On May 11, 2014, I headed from Boston to Philadelphia for my Pop-Pop’s 90th birthday celebration with my girlfriend and sister. On the way there, we decided to stop and party in Atlantic City. We indulged in some drinks and gambling on the boardwalk. Later that night before we went to sleep, my girlfriend and I were watching Drugs Inc. on the Discovery Channel. We watched an episode called Philly Dope about a neighborhood in North Philadelphia called Kenstingon. From what I saw in the show, it seemed like Kensington was a one stop shop for any drug, basically an open air drug market with the purest heroin you can find on the East Coast.
Atlantic City with my sister and cousin
I had the bright idea to go there on the way to the birthday celebration. Even though we packed accordingly and had plenty of supplies, I thought “Why not? If it’s on the way...” Sure enough, it was only seven minutes out of the way, right off the highway from Atlantic City. When I got there, it looked just like the show with all the drugs you can imagine being sold like heroin, crack cocaine and PCP, all being dealt from hundreds of different street corners. Kensington is a giant drug drive-thru. But for the addicts and dealers, it's a deadly trap that threatens to drive them insane or to jail or to death.
It reminded me of HBO’s “The Wire.” Stupidly, I thought this was cool. I guess it is if you’re a drug addict. There were hundreds of “corner boys” set up and as I was driving around this neighborhood, people were yelling what they had for sale. For those of you who have experienced the music festival scene, it was a ghetto Shakedown street filled with needles, heroin, and crack. I parked my car next to a convenience store because I needed an ATM. As I walked from my car to the store, I was surrounded by many drug dealers offering me free samples of their product. They were shoving little wax baggies in my pockets, telling me to go and try it before I bought it. I went to the ATM and then started walking down the street when a SUV of cops with machine guns pulled over beside me. They rolled down the window and said “Hey, white boy! Are you lost?” About 4 police officers got out of the car and put me up against the wall, and began searching my pockets. There were hundreds of gang bangers watching this. I said to the police, “There are so many drug dealers here, why are you fucking with me?” They asked me “Do you know where you are?” Let’s face it, I was the only white person in the streets, wearing a bathing suit and flip flops, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. As they searched me, they mentioned that a murder had just happened only one block over, and asked me again “What are you doing here? Did you come here for heroin?” I stupidly replied “I’m here for my grandfather‘s 90th birthday.” That is when they found a few of the free samples in the pocket of my bathing suit, they also found a small bag of weed that I had forgotten I even had. I would later find out that the weed was a bigger deal then the heroin because of Philadelphia’s laws, specific to this neighborhood. This police encounter took place next to a church where I could overhear the preacher intensely shouting the gospel about violence and drugs in the neighborhood. As I was handcuffed, the police jokingly said “Is that the church where your grandfather’s party is being held?”
Once I got to the 25th precinct jail, I was put in a cell with a very large black man. I immediately said, “Yo, what are you in here for?” He said “Shit man, being black. What about you?” I said “Shit, being white.” We laughed together. He said, “You know how I know these cops are liars? They didn’t even find my shit. It’s right here in my mouth.” He spit out an 8 ball of cocaine. My eyes lit up, I said “Let me get some of that!” He said, “Sure man..I don’t even do the stuff.” I covertly laid out a line, but he said “Don’t even worry about it man, they won’t be coming to check on us for at least 14 hours. I could kill you and they wouldn’t even find your body until tomorrow.” The cocaine didn’t sit well with me, being in such a small cell without much room to move around and starting to become dope sick, I wasn’t having a great time at all. Sadly, and because of my own stupid behavior, I didn’t make it to my Pop-Pop’s 90th birthday. My girlfriend made some sort of excuse for my absence. This would have been my last chance to see him alive, and this deeply saddens me to this day. I will always regret this.
RIP Joseph Wylen
May 11, 1924 - April 18, 2018
Fast forward to May 2015, I was dope sick. My girlfriend at the time was at work and feeling awful. She called me from work in a panic saying “I can not go on with this day without any stuff” (meaning heroin). I was feeling the same way, but at least I had the day off of work. My car was in the shop and unavailable, not to mention I had a suspended license at the time. My connection could meet me, but only 15 miles away so I needed a car or a ride. I had neither, that’s when my girlfriend told me to take her father’s car, a brand new 2015 Jetta Sportwagon Diesel. I replied “But I don’t know how to drive a stick shift...” She said, “Come on, you’ll be able to figure it out.” There were several things going on in my head. The rational, normal Jake knew that this would be so wrong and upsetting to my girlfriend’s dad, and I knew he wouldn’t have allowed this. The drug addicted fiend in me was saying “This is the only way to possibly achieve ‘getting well’.” I took the keys to the brand new Volkswagen Jetta, but had a hard time even starting the car; I was not used to the clutch. I had my girlfriend on the phone with me walking me through all the steps. I proceeded to reverse out the garage, stalling out down the long driveway. I finally seemed to get the hang of this, but was feeling quite sick. One of the symptoms for me was a constant “teary yawns”. Essentially, I was in rough shape. I finally got to the location to meet my connection in Framingham, Massachusetts. I purchased ten (10) $40 bags, which are about .3 or .4 grams per bag. I was feeling so shitty, I had to immediately smoke some, but I did not want to pull over and waste any time because I knew that my girlfriend was in extreme discomfort. I have never smoked while driving a stick shift, so obviously it was challenging to say the least. I was about 1 mile on the return trip when I put my head down to take a hit. When I looked it up, I saw there was a car completely stopped in the middle of the road. I was going roughly 40 mph when I slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. It felt like I was in slow motion as I barreled into the car's rear end. I had whiplash and was seeing stars from the airbags deploying. I immediately stumbled out of the car, barely having any balance. Looking at the smashed car, I could tell it was completely totalled and I knew that the police would be there any minute. “I gotta hide the stuff,” I said to myself. Acting as if I was more disoriented than I really was, I stumbled over to the woods on the side of the road and discreetly hid the drugs under a rock. There was an off duty FBI agent that was driving in opposing traffic who witnessed the crash, she pulled over and said “Don’t worry the police are on the way! Is everybody OK?”
