One of Ricky’s earliest memories was doing drugs with his family. One day a prostitute came over to babysit and injected heroin between Ricky’s toes. He never forgot the pain, or the high  that pulsed through his body like waves until, exhausted, he nodded off and fell asleep in his crib.

With drugs came violence to which Ricky was witness and victim. Perhaps he was present when his mother attempted suicide. Perhaps he was there when his father, stoned to his gills, kidnapped a woman and had an armed standoff with the Oakland police. Small surprise that Ricky got a pellet gun for his birthday. He dropped piles of bird seed in the back yard and waited. Ricky was a good shot; soon there were bird corpses all over the yard.

While other boys were building tree houses, Ricky built a miniature gas chamber and fashioned small, impeccably tied nooses. Ricky dissected living animals, removing eyes, skin, and organs from neighborhood pets. It was this behavior that first brought Ricky to the attention of law enforcement. He would learn to like being locked up – it offered a structure and sense of predictability Ricky’s home life could not duplicate. At least in prison Ricky’s mom couldn’t steal the pills Ricky’s psychiatrist gave him.

He grew up bouncing between chemical dependency treatment and prison. Ricky regretted his tormenting of animals, and developed a talent for manual labor. His favorite job was cleaning skyscraper windows. He made a trade out of it, when he wasn’t doing time for drugs or assault. Ricky had a mean streak that surfaced when he ran out of drugs. When he told his probation officer that he would tie her up, make her watch Ricky kill her husband, then rape her and cut her up into little pieces he probably meant it. He had a rep as a badass and had messed other people up . After doing a lot of extra time for shooting his mouth off Ricky learned to keep terroristic thoughts to himself. He kept his hands busy fashioning hangman’s nooses out of ropes, cords, even sewing thread. Nooses of all shapes and sizes.

Ricky never had much chance for a normal life. When he suppressed his violence it turned inward, causing depression and thoughts of suicide. Ricky overdosed on heroin a lot but survived each one; he wasn’t trying to kill himself, he told me; he just wanted to get higher, to feel better. He crushed pain medications and injected them into his body, and survived this too. But he had a lot of other overdose attempts he couldn’t shrug off as failed highs. By this point in his life the only crimes Ricky was committing were against himself. He went from the criminal system to the mental health system. “If you let me out I will kill myself,” he told his doctor at the state hospital. Tough luck Ricky, no one gets to stay in state hospitals indefinitely anymore. It was decided Ricky needed ECT – electro convulsive therapy, commonly known as shock treatments. 

ECT is a last resort treatment used to treat intractable symptoms of paranoia and depression. It works but carries a price tag: you lose your memory and your personality – yet at least you are alive and not thinking of killing yourself all the time. After months of ECT treatments the state hospital wanted to discharge him to my facility. I remember interviewing Ricky. He was a muscular, tattoed 30 year old with long sandy blond hair. He looked me in the eye and said he wanted to get better. I don’t know what hit me harder: his sincerity or his pain. We decided to give Ricky a chance.

Ricky had sworn off heroin, which was a good thing. He replaced it with K-2, which was a bad thing. At the time K-2 was legal in Oakland. It was sold in tobacco stores and head shops as incense. K-2 does contain incense, and a lot of other processed materials that are not good for your body or your mind, including a powerful, synthetic form of cannabis that not only gives you a righteous high, it makes you see things too. Ricky was still receiving ECT treatments even though he was not in the state hospital anymore. The combination of ECT and K-2 fried Ricky’s brain so bad he couldn’t remember his name. The last time I saw Ricky I was helping him put his bags in the back of the sheriff’s van that had come to take him back to the state hospital. We shook hands. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. I didn’t see sincerity, or even pain; I saw total confusion. We hadn’t helped Ricky at all.

Later I heard Ricky was discharged from the state hospital and was doing okay living down south. For addicts success can be as deadly as failure. Both make you want to use. Ricky got a hold of some smack. He hadn’t shot up in years. The smack was too pure for Ricky’s system, and he took too much. Years before he could have done the same amount of H – or more – without incident. This time the heroin killed him. I remembered all the failed overdose attempts Ricky made. Isn’t it life that the time he didn’t want to overdose he killed himself?It is remarkable Ricky lived so long. What child imbibing heroin with his mother’s milk has any chance in life? Like ducks who walk after the first moving object they see and call it mama, Ricky’s mama was heroin. Even when Ricky and mama weren’t talking, mama was always waiting around the corner, waiting for her boy to come back, to hold him in his arms, to stroke his long, blond hair, and to whisper in his ear:

Lullabye life, lullabye death; lullaby smack and lullabye meth; my sweet baby boy let me bleed you white so you die in my arms and sleep the sleep of the lost where Hades and Heaven are the same white light, as pure as the rush of my poison in your little boy veins.

And from a former friend who couldn’t help you Ricky, but can still say: Hush-a-bye little boy, hush-a-bye man of crimes, may God show you the mercy you never had, the mercy you never learned to give yourself. And if God has no mercy for you let him be no God.of mine.

Copyright 2012, Moina Arcee

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