A Hard Rain (11) By Edna Merle
The rain was coming down hard and fast. A torrential storm, the streets of Atlanta were turning into lakes, rivers and streams. It was two days after the first winter snow in 1995. I turned on the car radio and focused on driving. I was tired and nervous because the weather was so bad, and I had to drive on this frightening and dangerous mission; Frightening because of the horrid weather and dangerous because I was going to get drugs.
I was glad this would be the last time I would be picking up cocaine. I wanted desperately to quit. I hated being an addict. I had hated it for a long time. I was anxious to get back to the house. We were about to go to the airport and then to the ranch in Colorado where we were going to spend several days doing the rest of the drugs and then we would quit. We thought that since we’d be away from where we knew to get it, we’d give ourselves the time to quit. Finally, the destination to the end of insanity I had wanted so badly to believe was near.
I arrived at the dealers house, got the drug and left. Heading back to the house, I had only a twenty-minute drive back to my friend’s. No big deal, I thought. I turned onto the road and continued on. The last thing I remember seeing was the turn I was supposed to make. But it was eight months later in the county jail, when I remembered I’d missed that turn.
I didn’t drive my friend’s BMW into another vehicle on purpose. I didn’t decide to single out an Escort to trash. I never saw them at all. I must have fallen asleep. I became alert, though, upon hitting the rear quarter panel of a pickup truck when my car was whirling out of control. The driver of the truck was a DUI defensive driving coach, who admitted that night to the police that he and his girlfriend had been drinking. They had just left a bar. They passed the physical sobriety roadside test. But they were not administered a breath test for alcohol. They both declined hospital treatment, but later filed claims for carpel tunnel syndrome and a tumor in a neck, for which they were split $150,000. The truck driver was permitted to take pictures of the wreck which he later enlarged and used for his DUI classes. I’m told he claimed that I was drunk and on all kinds of drugs, and portrayed me as the scum of the earth.
After hitting the truck my dual airbags exploded and the car went into a spin that I thought would never end. I was sure I’d go off the side of the road and hit a tree. In the torrential downpour I was scared to hit my brakes because I was afraid that I’d cause an accident not knowing where I was on the road. I couldn’t see anything because of the airbags and dust. The car was out of control until I collided with the Ford Escort, which didn’t have airbags. Two people died and a baby in that car was injured. I wasn’t told about the deaths or the baby for two days after the wreck.
While I was in the hospital I was kept in ICU and incommunicado; not permitted TV or a telephone. I finally convinced a nurse I needed to call my sister to bring me some dry clothes and to retrieve my still wet clothes, laying on the floor in the corner of my hospital room
I was given a phone and I called the dealer so she could come and get the drugs that were still in my wet clothes. It was she who told me people had died. I dropped the phone and screamed out “why didn’t anybody tell me!” The dealer got the drugs and left, leaving me clean clothes and taking my wet, muddy, still rain-soaked ones with the drugs inside.
From ICU I was sent to a mental institution for observation because the doctor in the hospital thought I would try to kill myself upon learning that two people had died. I had said to the doctor, not knowing how bad I was injured, “Well, am I going to live or should we end it now.” I said it in a joking fashion but he must have believed me because I was soon sent to Georgia Regional Hospital. I remained there for two weeks while I went through several evaluations, one of which included a couple where I was diagnosed with mental illness. During this time I had not yet been charged with any crime.
My friend’s attorney told him not to contact me. It would be years before we talked again. Since the night of my accident I had become isolated. My Mother had come to see me, briefly, and immediately left. My Father didn’t come, nor did my sister or brother. No one wanted anything to do with me. I was totally alone and in trouble. I was the despised one now. All those people whom I had previously thought loved me now hated me.
After I was formally charged with vehicular murder, I was then transferred to the County jail. There I was emotionally and physically abused by some of the deputies while in the holding cells. In one incident I was taken to a holding cell before a hearing. That is normally where they remove the handcuffs before they put you in a cell. In my case, I was handcuffed behind my back, slammed face first into a brick wall, then thrown into the holding cell while ten other prisoners looked on. Then the officer threw a brown paper bag, supposedly containing my lunch, on the floor near the toilet. I thought I’d tell the judge what had just occurred in the holding cells, but I thought better of it. I knew that would make it even worse for me when I had to come back. It got so bad in the holding cells that I told myself I’d rather live in jail in the housing unit for the rest of my life then to have to go to court again and endure what awaited me in the holding cells. After a while, I was treated better. But I lived in terror of what awaited me on the other side of all the doors.
While in the county jail I was notified by someone from the Atlanta Journal that they had “first-hand knowledge” that my life was in danger if and when I got out. I was damned either behind bars or out in freedom. I guess it was lucky for me that I didn’t get out.
In that county jail there are only two-person rooms. My first roommate had already been in 10 months when I arrived. I was amazed. I said “I could never do even six months in here, much less 10.” I stayed in that jail for 18 months!
The County jail was a very clean and very quiet place. The housing units were very well maintained. They had very strict rules. If you slammed the door to your cell or if your room was dirty, you went to lockdown for three days.
My first lawyer turned out to be quite the drinker. He told anybody in the bars he frequented about my case. In the stupor of his alcoholic haze he would say, “She was on everything.” That was a lie. He was fired very soon after I heard how he was compromising my “high profile” case. My case was all over the news. Even people from Costa Rica had heard about my case while on a cruise, I was told. But to have any hope of winning this case I needed an unbiased jury. With it all over the news like that how could I expect a clean slated jury?
