When Gideon called his daughter to ask for $25 in early December, she knew what had happened at once. She has heard the story before. She knew he needed help paying a drug bill.
Drugs have long bedeviled Gideon. He started taking them as a teenager and continued using as an adult. He was high when he fatally shot a shop owner in 1996, which led to his incarceration. He kept using drugs after he landed in prison, but his use behind bars hasn’t been constant. Pills are his drug of choice.
Some people are surprised to learn that inmates have access to drugs. Like cigarettes, cell phones, and other types of contraband, drugs are readily available to inmates who have the cash to pay for them. Drugs of all kinds are often smuggled in by guards, who sell them to inmates at exorbitant prices. In fact, so many guards have been caught sneaking in contraband that the prison system has stopped prosecuting them, even though introducing banned items is a serious offense.
For Gideon, it’s a vicious cycle: Once he begins taking pills, he isn’t in a frame of mind to say no when other inmates offer him more. “He’s so fucking out of it—he’s been eating them for days. And they come in and throw [more pills] on his chest. And the dumbass eats them,” his daughter said.
Unpaid drug bills lead to serious violence in prison. Dealers often threaten to hurt or kill prisoners who can’t pay their debts. Dealers have threatened to stab Gideon when he was unable to pay, leading him to beg family for the money. His family has become frustrated with his repeated drug binges. “I hate that he makes me feel like his blood is on my hands, but I ain’t got the money for this shit,” his daughter said.
Paying the debt
Inmates’ drug bills can add up fast. Gideon took $375 worth of pills during his most recent binge, which lasted a few days. Toward the end, he began asking family members to pay for his improprieties.
One of his daughters agreed to pay $25, and his stepfather ponied up $50. He later convinced his other daughter to chip in $25, but she wasn’t happy about it. In a bit of irony, she was in a drug store when he called, and the conversation turned sour quickly. “I made it out of the store before I began to yell,” she proudly stated.
Once the drug calls start, it seems like they will never end. Since he has no money, Gideon calls family members over and over, often begging for days on end. After his last binge, his brother complained that he had more than 10 missed calls in one day. Gideon’s mother and stepfather were forced to turn off their phones to find peace.
When Gideon wasn’t calling family, he was working with the dealers. He was able to work off $50 by selling their drugs and doing their laundry. But such arrangements can lead to problems. “If he is doing their laundry, then what happens when they want sexual favors and maybe rape him?” his mother wondered.
The calls continued. The more time passed, the more desperate Gideon became. On the fifth day, his daughter paid an additional $25. The next day, his stepfather agreed to pay the remaining $200. His stepfather drove 30 minutes to withdraw the money from the bank and add it to a PayPal card. After his stepfather relayed the card numbers over the phone, Gideon gave the numbers to the dealers. The dealers passed the numbers to their people on the outside, who withdrew the money from the card.
That ended the ordeal, but not without consequences. Gideon’s stepfather promised he would never visit him again. For his part, Gideon vowed this binge would be his last, but his family has heard that promise dozens of times before. Time will tell whether Gideon can resist the devil that has tempted him almost his entire life.