Sunday, April 21, 2019 Medina 44°
Advertisement

Nation & World

Revolving door of despair: Drugs land more women behind bars

The opioid crisis is putting more women behind bars across the U.S. _ tearing apart families and squeezing communities that lack treatment programs and permanent solutions. In one Tenn. county jail, most female inmates have long-term addiction problems.

  • Women-Behind-Bars-1

    Inmate Crystal French, 38, left, is comforted by cellmate Krystle Sweat, 32, at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 30, after French was denied parole the previous day. She won't be eligible again for another year. "I got to know the real me again instead of the addicted-to-drugs person. I'd like to be a productive citizen, not an OD statistic, end up dying on drugs," said French, whose two sons are being raised by her ex-husband. "I am a good person. I know I am. But I want to see that person again."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • APTOPIX-Women-Behind-Bars

    Linda Green is arrested on charges of assault on a police officer and disorderly conduct as police attempted to apprehend her son, who was wanted for an outstanding warrant in LaFollette, Tenn., March 14. Green, who has struggled with drug addiction, has been arrested more than 50 times in Campbell County. The opioid crisis is putting more women behind bars across the U.S. -- tearing apart families and squeezing communities that lack treatment programs and permanent solutions. In this jail, many female inmates have long-term addiction problems.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-5

    Linda Green, 51, who has struggled with drug addiction, cries as she's booked into the Campbell County Jail after being arrested on charges of public intoxication, a parole violation, in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 29, 2018. Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population in America. Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women, while it doubled for men. Opioid abuse has exacerbated the problem.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-21

    Jessica Morgan, high on methamphetamines and the opioid pain medication Opana, sits in a holding cell after being booked for drug possession at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., April 23. More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in this jail. Now the population is routinely around 60.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-22

    Inmate Mary Sammons, 41, right, helps cover Linda Green, 51, with a blanket as she lies down in the Campbell County Jail after being arrested on charges of public intoxication, a parole violation, in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 29,. Green first got hooked on drugs when she was given Xanax over 20 years ago during a custody battle to keep her kids. She says she used to shoplift to support them. "It was either sell my body or steal from a store and I'm not one to sell my body. I had to do what I had to do," said Green. "When I had my kids, I stole to support my children. After I lost them I stole to support my drug habit."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • APTOPIX-Women-Behind-Bars-2

    Inmate Mary Sammons, 41, foreground, is comforted in the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 28, by cellmate Blanche Ball, 30, days after Sammons learned that her 20-year-old son was murdered in Kentucky. Sammons, who was arrested on drug-related charges, suspects her son's murder was drug-related. "I always pictured my kids burying me, not me having to bury my children. Young kids are losing their life over bad dope. This is crazy. It's so not worth it. He was a pretty boy. He was beautiful."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-23

    Names are etched in a metal table as inmates play cards in the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 15. Inmates are confined to dormitory-like cells 23 hours a day, where they watch TV, play endless games of cards or pace in silent frustration, counting the days until their release.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-24

    Samantha Marlow brushes her teeth in a distorted metal mirror in her cell at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., May 8. Medical costs for both male and female inmates have nearly doubled since 2015, to top $1 million in 2017, according to county officials. Hepatitis, infections and dental problems are among the medical issues inmates have encountered.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-25

    A correctional officer searches a cell on suspicion that meth was sneaked into the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 28. Many of the inmates are addicts. Of the charges landing women in the county jail, 85-to-90 percent are drug-related. The women receive no counseling. Then weeks, months or years later, they're released into the same community where friends -- and in some cases, family -- are using drugs. Soon they are again, too.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-26

    Inmate Tara White, 28, second from left, reacts to hearing her cousin was arrested as she watches the local news in her cell at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 20. Every evening around dinnertime, inmates gather around a small television mounted high on the wall to listen to the police log and obituary notices. It's often the main source for inmates to find out if anyone they know has been arrested or died from an overdose.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-27

    Inmate Blanche Ball, 30, performs her rendition of a turtle on its back for cellmates at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 20. Inmates sleep, shower and eat in the same room. On their one hour outside the cell, they can visit an exercise room, but it has no equipment, so the women improvise, rolling toilet paper into balls they swat around, using their plastic sandals as makeshift tennis rackets.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-28