My next attorney wasn’t much better than the first. He had been indicted for tax evasion and obstruction of justice. Yet until the night before we were to pick the jury, he’d kept that information a secret from me. He said he decided to tell me before I heard it in the courtroom. Damn, he’d already been paid over $35,000.00 and had done nothing to help me. Mom did almost all of his research and leg work, another thing I wasn’t told about until later. Thus, when the time came to fight, I had nothing going for me. I had thought I had a lot going for me. I had never had a speeding ticket or a DUI. In fact, I had a good driver’s discount on my car insurance. I had an excellent credit rating, held down a job for years, and had never been sentenced to jail before. I hoped these factors would help them see that it was just a horrible accident.
I knew I’d been a drug addict for years but didn’t believe myself to be a criminal. I had lied to myself, as all drug addicts do, that I was using drugs for “medicinal reasons.” I believed that the drugs helped me become a better person, more able to cope with day-to-day life. Surely, I thought, anyone could understand that. Besides, as far as I knew, cocaine had never been the cause of an accident before; alcohol, and other downers, yes, but never cocaine. So I was shocked to learn that I was to be charged with first degree vehicular homicide. I was facing a potential prison term of up to 15 years per charge. And I had two, plus another charge of serious bodily injury. It became shockingly clear that had cocaine not been in my system, I probably would have had adequate sleep and never had the accident at all.
I knew there was no way to fight unless I’d had enormous wealth behind me. And no one wanted to publicly be my friend then.
I felt like I was spinning in a circle, like a gerbil on a wheel. Just going round and round to exhaustion trying to build my defense from behind a huge stone wall of which very little information could ever pass through completely. Truthfulness rarely reached me there.
What did pass through was heroin. I was sent some through the mail. After a few times of doing the drug I realized I didn’t want to be sick in jail awaiting my trial going through heroin withdrawals. I’d already done that three times. It was pure hell. I was already in so much trouble, I didn’t need any more. And I certainly didn’t need to get caught doing that junk.
At night when the lights went out, prisoners would start making different animal sounds. One would bark, another meow, someone would moo. Soon it sounded like a zoo. We were the animals.
After I first laughed about the way it all sounded, I thought about how close to the truth it was. Here we were pretending to be animals, and we were. So much of life is actually pretending to be one thing when reality says you are another. After the guards would shut us up, I listened to the mothers sobbing into the night for their babies they left behind. I had no idea how painful that could be. But I was very thankful I didn’t leave any children or a husband behind. Soon, night after night, I began to pray for God to kill me.
I prayed for death because I felt disgraced and wretched. My life was not valid. All I did was cause injury and pain. I was like an infected sore festering in the eyes of my family and in society. Finally, I told someone that God didn’t hear me. They said if you want God to listen to your prayers use the name Jesus. So I went to the jail church to learn how to use the name Jesus so I could then ask God to kill me. And that was the beginning of my transformation process. I was “born again.” A supernatural healing occurred in my emotional state. Suddenly, amazingly and unreasonably, I was no longer depressed. I began devouring the word of God by reading the entire Bible, Old and New Testament, cover to cover. I read it twice while I was in the jail.
As my transformation took hold I began to draw. I didn’t know I could do that. But I would sit down to draw what I saw. It was amazing to me to be able to do this. I discovered one day, after completing numerous drawings, that my cheeks were sore. I reached up to touch my face. I found I was touching a smile. I never smiled; I never laughed. I even hated comedy, I had thought. That sounds funny as hell now, but in jail I found myself smiling often.
People in jail and prison always commented on the fact that I had few, if any, lines around my eyes. It’s because I very rarely ever smiled or laughed in my former life. And I never went out into the sun. Too much light exposes all. I didn’t want anyone to really see the vacant me.
After 18 months in that county jail I eventually agreed to a plea bargain of 35 years to serve 17 in prison. Fifteen years per death and five years for the serious injury. My lawyer said that the judge told him to tell me “If she insists on a jury trial, I will sway the jury against her, find her guilty and sentence her to 50 years to the door and her life would be over.”
I was grateful that my friend’s insurance policy paid out the $1.7 million into a trust for the little baby’s injury and the loss of her parents. Though I realize nothing can make up for the loss she’ll have to endure for as long as she lives.
In all the NA and AA meetings I’ve ever attended I learned that “the unchanged addict ends in jails, institutions, then death” every time. My order was different: institutions, death, then jail and prison. But that wasn’t my end. It was my beginning.
8 Responses to A Hard Rain (11) By Edna Merle
- Barbara says:
And so, a different life began.
- John Doe says:
Seems like you can admit you were on hard drugs, but when ever someone said you were on hard drugs you seemed to get mad at them. I have a saying” “If you’re on drugs it does not matter if your right or wrong, YOU’RE ON DRUGS.”
- ednamerle says:
That sure is true. I got mad alright. Mad because I felt weak and being attacked made me feel even weaker. So, being weak made me mad because however much I tried to help myself, I couldn’t. But, God did. And I’m forever grateful to Him for that. It’s truly a paradox how when we are in our weakest state, God comes in and makes us strong. It seems that’s when we are malleable, like clay in His hands; we want to be formed, want to be different and we are better for it no matter how painful the process.
- Jacque Litner says:
This is a great post and may be one that needs to be followed up to see what happens
A comrade e-mailed this link the other day and I will be desperately looking for your next write. Proceed on the impressive work.
- ednamerle says:
Well, there’s 14 years of stuff to condense here. I’m trying to get it out. Thank you for your encouraging comment.
- Ambrose Hardway says:
Came across your web site via yahoo the other day and absolutely find it irresistible. Continue this fantastic work.
- ednamerle says:
Thank you for your gracious comment.
- Connie Campbell Bratcher says:
Thank you for your willingness to share your story with us…what a help it can be to others! May God continue to bless you and use you for His glory.