When Tiffany Jenkins was brought to the correctional facility where she would spend the next six months, she learned that her life prior to that point meant nothing: it did not matter that she was a sister, a daughter, a former cheerleading captain, or voted class clown in high school. In High Achiever, Tiffany gives a harrowing account of her opioid addiction: how it ravaged her life and how through her prison sentence she ultimately became free.
With a voice both raw and unabashedly humorous, Tiffany gives the reader an uncensored view into the mind of someone whose number one priority is the fleeting ecstasy of a high, and who will stop at nothing to reach it. High Achiever is Orange is the New Black for the opioid crisis: Tiffany’s message is timely, essential, and above all else, a story of hope for anyone who has been touched by addiction.
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One, two, three.”
The light from the flash was blinding. I’d been ordered to remove my glasses for the picture, and I could see nothing for a moment. I hadn’t washed my hair in three days, and since I was arrested directly from my bed, where I’d been sleeping, the mugshot about to be plastered all over the papers and the local news broadcasts was most likely just as horrendous as the crimes that started the whole ordeal.
“I am going to uncuff you, briefly, so that you can remove your jewelry and place it in this bag. Once you do that, you will head to that holding cell right there,” the officer said, pointing. “And change out of your clothes. You look to be a large, so here, take these,” she said, handing me a polyester jumpsuit. She reached into a nearby bin and pulled out a pair of rubber flip-flops.
“These are your new shoes. You will wear them at all times—including when you take a shower. Don’t lose them.” She thrust the shoes into my already full hands and nudged me toward the cell. I tried my best not to think about all the different feet that had already worn these rubber shoes, but, despite my best efforts, I was haunted by the thought of how many different species of bacteria would soon be inhabiting my toes.
I jumped when the metal door slammed behind me. The room was dark and the acidic smell of urine was overwhelming. I held my breath and quickly stripped off my clothes before slipping into the jumpsuit. It felt like I was wearing cardboard. The female deputy had been observing me through the window and opened the door once I was dressed.
“Put your stuff in here.” She held out a brown paper bag and I stared at my belongings as I dropped them in. My heart sank as she folded up the bag and handed it to another deputy. My clothes were no longer my own; they belonged to the county now. “C’mon, you gotta see the nurse for some blood work and a pregnancy test.” For a moment, I secretly prayed I was pregnant. Maybe then they would let me go home.
Home. I wasn’t even sure where that was anymore. I certainly couldn’t go back to where I was living. In fact, by now, my belongings were most likely packed and sitting outside.
As I sat down on the cold metal chair across from the nurse, I suddenly realized how shitty I felt, physically. The chair was freezing, yet somehow I was sweating. My bones began aching and my eyes watered uncontrollably. I was sick.
“Okay, Missss . . . Johnson. I’m going to do a couple of tests, but first I’d like to ask you a series of questions,” she said, grabbing a nearby clipboard.
“Gah. Like one-sixty, I think?”
“Currently taking any medication?”
I hesitated. She glanced up at me and repeated the question. “Are you currently taking any medication? Yes or no.”
I took a deep breath, and began. “Dilaudid, Roxicodone, OxyContin, Xanax, Percocet, Lortab, Vicodin, and marijuana. I’m not sure if that last one counts as medication but—”
“Okay. And would you describe the crimes you have been charged with as ‘shocking in nature’?”
“Yes. Yes, I would.”
She looked up at me over the rim of her glasses as she set her pen down and leaned back in her seat. “Okay, I don’t usually do this, but you have piqued my interest. Would you mind telling me why you consider your crimes to be shocking in nature?”
As I proceeded to tell her what happened, I watched her expression morph from confusion, to shock, to disgust, then back to confusion as she leaned forward to check something off on her clipboard. “Okay, yes, I would say that counts as shocking in nature, definitely,” she said, attempting to regain focus.
She cleared her throat and nervously glanced up at me as she made some notes. “All right, since you are obviously going to be experiencing a severe withdrawal from opiates, we are going to keep you in Medical for a few days before bringing you to the general population. There we will be able to monitor you to make sure you have a safe detox. I am just going to quickly get a few samples from you and then they will take you down.”
I watched intently as she prepared her syringe, and my stomach doubled over on itself at the sight. My palms began to perspire and suddenly I felt as if I might explode. My skin crawled and my legs were restless. It had only been about twenty hours since I’d last gotten high and I already felt like shit. This was going to fucking suck.
