Mr. Z. lifted the white sheet on the gurney and took what he thought was the last look at his baby boy. Bullet exit wounds showed clearly where the lead ripped through the flesh of his son’s body. He put the sheet down. This can’t be true. He lifted the sheet back up again. Yup, it was Vincenzo.
The reddish, brown, mud-colored blood swirled in an ocean on the floor, on Luci’s shirt, on Vincenzo’s torn-and-battered body. The blood of his own flesh and blood and it became too much. Father fell lifelessly to the ground.
Unspoken words swarmed through everyone’s head. The last words said to one another, “I hate you. You ruined our family”. “Nooooo” screamed sister. “This can’t be the last words I say to my brother”.
Beep, beep, beep. The line on the screen began to jump from flat-line to wavy baby. Life began to surge back into Vincenzo’s veins. Beep, beep, beep. “Can you step out of the room please?” a pale-faced doctor shouted. The will to die turned the corner back to the will to live…heroin defeated for now.
A Mother and Her Son…
After giving birth, any mother’s most joyous memory is the first time holding her baby. Day-in-and-out, the children grow up creating memories to last a lifetime. Bringing home painted, hand prints, cursive writing practice work sheets or even school pictures to hang yet another one on the fridge. There is never a time; anyone thinks they will be holding the very same child as the hospital chaplain gives the child their last rights because they are expected to die.
Since the 7th grade, Vincenzo was a star-athlete, a champion wrestler, the pride of his community and praised by all. He was a good-looking, young man always making his family proud. The family knew the drill, load up the car every weekend, tournament-after-tournament, city-after-city, town-after-town. How did this become drug treatment center-after-center, not my little baby…prison-after-prison? One word is the answer: heroin.
Waking up in these circumstances is a living nightmare. To watch your own child, become a stranger changing from that sweet, angelic face to someone who looks you in the face, telling lie-after-lie, taking family heirlooms and selling his soul. This is a fate far worse than the worst nightmare. To watch someone you love change from this vibrant, smiling, peaceful soul into someone you no longer recognize: is the face of heroin.
It doesn’t matter who you are, how old, how beautiful, how athletic, or how rich or poor, if heroin grabs a hold it will begin to squeeze the life out of you, your family and the community.
Luci Zigari never once thought she would become a mother visiting her son in a prison. This is the place where the bad people go. The Zagari’s: a suburban, professional, working family stripped of their dignity because heroin grabbed hold. People who Luci knew for years
stopped calling. During break time, friends at work Luci often shared coffee with acted busy. No one seemed to understand the Zigari’s did nothing wrong. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t their parenting skills. It was the heroin.
Luci always loved her son. She described their relationship until heroin took over, as they were best friends. Heroin changed that. Luci became an enemy. Relapse-after-relapse and finally she grew tired and said enough. Vincenzo was cast away. Tough love. It didn’t work. Where was there any support? It was the darkest day. All Luci wanted was her baby boy back.
As the clock struck 9:30 pm, the doctors said there was no hope. Call the family. He’s going to die. Shot by a female officer, claiming she feared for her life; a crime spree. Now reality sinks in, he lives… but is life worth living when he will spend the next 12 years behind bars in a NYS prison. How did this happen? Vincenzo was recruited by every Division one school, even West Point. He once had a dream of being a police officer or a marine. His dreams are no more. Now he is reduced to a DIN number…one word heroin.
A Girl Gone Astray…
Leah LeChase is far from the picture people envision in their minds when talking about the stereotype of what is a heroin addict? Leah grew up in a privileged family who was respected in their community. She went to the best schools, never wanted for anything but she still ended up a drug addict. People think drug addiction is centered in the inner-city and to the untouchables of society. It is not. Heroin is no longer…not my backyard…not my kid.
It is an epidemic, engulfing American cities, destroying families’ one-by-one, stealing the lives of our children. It moved from just the inner city, poverty-stricken neighborhoods to the wealthiest communities and is becoming the sexy drug among American teenagers. The drug is cheap, easy to get and wide-spread throughout our society, destroying one life at a time.
Leah discusses the stereotypes and wants us to know:
“Junkies, losers, dirty, homeless, uneducated. Those are just a few of the stigmas surrounding opiate addiction. Unfortunately, the majority of man-kind thinks this way. If someone uses needles and is injecting heroin into their body, a substance everybody knows will only cause damage, then they MUST be stupid. They MUST be dirty. They HAVE TO have an effed-up family. But that is not the case.
