Saturday, August 7, 2021
Black and white painting of person looking out of car window at another person.
Artwork by Jack Matthew Heard


The anticipation was killing me! I wanted Adessa, my seven-year-old, to wake up so bad! I had been up all night, cleaning, hopped up on a Vicodin bender, snorting one after another until my nostrils were raw. Each one sped me up as if I was in a serious pursuit car chase. Only in this case, the only thing chasing me was the inevitable crash that followed.

I had cleaned every inch of my spacious duplex. Everything was perfect to a T. My place had a Victorian feel to it, with large windows, dark hardwood floors, and lots of nooks and crannies that you could hide in. The crisp aroma of lemon-scented cleanser dominated the air throughout the house.

I tip-toed around Adessa’s bedroom, quiet as a mouse, cleaning as she slept. I was careful not to wake her. I froze in place and held my breath when a toy I accidently stepped on began to sing. I stared at the toy, cringing, trying to will it to stop. She didn’t even stir. Her whole room was spotless. I even washed her play dishes. I was ahead of the game—or so I thought. This is what drew me to pain pills; I thought they made me a better version of myself. I could enjoy doing all the things I would normally put off.

Now, if Adessa would just wake up our day could start. I was excited that I wasn’t going to make her the “normal” frozen mini pancakes with too much sticky syrup, that only takes fifteen seconds in the microwave. Nope, that day I would not press snooze up until the absolute last minute. I wouldn’t have to rush around in chaos and still get her to school ten minutes late. Nope, not that day. That day I would make my baby her favorite fluffy cheesy scrambled eggs with greasy sausage links and buttery toast. She was amazing and smart. It didn’t matter to her that life was unpredictable with me, she just wanted me, and I just wanted her. She deserved that breakfast; she deserved the world.

That is how I justified the pills. They made me better for her. If only I had realized that the pills were making things better in the moment but tearing the big picture apart. As I waited for her to wake, I sat on my bed chain-smoking menthol cigarettes. My mouth was dry from repeated swallowing. I was impatiently inching through the time until I could wake her up. It was the longest half hour of my life.


“Adessa baby, wake up. It’s time to get up for school,” I said, softly stroking her head. It was moist with sweat and heavy with deep sleep. She opened her eyes, stretched, then curled back up pulling her blanket close and ignored me. “Come on baby get up!” I attempted to coax her. “Do you want cheesy eggs?” She opened her eyes, surprised that I was up and eager that morning.

"Yeah," her voice said, a little louder than a whisper. 

On my way to the kitchen, I told her, “Okay but when I’m done cooking, you’re getting up!” As the eggs were sizzling, frying in melted Country Crock, I saw her dragging her ass through the hallway to the bathroom. I smiled to myself. Our morning was smooth, just how a morning before school in a perfect world should be.


“HEATHER GET THE FUCK UP! YOU DIDN’T PICK ADESSA UP FROM SCHOOL!” My mother screamed, kicking my bed with her clunky clog.

It took me a second to register what was going on. I couldn’t think through her yelling, my head pounded. The light seemed to buzz when I opened my eyes. Then it hit me—after I had dropped Adessa off at school, I had crashed out, HARD. I had slept past her pick-up time. I started to cry, but my mother had no pity for me, she continued her verbal assault. She was attacking everything about me, criticizing anything she could find.

“The whole house smells like a big ash tray! It stinks in here! What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid? I will just take her home with me!” she threatened.

My mom was a bitter woman. She had short feathered hair and a license plate that read Have a hardcore day. She was always there to pick up my slack and made sure that I knew that. I couldn’t look at her.

She made me feel as little as Tinkerbell. I was just like Tinkerbell, stuck in a fantasy. She was wrong though; I was a good mom—a good fucking mom. Screw her! I had the best of intentions. I just needed more pills. I would never have fallen asleep if I had more. They were my pixie dust, and just like Tinkerbell I thought that magic could fix everything.

Intentions are what drove my addiction. I intended to be a good mom, I intended to go to college, I intended to be social, and I intended to put my life back together. What I got was unpredictable antics. My daughter never knew what version of me she was going to get. I didn’t follow through with anything. I was, up, down, hot, cold, fire, and water. The person I was and the person I wanted to be, both fighting the same war in my head that neither could win.

