When I first met this young lady, she was 17 and already a meth addict. In Wisconsin, 17 year olds are treated as adults, and though there have been some changes in how we treat 17 year olds in the adult jail, this is where they come when they are arrested. I knew her family because most of them had also been in jail. Over the years that I got to know her, her addiction especially showed in her teeth. Meth does terrible things to a heavy user’s teeth.
This young lady didn’t tell me her whole story at once, but it kind of developed over the years. I know she had been 14 when she was locked up in a hotel room to service clients for a pimp. She escaped by purposely overdosing in the hotel bathroom and he left her for dead. Over her life she has suffered all kinds of abuse. She is now 29 and the last time I saw her shocked me. I was walking from the jail to a meeting, and as I was walking a car pulled alongside of me and I heard, “Chap, Chap, you’ve just got to see the baby!”
She ran around the car and grabbed me in a big hug, then opened the back door to show off her child, not quite one year old. But what I saw was a big kick for me. The child was in a car seat. Something you and I might think is otherwise ordinary, but not for this population. She was smiling and told me that she had a job and was going to school and that her grandmother was helping her look after the baby. She had a dentist appointment tomorrow to start getting her teeth taken care of so she could have dentures. Ordinary stuff, but so exceptional for the men and women I work with in the jail.
The coroner says there were 29 overdose deaths in La Crosse County last year. I knew 23 of them. And this year we’ve already had six overdose deaths and at least one suicide that I know of. I love the men and women I’ve worked with for the last 16 plus years and I will miss them in retirement. But I still look forward to seeing them on the street, and can hope and pray that some are better like this young woman.
Thank you for all of your support to the jail ministry and I hope you find it in your hearts to continue to support this desperately needed work.
Tom Skemp, Chaplain