Before the police arrived and after the drugs were hidden, I took a moment to look at the damage I caused. As I was surveying the damage, I felt like such a shitty human being and like I was the smallest person on Earth. I destroyed the personal belongings of people that I love. I was driving a stolen vehicle, unlicensed and uninsured. Seriously, what a piece of shit I was to not give a fuck about anything or anyone else aside from getting my next fix, no matter what I would destroy or who I would hurt, or how much money I will make the others spend with my destruction.
I called my girlfriend, speechless. I did not know how to tell her I totaled her father's car. That was my main concern. I was not even thinking about the fact that I was surely about to be arrested for driving without a license, possibly even in possession of a stolen vehicle. My girlfriend said “Oh my God, I am leaving work now to come and get you!” With tears and a choked up voice, I replied “OK.” When the police arrived, they first asked me if I was OK, and then they asked me what happened, followed by asking for my license and registration. I told them I was OK and put on a persona as if I’d done nothing wrong. I said “This is my father-in-law’s car” and gave them the registration and my license, even though I knew it was suspended!' Although I had told them I was fine, they sent an ambulance to make sure I was okay. As they were checking me out, the police officer came over and said “Sir, are you aware that your license is suspended?” I played it off like I was so shocked and had no idea and he actually seemed to believe me. Against medical advice, I refused to go to the emergency room. Minutes before my girlfriend pulled up with her friend, the tow truck pulled away with her father’s vehicle, leaking brake fluid and totally smashed. The first she asked about was the dope. This is a prime example of how much this drug distorts rational thoughts. Before the police left, they said I’d be getting a letter in the mail with a court date for driving with a suspended license ,but they didn’t take me to jail. Long story short, we were able to retrieve the hidden product from the nearby woods under the rock. Once we got the opiates in our system and felt well again, we discussed the best way to break the news to her parents. To make matters worse, roughly 2 months prior to this, my girlfriend totaled her mother's brand new Audi. We knew this would not be an easy conversation. I felt physically sick knowing I had to break this news to someone I respect and care about. I had a hard time looking in the mirror for the next few months, it even still bothers me today, knowing all the havoc I created. You’d think something like this would be a wake up call. But the destruction went on.
Skip ahead a few weeks to the fourth of July weekend 2015, I was dope sick at my girlfriend's lake house with her family. This was actually intentional; I wanted to get clean. I thought it would make sense to go away for the weekend, separated from all my connections and not being able to leave to go pick up drugs. For the most part, on the first night, I was fine. But in the morning, I woke up so sick that I was shaking and shivering, even though it was 95°F outside. It was visibly noticeable that I was not doing well. Her family was wondering what was wrong with me, as I was wearing a sweatshirt on a hot summer day. My nose was running, I was restless, I did not know what to do with myself, and I wanted to cry. I was pacing, and then tried to lay on the hammock, but it did not last too long before I got up and repeated the process for hours, getting up and laying back down. My girlfriend was doing alright because she took Suboxone. This was before the strips that dissolve under your tongue were available. I didn’t take the Suboxone because of the awful bitter orange taste which made me want to gag. My girlfriend could tell I was going crazy, so she suggested a boat ride. I was in a bathing suit and a sweatshirt. She drove the boat into the middle of the lake and stopped the engine. She told me to jump in because it would feel refreshing. I honestly felt so sick and weak, I thought I would drown but I took her advice anyway. As soon as I hit the water, there was an intense sensation that shocked my body and took my breath away. It didn’t feel good, but it also didn’t feel bad. I was just miserable but trying to make the best of it with all my might. I finally made it to Sunday, still feeling awful, perhaps even worse than when I first arrived. It was this day that I decided to give up on becoming clean from heroin. I asked my girlfriend if we could leave early and drive directly to get a bag. Even though I wanted sobriety so badly, the grip this drug had over me was too intense and I could not let go.
This is a small glimpse into the havoc opiates created in my life and in the lives of those around me. I am ashamed and embarrassed that this is what actually went on for years in my life. Luckily, I am now released from the grip this drug had on me. The reason I am sharing this embarrassment with the world is so that others can learn from my mistakes and reassess the decisions they make, and consider how their behavior impacts their loved ones.