I thought drugs could fix my self-esteem and character faults, but they couldn’t. The shame of things I could not remember found me even when I tried to hide from the world. I couldn’t escape the ramifications of my recklessness. No matter how high I got, I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be for very long. It never lasted. The mania of my addiction was like a roller coaster. It took me high, then I came speeding down and my world got flipped upside down—over and over again.

I’m grateful for my children’s eyes throughout it all. Adessa’s eyes, a perfect reflection of mine, seeing what I was trying to be. She didn’t see that our electricity was shut off; she saw that we camped out and cuddled with candles. She only saw that I made a flowy canopy around her bed while she slept. She was sound asleep as I rigged rainbow curtains of Christmas ribbon up to the drop-top ceiling. She had no idea, she just woke up feeling like a princess. She didn’t see my middle-of-the-night shoplifting sprees; she just knew she had everything “Monster High” had to offer. She had addiction right in her face and had no idea. She didn’t see my failures.

One evening she said, “Mommy when I go to school tomorrow, you need to let Aunt Katie sleep all day because she is really tired.” Katie was a using friend who had become a fixture at the house. She had nodded off at the kitchen table over a bowl of soggy Captain Crunch. All I managed to say was, “I know baby, she is real sleepy, huh?”

When I was pregnant with her little sister, Anna, is when the pain pills first started. Once my addiction hit the fast lane and it swerved into heroin, there was no stopping it. The collision was coming and everyone could see it but me. Anna was my hope baby—I thought she was going to fix me.

She didn’t. She and Adessa were just along for the ride. 

Adessa didn’t know that I taught her to make her sister’s bottles so that when I was low I wouldn’t have to. She just thought she was being a good big sister. I would have little baby Anna in her swing, and Adessa would be stuck in front of the TV watching whatever movie I had gotten from Red Box to distract her. I would swear that after one more cigarette, after one more hit, I would come out and play with them. Eventually high and with cotton, I would make my way out. Only Anna wouldn’t be in her swing where I left her.

“Adessa WHERE IS THE BABY?” I would scream as my stomach dropped and my shame told me, “You’re no good! You suck! Who loses their baby?” I would rush around the house only to find Adessa and the baby in her closet playing house. Adessa had the master bedroom. Her closet was like a playhouse. The baby would be just sitting in her bouncy seat all smiles. Kids are resilient; they are strong. Their naiveté is their strength. They have the ability to see the good in the worst of circumstances.

There are some things I can’t distort for them. They can’t see me if I’m not there. There is no way for me to explain to baby Anna why she hasn’t had a mommy for almost all of her life because my antics with heroin led me to prison. There is no way for me to stop the things that I think my mom is doing wrong raising my girls. I’m not there, I have no say. I have to watch them leave crying from the visiting hall knowing I can’t leave with them.

All I can do is hope that one day they understand that prison is something I needed. It saved me. Every day I watch as other inmates leave the prison who, in my opinion, take their time for granted. These same girls have spent their entire sentence out on the rec yard doing nothing but socializing or in the hole for disciplinary reasons. Our addictions are both guns, but because of the caliber of the bullets in our chambers they are set free while I remain jammed stuck. Bigger calibers cause bigger holes and more damage. I don’t think that I would have changed in a way that has forever impacted me if my case hadn’t been such a serious, life-changing trauma.

There is something defining about facing a life sentence. Everything you are and everything you ever wanted to be flashes through your mind. You’re filled with regret one minute and hope the next. But when you finally do get a pin prick of motivation, like a ten-year plea deal with the possibility of early release—you believe in it. It reminds you that this isn’t where it ends, it reminds you you’re not done.

“Heather it took something major for God to get your attention. Face it, you wouldn’t have listened otherwise!” a fellow prisoner said, attempting to console me on the night before sentencing. I picked myself up and admitted it. I was wrong. I had been a shitty human being. But I accepted the court’s challenge at redemption. I had faith in the system.