    From left, cellmates Elsie Kniffen, 39, Mary Sammons, 41, Blanche Ball, 30 and Sarai Keelean, 35, join hands after a prayer in the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 20. Many of the women say jail should help prepare them for life outside, maybe with a Narcotics Anonymous group, counseling or education programs such as those offered in state prisons. Lt. Mallory Campbell, assistant jail administrator says she'd like to offer college courses or vocational training because "if they don't leave here with a skill, they're going to go back to what they know." But there isn't money for programs or staff.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-29

    An addiction recovery sign stands beside a road in LaFollette, Tenn., April 11. In 2015, Campbell County had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person among all U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pills, though, aren't the only problem. With 500 square miles of mountains, thick woods, winding back roads and deep hollows, this county on the Kentucky border has been a prime spot, too, for meth. While homegrown labs are on the wane, a powerful strain of the drug from Mexico has found its way here.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-30

    Robby Wilson, 10, plays basketball with his grandparents Cathy, right and Eddy Sweat, who have custody of him in Jacksboro, Tenn., April 23. Their daughter, Robby's mother, Krystle Sweat, sits in jail a mile away. The Sweats have raised Krystle's son since he was about 3. Over the years, they've paid her rent, bought her cars, and invited her and her boyfriend to share their home. She wound up stealing tools, a computer and camera -- anything she could pawn.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-31

    Photos of Robby Wilson, 10, left, as a baby with his parents, are held by his grandfather, Eddy Sweat, who is raising his grandson while the boy's parents are in jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., April 23. The absence of his mother, Krystle Sweat, has taken its toll on Robby, says his grandmother, Cathy Sweat. "Even at his happiest," she says, "he's not happy."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-32

    Inmate Krystle Sweat blows a kiss to her son Robby, 10, during a video conference as he visits her at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., March 28. There are no face-to-face visits other than exceptional circumstances. Robby hasn't hugged or even touched his mother since Christmas Day 2015, just before Sweat wound up back behind bars. He says that on the day she's released, he wants to show her how he can ride no-hands on his bike. Sweat laughs but knows their reunion must wait.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-33

    Linda Green, 51, cries in her home while awaiting trial after her latest arrest on charges of public intoxication in LaFollette, Tenn., March 27. "I've had a hard life. I'm on the edge. I feel like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. ... Sometimes I want to go back on drugs just to numb the pain," she says. Green has been arrested more than 50 times in Campbell County on a range of charges from drug possession to theft.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-34

    Danny Peters, 61, gets his sons Journey, 10, and Chance, 8, background, ready for bed in LaFollette, Tenn., March 28, as he cares for them while his ex-wife and the boys' mother, Crystal French, serves time in the Campbell County Jail. "It's been tough. She was a supermom," said Peters. "That's probably when it hurts the most. A mommy's love is the thing I can't give them."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-35

    Inmate Krystle Sweat lays in bed before falling asleep in her cell at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tenn., April 23. For years now, she has cycled in and out of jail, arrested more than two dozen times for robbery, driving violations and other crimes _ almost all related to her drug addiction that culminated in a $300-a-day pain pill habit. Sweat's tried to quit, but nothing has worked. Now she says she's ready to make the break when she's paroled again, possibly this summer. "I'm almost 33," she says. "I don't want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-36

    Tammy Perry, 53, walks down a street in LaFollette, Tenn., where she is currently staying with an older man after getting out of jail April 23. Perry still struggles with drug addiction and says she exchanges sex for drugs or money to support her addiction. Her daughter also struggles with addiction and both have been in jail at the same time.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • Women-Behind-Bars-37

    Tammy Perry, 53, sits outside the apartment she is staying in after getting released from jail, as a homeless friend is kicked out by the tenant in LaFollette, Tenn., April 23. "That's the only thing I would change about my whole life is the first time I did drugs," said Perry, whose daughter is currently in jail and also is an addict.

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

  • APTOPIX-Women-Behind-Bars-3

    Tammy Perry, 53, walks through the street in LaFollette, Tenn., where she is currently staying with an older man after getting out of jail, April 23. Perry says she exchanges sex for money or drugs to support her addiction. "I'm scared of a new start," said Perry when asked if she ever thought about leaving the county where she grew up to start over in different surroundings. “I'm scared of failing. I'm scared of feeling worse than what I was."

    DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

Advertisement

JACKSBORO, Tenn. — On opposite sides of the county jail, a mother and her son chat about school, girls, birthday gifts — and their future together. They aren’t allowed to see each other face-to-face, so the inmate and the fifth-grader connect by video.

“Hi, Mommy,” 10-year-old Robby says to Krystle Sweat, clutching a phone in the visiting room as he looks at his mother on a screen, sitting in her cell.

Robby hasn’t hugged her since Christmas 2015, just before Sweat wound up back behind bars. He shifts his weight from one leg to another and says that on the day she’s released, he wants to show her how he can ride no-hands on his bike.

For years now, Sweat has cycled in and out of jail, arrested more than two dozen times for robbery and other crimes — almost all related to her drug addiction that culminated in a $300-a-day pain pill habit. She’s tried to quit, but nothing has worked. Now she says she’s ready to make the break when she’s paroled, possibly this summer.

“I’m almost 33,” she says. “I don’t want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on.”

Tucked in a remote corner of Appalachia, the Campbell County Jail offers an agonizing glimpse into how the tidal wave of opioids and methamphetamines has ravaged America. Here and across the country, addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.

Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population in America. The numbers rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women, while it doubled for men. Opioid abuse has exacerbated the problem.

More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in the Campbell County Jail. Now the population is routinely around 60. Most are arrested on a drug-related charge. Many also are addicted. They receive no counseling, and eventually are released into the same community where friends — and in some cases, family — are using drugs. Soon they are, too.

And the cycle begins anew: Another arrest, another booking photo, another pink uniform and off to a cell to simmer in regret and despair.

Sarai Keelean is back in for violating probation for possessing meth; she’d been using the drug and also selling it to buy opioids. Locked up for almost three years, she longs for freedom but is terrified, too. “You’re afraid that you’re going to mess up,” she says.

Blanche Ball, who has been using, cooking or selling meth for 15 of her 30 years, has been in jail several times. “I know I could have done something more with my life,” she says, but: “Once you’re like this for so long, you don’t know another way to be.”

Her two oldest children are being raised by family, and she doesn’t want to see them until she’s confident she’ll remain in their lives. The two youngest were adopted. “That wound is so bad,” she says, “I try to block it out all the time.”

In 2015, Campbell County had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person of all U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounted to more than five times the national average.

Mayor E.L. Morton blames the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, and two lawsuits against opioid makers are pending on behalf of the county and its 40,000 residents. Meth is also a problem.

“Throw a rock, hit a house, and there’s drugs,” says Keelean, the 35-year-old inmate.

The county has struggled for decades. Its tobacco farms and once-flourishing coal industry disappeared long ago, wiping out jobs and solid incomes. Some factories remain, but more than 1 in 5 residents are poor. Nowadays, as much as 90 percent of the crime in a five-county district that includes Campbell is connected to drugs, the local prosecutor says.

Tennessee doesn’t have enough psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses or residential drug treatment in rural areas — and Campbell County has no such programs, says Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services. “It’s unrealistic for people to travel 700 miles for treatment because that’s where there’s an open bed,” she adds.

Salter also says drug treatment is often costlier and more complicated for women because many have experienced trauma and abuse as children or adults and may be slower to seek help because they fear losing their children.

“Women are the caregivers of their families,” she says. “They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It’s a horrible choice.”

There are roads to recovery here. A drug court, which provides supervision for up to two years, has a 70 percent graduation rate. And a new program just for women, begun last year, takes offenders jailed on misdemeanor drug charges before sentencing and moves them into short- or long-term residential treatment. In both cases, treatment takes them to other counties or out of state.

Krystle Sweat says that when she’s paroled, she wants to enter a faith-based recovery program. Her parents, who have raised Robby since he was about 3, have promised to help.

As Robby’s visit ends this day, he and his mother blow each other kisses.

“I’m so thankful that he still loves me,” she says, returning to her bunk where she keeps a photo of her son. “He’s disappointed in me. .... He doesn’t say that he is, but I know he is.”

Click to view comments
Advertisement
Advertisement
To Top

Fetching stories…