Here’s a simple math equation that portrays the story
Seven meters of Romtelecom cable
six hundred thousand lei
three bags of ethnobotanicals
one year in prison.
Seven Meters of Cable
Every time he was getting high on legal drugs, Adi used to see copper all over the place. So he would go and steal it, he would climb on poles, through trees, and cut the cables. He had a rope with a rock tied to the end, he would throw it over the cables to rip them.
Even today his eyes shine red when he hears the word. Co-pper. He glances at the radiator in the office, the most ordinary radiator in the world, placed under the most ordinary window. Had it been three years ago, and had he known it was made of copper, man, he’d stay three days, sleeping next to it, until he’d unbind it.
He was afraid to steal. Alright, he was afraid in the beginning, but soon found a reason not to, he told himself it was the panic from drugs, and went about his business. He liked the Romtelecom cables, the thick ones, the most:
“Do you have any idea how easily they were unbinding after I was burning them? It was looking just like a horse’s mane. And I’d take them, twist them, for an hour or two. It was getting heavier. Because copper, if you stretch it, it stretches. But if you twist it and then stretch it again, it gets heavier. After wetting it on both sides I’d drag it through the sand, bang, I’d twist it. I’d put some more of that sand. It’d get from three kilos to seven or eight. I’d hit it, bang it against the ground, make copper balls and get good money for the day.”
One day, he took out all the electrical wires of the house. He ripped the walls to get to the wire lines and got the cables out. Reddish colored metal, very good conductor of electricity and heat, element with atomic number 29 in the periodic table. Copper is cool, even when it leaves you in the dark.
SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND
He had money. In 2001 he worked as a waiter in Herăstrău, in a club, with a tennis saloon, restaurant, hookers, everything you need. Adi would go to the tables with the menu, and then he would discreetly ask you if you want a girl. The girl made sure she took care of you until you were flat broke. For every hooked client, Adi received 15 dollars commission. Meaning at five women a night he surely got 75 dollars, plus the tips from the tables.
The prostitutes dealt with cocaine and other stuff and he got some of that too. They were looking good, you were feeling thrilled, you couldn’t refuse them. There wasn’t any drug he hadn’t tried, but then he got hooked on heroin. After three months he started taking it by the gram: one gram at two days, half a gram at work, the other half the next day, when he had the day off. But at some point, in Adi’s life, perfectly split in grams, an unfavorable political conjuncture intervened.
The Twin Towers turned to rubble, scattering the stench of war over the world, and heroin disappeared almost completely from the Romanian market. What was yet available was six times more expensive. He remembers saying like an idiot: “check this out, man, I have a few months since I started, and I’m sick because of these guys [are having a war]…”. On top of that, the police raided Herăstrău, they put a seal on the place, and the whole scheme of things went to hell. Within a year he broke up with his wife too, the whole nine yards. Luckily, he didn’t get to make a child, he would have ruined the poor being’s life as well.
Smoking became too expensive, so he started doing it intravenously. And in those moments, he didn’t know anybody in the house anymore. He used to chase his bigger brother in the hallway with a knife, accusing him of being an undercover cop. Because his brother would sometimes ask, out of curiosity: “Adrian, what do you mean? Why do you have copper on your mind all the time?” Okay, this guy is a cop.
He would no longer hide from his mother. When it was cold, his veins barely came out even if he stayed next to the fireplace, so he would shoot his veins in front of her. “And I’d say to my mom: «Turn around, ’cause I can’t do it» and the poor woman would turn around.” Legal highs appeared afterwards, and those ones totally screwed his brains.
THREE BAGS OF ETHNOBOTANICALS
“I don’t know what these legal highs had in them, but they did. I’d just score: I’d lift my shirt, and score, ’cause it took me in that place. It didn’t last long, but I knew it would start kicking in until I get home. I would have asked you to fix my needle right here, I would have tensed my neck muscles, would have pulled and [when I would have heard] «yeah, man, there’s blood», I would have pushed it in. Some people died on the spot. (…) He was awake this minute and I was talking to him, and as soon as he’d get his fix, he’d die.”