The officer didn’t say a word as she led me to my cell. She slid the heavy metal door open and slammed it shut behind me, making me jump two feet. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to that. I turned to ask her when I would be getting my phone call—I’d seen this in movies—but she was gone. I turned back around and took inventory of my tiny room. There was a metal toilet, a metal sink, a roll of toilet paper, and a large plastic tub on the floor; I was assuming I was supposed to put this plastic mat I was holding inside the tub to sleep.
Suddenly I felt something brush against my foot, and I let out a scream that sounded like someone being murdered. It was then that I noticed I wasn’t alone. On the floor to my left there was another tub, and it was occupied. The person was wrapped from head to toe in a wool blanket, completely covered. All I could see was the outline of her body.
I quietly placed my mat in the tub on the floor next to this mystery person and lay down. My withdrawal was going to take place in jail, and the realization that I was actually an inmate began to settle in. I stared at my cellmate’s shape for what seemed like an eternity, trying to imagine what kind of criminal I was trapped in a tiny room with. My thought process was interrupted by a loud click as the door to our cell was opened. An inmate in a red-striped jumpsuit slid two trays across the floor and promptly shut the door. Before I could even process the contents of the tray, the wool blanket went flying and my cellmate sat straight up and stared at me.
Oh shit, it’s awake. Don’t panic, I thought, giving her an awkward smile.
“You finna eat cho dinner?” she asked, burning a hole into my soul with her angry gaze.
“Oh, um hi. I’m Tiffany, I’m not sur—, I mean I’m not that hung— I hadn’t really thought about it, how come?” I said, trying to keep it cool and hide the fact that I was terrified.
“Cuz I’mma eat it if you ain’t,” she said, never breaking eye contact. We could be twins if not for the fact that all of her teeth were missing and she had scab marks on her face. My heart began racing as I noticed a tattoo on her neck. It looked like a symbol, probably from a gang. Shit, I was trapped with a gang member. This was too much!
“Oh, okay,” I said nervously. “Sure, go right ahead, I’m not hungry anyway. Actually I don’t even really like food, so . . .”
Without hesitation, she lunged for the trays and snatched them back to her bed like a wild animal. Not wanting to awkwardly stare at her while she ate, I lay down in my plastic tub and closed my eyes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep; I was feeling too sick. I didn’t know what else to do with myself so I just stared at the ceiling. I was listening to the disgusting sound of her gorging on my dinner when suddenly it stopped.
“Let me see them boobs.”
My eyes popped open and I looked over at her to see who she was talking to. She was staring at me. “I’m sorry?” I asked. Perhaps I didn’t hear her correctly—maybe she said books—were there books in here? Please let there be books in here.
“Your boobs, let me see them,” she said with a straight face, her eyes locked on mine.
Now, if you were in my shoes what would you have said? Screw you? No way. You’re crazy, leave me alone? Any of those responses would have been appropriate. However, I was terrified, and I had seen enough movies to know that jail fights are as common as dirt and I was not about to get my ass kicked my first day in.
“Are you being serious or no? I can’t tell,” I said nervously.
“Does it look like I’m being serious?” she said, looking serious.
“Okay, is that a thing? Is that what people do? Is this like initiation or something, I don’t really want to be in a gang. I jus—”
“C’mon, lady, show me your tits. I don’t know how many times I gotta ask you, girl.”
My hands shook as I grabbed the bottom of my shirt and pulled it up. I kept my breasts exposed for about three seconds, then slowly pulled it back down. I settled back into my cot, awaiting further instruction, but she didn’t say a word. She just kept peeling an orange. I sat in silence, trying to read her face for clues as to what the hell was going on around here, but she was stone-faced. Watching me as if she were watching a commercial on TV, expressionless. She finished her orange, slid the empty trays back to the door, and continued staring at me for a moment. I smiled, because I didn’t know what else to do. “Breakfast is at six a.m., let me know if you want it or not.”
She pulled the blanket over her head and flopped back down onto her cot.
I sat there in silence, staring at the outline of her body once again. Is this what I have to look forward to? I’ve only been here three hours and I’ve already given up a meal and flashed my tits. My drug withdrawal had only just begun, and I still hadn’t gotten to make a phone call. I was stuck in an eight-by-ten-foot cell with a lesbian woman-beast, and no one had told me anything about what my charges were, when I was getting out, or what would happen next. Tears started rolling down my cheeks as the uncertainty of everything overwhelmed me. I was alone, confused, and I realized that I’d better get a thicker skin, and quick. I had many strange, uncomfortable, scary situations ahead of me, and this was only the beginning.
Reprinted with permission from High Achiever © 2019 by Tiffany Jenkins. Published by Harmony, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.