Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
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1954 / Los Angeles

Withdrawal Symptoms


When you’re booked into the Los Angeles County Jail, they put you in a cage with a wire gate, and you have to wait while they type up a whole bunch of stuff. You lie there and sit there, and then, when enough people are ready, the guards call out the names and you walk to another section, where they take your fingerprints. They do each finger and your whole hand, and they take your picture. Then you wait again, and there’s no place to sit. You lie on the cement floor, and people get sick—they’re vomiting. I was sick before I got busted—I was sick before I went and hocked my horn—so I was deathly ill by the time I was waiting. And it took thirty-six hours to be booked in.

The agony of kicking is beyond words. It’s nothing like the movies, The Man with the Golden Arm, or things you read: how they scream and bat their heads against the wall, and they’d give up their mother, and they want to cut their throats. That’s ridiculous. It’s awful but it’s quiet. You just lie there and suffer. You have chills and your bones hurt; your veins hurt; and you ache. When water touches you it feels as if it’s burning you, and there’s a horrible taste in your mouth, and every smell is awful and becomes magnified a thousandfold. You can smell people, people with BO, their feet, and filth and dirt. But you don’t scream and all that: “Kill my mother, my father, just get me a fix and I’ll do anything you want!” That’s outrageous.

The depression you feel is indescribable, and you don’t sleep. Depending on how hooked you are, you might go three weeks or a month without ever sleeping except for momentary spells when you just pass out. You’ll be shaking and wiggling your legs to try to stop the pain in the joints, and all of a sudden you’ll black out and you’ll have a dream that you’re somewhere trying to score. You’ll get the shit and the outfit, and you’ll stick it in your vein, and then the outfit will clog, or the stuff will shoot out the rubber part of the dropper, or somebody’ll get in the way—somebody stops you and you never get it into your arm. I used to dream that my grandmother was holding me and I was hitting her in the face, smashing her in the mouth—blood came out of her face—and I could never get the dope in. You’d have terrible dreams: you’d flash to a woman, your old lady; she’d become a dog and she’d have a peepee like a dog instead of a cunt like a woman; and all of a sudden you’d come and immediately you’d wake up, and you’d be sticky and dirty and wet.

The first time I went to the county jail I went seventeen days and nights without sleeping at all, I was so sick. I kept vomiting and couldn’t eat. Seventeen days and nights, and all they gave you was aspirin. You could get three of them at night when they had sick call come around. And at night they had salts and soda. You could get either one. Salts to make you go to the bathroom or soda to settle your stomach.

In the county jail for a while they had a kick tank. They’d lock you up in a solid cell all alone. I knew a young Chicano cat who got put in the kick tank, and he started vomiting. He vomited and vomited, and he called for the guards, but they ignored him. He kept vomiting and he ruptured a blood vessel in his stomach and bled to death, choked in his own blood. That’s the treatment that the dope fiend got.

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About the Author

Art and Laurie Pepper, from Straight Life. Pepper starting playing the alto saxophone at the age of twelve, and within a few years, in 1940, he was one of the only white musicians among the players who performed in the thriving jazz clubs on Central Avenue in Los Angeles. He took his first studio-recorded solo in 1943 and served two years in the military during World War II. Pepper first tried heroin in 1950 and was arrested in 1952, later spending several years at San Quentin State Prison. He recorded his most celebrated albums in the late 1950s.

That which the sober man keeps in his breast, the drunken man lets out at the lips. Astute people, when they want to ascertain a man’s true character, make him drunk.
Martin Luther, 1569
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