in the Poconos with friends. But she stopped cold when she became pregnant at 20. For years, she was good, as she put it—a good girl, a good mother—everyone said so, even her mother’s friends. But then a friend of Tom’s persuaded him to try heroin, and their family life changed—suddenly, he was gone, either out with his friends getting high or home but stoned out of reach.
Ann was lonely and tired and more than a little bored: Night after night, at the Hershey factory, she placed little wafers in little molds—God, she hated Kit Kats. Her lunch break came in the early-morning hours. A co-worker started offering her cocaine.
At first she resisted—“I’m a mommy, I spend time with my kids,” she told him—but she had not forgotten how cocaine once made her feel. Finally she took him up on his offer. It was easy, then, to move to heroin, to share with Tom, after the kids went to bed, that rare euphoria: “Our time,” they called it. At first, Ann only sniffed the drug; Tom refused to shoot Ann up, afraid of where the needle would take her. But soon she could no longer feel the effects of the heroin she snorted, and she eventually figured out how to shoot up.
In the bathroom of the Giant Food, she went to work. Out of a floral makeup bag, from underneath a mound of compacts and mascara, she pulled out a bright orange stretchy headband, a medicine bottle, three small glassine envelopes and a single Q-tip, which she would use as a filter. “My mother got rid of my cotton balls,” she said—Lucy knew what she used them for.
Ann gently poured the contents of the bags, a pale powder, into the cap of the medicine bottle. She pulled water from a plastic bottle into her syringe, then ejected it into the heroin and stirred. Gripping the syringe in her mouth, she ripped off a tiny bit of the Q-tip. She placed it in the cap, where it soaked up the solution, and then she dipped the needle into its cottony softness. She extracted the drug, leaving a brown ring around the interior of the bottle top.
She took off her hoodie, pushed up the sleeve of her shirt and knelt down. She wrapped the orange headband three times around her arm until it was tight. She massaged a vein on her left arm, gently, as if to coax its cooperation. Then the needle went in, slowly. She failed to connect with a vein, tried again, failed again: Scar tissue was probably starting to get in the way. In and out, in and out. She breathed audibly, sometimes twirling the syringe. A small, dark stream of blood congealed on the pale underside of her arm.
A knock on the door. “Is there someone in there?” Ann did not look up. “Just a minute,” she said. Her concentration was complete. Five minutes went by; she switched arms, switched again.
"Here’s one,” she said tenderly, setting her sights on a faint blue, slender line beside the main one in her arm. Finally: “There you go,” she said. She sat motionless for a moment.
Ann always described it the same way—first, a feeling in the back of her throat, then the rush, that cosseting, warm feeling barreling its way through her blood.
She cleaned up, marking her syringe with eyeliner so she would know that it had been used. She put her jacket back on, washed her hands, checked her face in the mirror. Three bags was not necessarily so much that she would nod off, falling into the semisleep of addicts who can hang and sway even when standing; it was just enough to get her right in some way. In its comfort, she seemed to find new strength to imagine giving up the drug, especially since it took her so long to hit a vein. “I can’t hit anything,” she said, as she wiped the blood off her arm with a fresh piece of toilet paper. “It must be God saying, ‘Quit.’ ”
Ann talked about quitting all the time. She imagined herself going to school—maybe taking some classes in criminal justice, a subject she thought about pursuing after high school. For several days, Ann had been carrying around with her a single pill—her sub, she called it, short for Suboxone. Suboxone, like methadone, is a drug that is dispensed to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Unlike methadone, Suboxone can be administered outside a clinic by prescription. For all the concern about crime in Hazleton, the town had never been able to muster enough support for a methadone clinic, one of the few measures proven to reduce criminal activity among drug users. And Ann said the waiting lists at the local doctors who prescribed Suboxone were three to four months long.
One Suboxone seemed unlikely to get Ann anywhere close to full recovery. Even on the other side of withdrawal, the satisfactions of a sober, adult life might prove elusive. Recovering addicts report a kind of emotional dullness that can linger for months, even years, a result of compensatory changes in the brain that only slowly reverse.
Downregulated by overstimulation, the reward system for the ordinary pleasures in life limps along, an unreliable, rusted-out machine; the stress system, by contrast, works in overdrive, with a ruthless, hair-trigger sensitivity. Even after they have not touched drugs for a year, addicts, studies find, are more sensitive to hot and cold. And amid all that psychic ache, one memory shines exceptionally bright: That unnaturally exquisite reward.
Still, Ann carried around the Suboxone pill, almost as a totem of possibility. She even showed it to her mother, as proof that she really was going to stop.
By Monday, Ann was hurting. She had no money, and she had exhausted any favors her friends owed her. She had no drugs to sell, no buying power. She knew it was stupid, but she kept calling her dealer, whom she heard was out on bail, her need so strong she could not heed her own common sense. He never called back.