Heroin knows no bounds. It doesn’t care if you’re white, asian, black, hispanic, rich, poor, or an orphan. It doesn’t care if you’re beautiful. It also doesn’t care what social class you consider yourself to be part of. It simply doesn’t matter. I come from a well-off family. In fact, my family is pretty well-known in Rochester and in a lot of cities throughout the United States and Upstate New York.
I had a pretty great childhood. We went on vacations together. My family was tight-knit and always celebrated many traditions together as a whole. We were (and still are) a very strong, family unit. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but every family has their own dysfunctions. It wasn’t until I reached high school and encountered my first traumatic experience that things started to look dark in my world.
I was sexually assaulted. It’s a scary term; rape. But it happened. And I tried so hard for so long to pretend that it didn’t. Heroin became a huge part of it. I discovered heroin and I realized that it actually could numb my emotions. I figured out how to shut out all of the bad feelings I had about myself and the decisions I’ve made. I didn’t have to hold myself accountable for anything. It was love at first poke…heroin.
Yes, I received treatment and had support from friends and especially family, I’m definitely one of the lucky ones. But I’ve run into some people along the way, who aren’t as fortunate. It’s so hard to get help. Insurance companies can pull you out of treatment at any given moment. I’ve seen women who desperately needed help and while they were trying to get better, were pulled out of treatment facilities out of nowhere, just because the company decided that they didn’t want to cover the cost.
And by the way, a good treatment center costs money. A LOT of money. So before you choose to blame society or blame the addict, try to understand that most of us do try to get help, but are forced to leave treatment.
Addiction is a disease. Whether you agree or not is up to you, but there is enough evidence to support that statement. Doctors agree, in order to treat a disease, you need TREATMENT. A regime designed to help you get better; Medication (Methadone, Sub-Oxone, Subutex, Naloxone, and so much more). This help is out there, but not enough of it.
We need to all be on the same page. We need to start extending arms to help one another, instead of judging and leaving people out in the cold. Please think next time that negative thinking creeps into your head and remember that addicts are sick. “We just need a little help”.
The Cause of The Problem
Rochester Woman Online brings you an anonymous point of view from a drug-dealer. The drug dealer indicates when selling drugs they do not think about the individual buying the drugs or the effect on the community. When living in the inner-city, in a poverty-stricken area, opportunities are limited for people. Often there are generations of families who survive being drug dealers.
Often drug-dealing is the only way the people can make a living to survive. It is survival of the fittest. Many people who choose this profession try to give back to the community by giving the neighborhood children money so they can go to the store and buy some food. Often they give money to struggling-single-parent mothers to buy school clothes.
To law-abiding citizens, this is a far cry of being a benefit to our community.
Another problem which stems out of the heroin epidemic is the malingering “War on Drugs” and the over-incarceration of minority drug offenders. There is reform in this area but this problem began decades ago, during the Reagan administration. Life sentences were handed down on the regular to attempt to stop or lower the violence affiliated with the drug trade.
Anthony Papa, is one of the men sent off to prison to do a (15-Life) sentence. Mr. Papa is one of the first people ever to receive a clemency and a pardon (2017). Papa, an aspiring, talented artist, is also a writer who penned two books on his experiences; 15-Life and This Side of Freedom. Anthony works for the Drug Policy Alliance. This organization is the leading advocate for drug policy reform in the United States. The organization advocates drug policies are changed where people are punished only for crimes committed against others and not for issues involving destruction of one’s own body.
The mission of DPA is:
“to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drugs use, drug prohibition and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies” (4).
In 1985, Anthony was just twenty-five-years old. He appeared in court as a first time offender. He was sentenced to (15-Life) in a NYS prison for delivering a package of drugs. As a father, desperately trying to support his family he made the one single solitary choice that changed his life and his family’s lives forever. It was the first time he ever did anything like this. As luck would have it, the delivery was part of a sting operation. Now Anthony was going to prison to serve a life sentence. His whole life ended in one transaction. In 1985, the Rockefeller Drug Law sentences were in effect carrying lengthy prison terms.
Anthony indicated in his book:
“I did my time at Sing Sing, one of America’s most dangerous maximum security prisons…I fought for many years behind bars to regain my lost freedom. After twelve years of living in a six-by-nine- foot cell, I finally accomplished my goal. In 1994, as I was still serving time, my famous painting, 15-To-Life self-portrait was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art which eventually led my release from prison. NY Governor George Pataki granted me executive clemency in 1997(4).
Anthony indicates, even after being granted clemency he was still forever marked by being convicted of this offense.