Others were having a slower death, in hospitals, with a bag tied to their stomach. Many ruined their lungs, their kidneys. Adi didn’t, but he would forget. He forgot to drink water, forgot where he had put his syringe. “I did my bag, and put my syringe like this [under his lower lip]. And I talked with the guy: «Man, you stole my syringe, I can’t find it.» «What syringe, man, are you crazy?» And as I talked, I realized. Then I started to cry «Look, I don’t even realize what I do anymore…»”
He was perverted as a junkie, he realizes now. He’d beat up a guy even if the guy was under the influence of drugs and wasn’t reacting. He was friends with those who had money, just like others stayed with him when it was the case. He never got high alone, because he was afraid. One time, he was alone and got scared of a leaf. He was high and the wind was blowing. And he heard behind his back: shhhh. It was just the leafs rustling. Well, he was scared all day of those leafs.
Now, when he got off heroin and legal highs, he became soft-hearted. “Anything makes me cry. Even a movie: if I watch «Titanic», I cry. I became like that, very sensitive. I don’t know, I think it affected my brains.”
ONE YEAR IN PRISON
First time he went to prison in 2006. He had stolen a video projector from Media Galaxy (retail-chain), worth 85 million back then. Even though it was his first crime offense, the caused prejudice exceeded the maximum amount that would’ve absolved him of prison time. On a December evening, after three months in Jilava prison, he talked with his mom on the phone, about how they allowed him to have a TV and a blanket in his cell.
The next day in the morning, he called her at work to ask her to come and visit. In the afternoon, [he pops his knees], his mother died. She had a heart attack, something, he still has no idea. His father died when he was enrolled in the army, her mother passed when he was in jail.
They didn’t allow him to attend the funeral. In normal circumstances, you are entitled to leave for a few days when you have an ill relative, but in his case this didn’t apply even for death, because he was known as a drug user.
They preferred to ask an ordinary thief to keep an eye on him when he told them he was going to kill himself. Even while sleeping, he had a guy permanently watching over him. He wasn’t allowed to buy cigarettes either. When he wanted to smoke, the guy gave him cigarettes, no problem. “And after that, in the next month, I recovered: «That’s it: the dead with the dead, the living with the living.» I got used to the idea, ’cause that’s the way of life. ’Cause if I had killed myself, what would have been the point? I would have left my brother alone.”
The second time he got in, in 2012, for stealing copper, he was glad. Prison saved him, practically. He weighed 48 kilos at arrival, he was shrivelled. When he arrived at the penitentiary’s hospital, he was singing Romania’s anthem, he was looking for syringes under the mattress. They put a catheter into his neck, because they couldn’t find any other vein, and gave him vitamins and other stuff. In a few months he almost doubled his weight, achieved 84 kilos, he got back on his feet.
Before he was set free, he took a psychological test, the one with the tree. He drew the tree with roots and the psychologist told him it means he’s rooted into something after all, so he can get better. The only thing was that it had a few interrupted branches.
He learned he had HIV only after he got out. He was too afraid to know beforehand and didn’t want to get tested. He doesn’t really have fears anymore. He goes to Saint Anton church every Tuesday. He prays and lights a candle, because that’s where his mother used to go before she passed. He then goes to the ARENA center, located in the courtyard of “Matei Balș” Institute, to take his methadone, so that he can function the rest of the day. After that he goes looking for work.
He had a job until about three weeks ago. He was supplying merchandise for two supermarkets. He was buying stocks at the market at Pucheni and then he was selling it to stores, with records, signature, everything. He got 6 millions and something to eat, cereals with milk, because he liked those. And cigarettes too. It was OK, he bought a plasma and a tablet with that money.
But he asked for a certificate of employee. He needed one for the methadone center, so he can get pills that would last a couple of days instead of showing up there everyday. “At work I said I’m doing a substitution therapy. Did I know she [the boss] fucking knows what that means? And she says: «Did you do drugs?» I say «Yes.» I wanted to be honest, you know?”
He was fired, they said that stocks were missing. They knew he did prison time and that wasn’t a problem, but with the drugs it was different. With the substitution, I mean.
In the morning he went to take photos for his new ID, the old one had expired and he is afraid the girls at ARENA will tell him he can’t have his methadone. Now he’ll go to church and then home to drive his brother crazy. His brother can’t stand him because of his drug addiction and the fact that he rattles non-stop. But everybody has to live and talk, for as long as they live.
Maybe later he’ll look for work. That’s why he sold his tablet, to get out of the house. He’ll find something eventually, even working at a car wash will do. If he kept waitering, he would have been on a cruise ship a long time ago. But you have to know how to take an order, you need a little bit of English, otherwise nobody hires you, bro.
A story by Vlad Odobescu
Illustrations: Sorina Vaselina
Translation: Bedő Heléna, Ciprian Pop
This article was done with the help of Romanian Harm Reduction