By Brianna Engel
Hello, Vanguard Incarcerated Press! I have read so many of your inspiring stories, I feel it’s time to add mine to the archives.
I am a 34-year-old mother of 2, serving a five-year sentence for drugs and drug-related offenses. I have struggled with opioid addiction since I was 18 years old and have been in and out of court and jail stays for over a decade but have never been offered any rehabilitation in any form. Now in my first prison bid I have learned the hard way that just wanting to get better is not enough for people like me. The only success I have ever had has been in the form of medicated assisted treatment. A Suboxone program is a solution to a problem that is not going away. Prisons in other states have started Suboxone treatment with their inmates and had resounding success from it, so I am doing everything I can to bring attention to get this implemented in Virginia state prisons.
I recently did an interview with NPR about my situation. I have lost all of my good time due to drug tests that I have failed for Suboxone that was purchased illegally on the prison compound. It has resulted in several 100 series charges that ended with loss of all good time, putting my level from a 1-1 to now a 2-4. My visitation is completely banned for 2 years, I have paid several monetary fines, lost my job that I was working inside the prison, and have had a Canteen restriction. What I want to point out about all of this is that I’m being treated the same as if it were heroin I had failed for and that to me is alarming. I now have a prison record that on paper makes me look like a huge behavioral problem and all around troublemaker when in fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I spend most of my time in my assigned cell room drawing and staying to myself. I do not break arbitrary rules, I’m mindful of others, officers included, and outside of these drug tests which are administered twice a month the most trouble I have caused is visiting a cell door that is not my own without permission or not standing up for count quickly enough.
My prison does not even offer programs for anyone with more than a year left to serve. Being excluded from seeking help on the basis of one’s sentence is completely unfair, leaving inmates with lengthy sentences, often the ones needing the most help, feeling helpless and rejected, and with no other option than returning to using drugs that are just as prevalent inside these doors as they are outside.
I was taking Suboxone when I was on the street, and it saved my life. I can’t think of a place where it could do more good than here in the prisons where most addicts end up at some point. Getting the structured peer counseling that should be a mandatory requirement of being on Suboxone along with the medicine itself would give people new hope, a lower recidivism rate, and less likely to get out of prison and die of an overdose like the many who have already. The core of my fight to help these women by advocating for this program to anyone who will listen is simply this: if it was possible to quit drugs and the drugging lifestyle with sheer willpower then I would have done that long before I ended up here, and I’m sure I speak for countless other people when I say I want to get better. I want this bid to be my last, but I need help! The reason for creating Suboxone was to combat the opioid epidemic and help addicts help themselves. I miss my children, and I hate having to tell them that my time is even longer now because I couldn’t resist the temptation when it was so available. The only thing I take solace in is that I chose Suboxone rather than heroin, but as long as it’s still banned in my institution the punishment remains the same.
So please help me get my story out there so people will take notice. This is good for the facility as well as the inmate. It will create more jobs for peer support counselors. It will decrease illegal sales and possession, and there will be fewer charges to contend with. Help make a center that heals trauma, protects lives, and improves readiness for rehabilitation!