At 3 that afternoon, Ann was working the phone outside a convenience store, texting and calling around town for help. She said she had not used since the day before; and now she was starting to feel those first symptoms of withdrawal: hot, cold, hot, cold. She was sighing, over and over again. She was trying to make something work. “All right,” she said to someone who had just turned her down. “You don’t want a trader?” All she had to offer was Seroquel, an anti-psychotic, that she said was given to addicts in withdrawal to help them sleep.
She called someone else—voice mail. “Why can’t I get ahold of anyone?” she said. Her voice was small. “I’m in agony.” She started to tear up. “I’m all out,” she said. “I’m going to die.” She called someone else. “Listen, listen, listen—I wanted to ask you. What can you give me for one? ‘Cause I’m sick. I just need one,” she said, just one bag. Someone texted someone to see if he would make a trade for the Seroquel, give her something she could sell to someone else. She waited; she heard from a friend that a guy who owed her would meet her outside the AutoZone in Hazleton. So she headed there and waited, charging her phone inside the store. Forty-five minutes went by. She walked on wobbly legs into the Japanese restaurant next door, desperate for a bathroom. She vomited and then walked out, still wobbly. She couldn’t wait any longer for that guy at the AutoZone. “It’s so time-consuming,” she said at one point. “It should not be this hard to get drugs.”
In parts of Europe, government and medical officials have decided that there’s some sense in what Ann said: That the difficulty addicts have obtaining drugs accounts for much of the crime problem. In Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, the most entrenched heroin addicts can turn to prescription heroin, safe heroin administered at medical sites, an approach that has been found to reduce crime even more than methadone clinics and to improve addicts’ family lives and employment stability.
Ann called someone else who owed her. The best he could do, he said, was offer her some headphones that she could pawn. Maybe they were worth $20, which was, at that moment, a king’s ransom. She took them, but the pawnshop gave her only $5. Maybe she could scrounge up some change in her purse. Ten minutes later, Ann emerged from a home near Alter Street with a bag of heroin; just holding it in her hand, she seemed revived. It was something, but she had a 20-bag-a-day habit, and this would not get her through the night. When she got home, she would start working the phone again.
Three days later, Ann was scheduled for an arraignment on the charges of theft of her mother’s jewelry. Ann’s father accompanied Ann and Lucy to court, and as the three of them bickered and shushed one another, Ann seemed bolstered by the normalcy of family life—her father stern and finger-wagging, her mother by her side.
Now Ann’s mother was simultaneously housing her daughter and trying as hard as she could to put her in jail; at least in jail, her mother believed, she would get clean.
Lucy had been under the impression that Ann was very likely to be escorted directly from the courthouse to jail. Instead the judge told all the defendants to plead not guilty and gave them court dates when their cases would be heard. “What a joke,” Lucy muttered.
Ann was relieved. She could go home with her mom, spend time at the house where her father and brother lived; her father would watch the kids during the day. Things would go on, somehow, with some semblance of what she now considered normal: her children around her, the endless hustling for heroin, the usual daily grind.
But then Lucy told her she had to move out: Social Services, which granted Lucy temporary custody of her grandchildren after Tom was arrested, had said Ann could not stay at the apartment, for the good of the kids.
So Ann left. From that point on, her life didn’t resemble anything that had come before. Lucy caught only glimpses of it, which was about as much as she could take. Ann ran out of minutes on her phone and rarely called. A few weeks out, Ann came by Lucy’s work to ask for money, for contact lenses, she told Lucy. Her face was black and blue. She had had a fight with another woman, also a user, over a guy—not so much over the guy, but over who was going to get a ride from him. Ann needed to be driven to a hearing that would determine whether Lucy’s custody status would shift from temporary to permanent; the other woman wanted a ride to get a fix. Ann didn’t make it to the hearing.
She was staying at a motel with friends, she told her mother, playing it off as if that were fine, although Lucy knew what kind of motel it was, a rathole where she would be afraid to seek out her daughter. At some point, Ann reached out to Davenport, who was now working in a nearby town, asking for help finding a place to stay. She and Davenport arranged a time to talk, but Ann didn’t show up. The detective felt for Ann, but she could not make it her business to try to save her. “I am so swamped with cases,” she texted me. “There are hundreds of Anns out there.”
At night, Lucy was dreaming about dire phone calls and strange cars pulling up to her door. She could not reach her daughter but knew that she had a second court date, on March 26, for another theft charge; her father accused her of stealing a sander and a hand weight from his home and selling them to a junk shop for $4 and change. He, too, pressed charges and got the state police involved: The girl had to learn there were consequences. Lucy took time off from work to try to see her daughter at the hearing at the magistrate’s office.
When Ann showed up, the strains of the past month were visible on her body, which had wasted away, and on her face, which was tinged with gray. Just the night before, the police told Lucy, Ann was picked up for shoplifting several hundred dollars’ worth of clothing at a Walmart next door to the magistrate judge’s office.