“I found road blocks at every level of my existence. For many, including myself, carrying the stigma of being an ex-offender is often debilitating. From being denied employment and housing, to not knowing how to establish healthy relationships, life became exceedingly difficult. In addition, maintaining that freedom, I soon found was no easy task while wrestling with the haunting memories of my past imprisonment, I always felt as if I was one step away from returning to prison” (4).
In 2009, the first phase of Rockefeller reform was initiated. Anthony accomplished his first significant accomplishment as all of the hard work he strived for began to become a reality regarding reforming drug laws. This past January, Anthony Papa was fully redeemed as Governor Cuomo granted him a pardon.
Papa stated to the reporters at the Daily News:
“The pardon is both a vindication and public proclamation that I have demonstrated exemplary behavior over the last twenty years since I have been free…Prison does not end at the wall. It goes beyond the wall” (1).
First Step Detox…
Susan Tobin,( a detox counselor of Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital) and in recovery 18 years herself indicated heroin is by far the hardest drug to recover from. Susan describes heroin as the “sexy drug”. This is why it has the highest usage rate with young adults.
“It is the feel good drug. It makes sex better It’s cheap. It’s easy to get”.
The stigma for heroin is no longer there.
“It has no boundaries. There are no prejudices. It doesn’t matter how old you are; what color; what sex; whether you are elderly. People who were prescribed meds end up popping heroin”.
Petrea Rae, Coalition Coordinator at Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Ontario County (the Partnership), focuses her and her organizational efforts on prevention. Her organization implemented a four-part plan. First, they strive to restrict availability of unused prescription drugs in homes advocating people monitor, secure and dispose of unused medication. Additionally, they support a take back medication program disposing of unused drugs. The Coalition also respects the risk for young people aged (12-17) to be the next group of people to become addicted to prescription drugs. The targeted group of young adults ages (18-25) are the risk group regarding heroin addiction.
Recently in December 2016, at a community forum, Petrea shared the stage with Sheriff Povero. Statistics were shared the overdoses in Ontario County increased from 8 in 2015 to 27 in 2016. This is a growing problem in Ontario County as well. “The use of preventative services to combat heroin overdoses were estimated to save at least 3 lives a week” Petrea shared.
“It is in your neighborhood. When we ask community members, youth and young adults about heroin, there isn’t one person who doesn’t have a story. It’s not only an inner-city problem”.
What Can We Do?
“They key is if you are worried about someone have the conversation. If you think pills, marijuana or alcohol isn’t a big deal it can lead to drug abuse on a larger scale. Talk to everyone on the dangers of substance abuse”.
After the storm rebuilding shattered lives
After experiencing her personal tragedy with her son, Luci Zagari decided to be part of the solution. She indicates it was the call of God that influenced her to decide to step up 5 years ago. Her children were her life source. She only knew to pray 24-hours-a-day. Luci feels God answered her in ways no one else understands.
People began to judge her. They were saying she was a bad Mom. Luci decided enough was enough and she started a support group for others. She didn’t know what to do but doing nothing wasn’t an option. Luci recognizes when you live through the issues heroin causes you to live through there is a turning point.
“Many people get stuck in anger and actually lose faith. People either become very spiritual or they give up. She feels this is especially true for people who lose their children. It’s easy to blame God when we are faced with such a horrific loss of a child. I did it myself on some days”.
Luci finds strength through others in her support group.
“Some of my best friends are people in my group who live all over the country and I’ve never met. I’ve met some of the most beautiful souls in the world. We share a sisterhood. We understand each other. We know a plan. That is when Shattered Lives Ministry was born”.
Luci Zagari became an ordained minister. She is also a Reiki Master and a certified Aroma Freedom Practitioner. She uses her tragedy to help others. She offers spiritual guidance and serves as a life coach.
Luci indicates it is important for everyone to know:
“Addiction is serious and heroin kills!”
From all points of view, in the heroin epidemic no one wins. This epidemic is taking over our communities, stealing lives in many ways (death, addiction, and prison). As a community, we must all come together and understand: this is everyone’s problem. It affects us all. It’s no longer heroin is not in your backyard and not your kid. Something must be done to help all of the lives affected by this ongoing tragedy.
In March, 2016, concerns of the ever-increasing epidemic plaguing the country surrounding the abuse of this drug fostered the creation of, a Heroin Task Force . From 2005 to 2014, the overall drug overdose rate rose rapidly surpassing to an increase of 144% (5). Between 2010 and 2014, in Monroe County the death rate increased 76% (34 deaths to 60) (7) (4th most prevalent)(6). As of 2014, heroin overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the state of New York (7) . NYS surpasses the nation in heroin deaths (7). One word: heroin.