Now Ann was panicked that the judge might not let her remain free before the trial, which was customary for small offenses. Shaking with nerves and exhaustion, she sat down on a chair in the waiting room and fumbled with her purse. Her eyes were dry and lined with red. She had not taken out her contact lenses in weeks for lack of a case.
The two Walmart security guards who apprehended Ann the evening before were also crowded into the tiny waiting room, there for someone else’s hearing. They looked away from Ann, and she avoided their eyes, busying herself with her phone and applying concealer and lipstick with a trembling hand.
“I did some shady things, I have to get my act together,” Ann said under her breath. “But it’s been very, very hard. Very.” For weeks, she had been catching sleep, along with a crowd of other users, in motel rooms that a new dealer friend let them use when he didn’t need them for business. Every day, the crew woke up and started the same routine: What could they buy? Where could they buy it? Who had the cash? How would they get there? She was using crack, was sleepless and agitated; her nails were lined with dirt, and she had a broken finger that she thought was infected, its splint grimy.
Eventually a public defender came out of the courtroom, a tall, balding man with a baby face and a reassuringly adult suit. He could not represent Ann, he explained, until she filed the appropriate paperwork, but he could give her some advice: Don’t lie. Try to sound calm. Volunteer to go straight to rehabilitation therapy as a condition of bail. Ann was praying the hearing would be postponed until she had a public defender assigned. She was terrified of jail.
Tom had tried to warn her this day was coming. The one time she visited him in jail, Ann was high, and now that he wasn’t using drugs anymore, he couldn’t bear to see her that way. He told her she had to get off heroin. “I can’t,” she told him. He knew he would have said the same thing months before: Tom was the one with the 50-bag-a-day habit, the one who had overdosed on a mix of heroin and Xanax, only to rush out of the hospital so he could go back home and shoot up. In jail, he had no choice but to stop using, and in a strange way, he was grateful. “I’ve had a lot of time to think it over,” he said, when I visited him in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. “It’s not all about me. I’ve got two kids, and they’re suffering.” Loose-limbed, with a steady gaze, Tom said he was resolved to stay off drugs when he got out, though he looked wary as he said it: He knew how hard it would be. He could not say what his future would hold with Ann, but he felt responsible for where her life had gone. “To be dead honest,” he said quietly, “it’s all my doing.”
Once she was seated in front of the magistrate, a tidy-looking man with dark hair, Ann reached deep into the recesses of memory and pulled out an earlier version of herself: the passable student teachers liked, who used to go shopping for clothing with her mom, who showed up for a steady job with manicured nails, who changed her son’s diapers and gazed into his crib with pride. “I don’t want to live like this anymore,” she told the judge. “I really don’t. If possible, if I could get into something today?” She was asking for some kind of a treatment program. “I was on heroin,” she told him, “but I haven’t used in the last two weeks.”
Ann’s father had known the magistrate since he was a boy: He and the magistrate’s father had worked together at a local coal mine. Now Ann’s father sat in the back of the courtroom, arms folded in disgust at the state of his daughter. The magistrate listened carefully to Ann, then set the bail at $10,000. The public defender had gently tried to warn Ann that the judge might set a high bail—given her obvious drug problem, given that even previous arrests did not seem to deter her from committing more crimes. But Ann was nevertheless shocked: “I’m going to jail?” she asked, incredulous. Many months down the road, Ann could be referred to treatment court, where her record would be expunged if she underwent a prolonged period of treatment with clean drug tests. But all of that was an abstraction; now she was filled with the immediate fear of the humiliations of jail, the utter loss of control. Tom went to jail, and he was still there, six months later.
She started pleading with the magistrate. “I don’t have a chance to do anything at all?” she asked. The magistrate was now looking down at some papers, ready to move on to the next hearing, but Ann argued on, trying frantically to lay blame elsewhere. She had just put a deposit down on an apartment, she claimed. “So I finally have a place to live,” she shouted, panic rising in her voice. “I explained that to my mother, but she doesn’t believe me.” She put her head in her hands and cried. Ann suddenly looked very small in the courtroom. The magistrate took a small breath, as an officer of the court moved in to cuff her hands. “If you want to blame somebody, don’t blame your mom,” he told Ann. “Blame yourself.”
And then, hands shackled, she was escorted toward the courtroom exit. “Can I just have my phone?” she asked. It had all her connections. “I just need to be able to call someone,” she said, “someone who could help me.”
After a month in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, Ann was released to a rehabilitation center as a condition of bail; as of May 1, she said she’d been clean for 36 days.
Susan Dominus is a staff writer for the magazine. She last wrote about reconciliation in Rwanda.
Editor: Ilena Silverman
A version of this article appeared in print on May 11, 2014, on page MM20 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Hooked