Walk Down Misery Street

The bosses of the clinic had recently opened two sober houses: two small buildings situated in a high-crime section of East New York, each designed to house a hundred people. This was supposed to be a place for those who had nowhere to go after leaving prison, for those who had no family waiting for them.

At eight-thirty o’clock sharp each morning, several vans loaded with patients would arrive at the building. The patients were delivered to the clinic and then returned to the sober houses after several group sessions. Then the vans would return to the clinic with another set of patients. This pipeline to and fro operated at maximum efficiency: there was not one free seat either in the vehicles or in the rooms where the sessions took place.

Young female receptionists sat in the registration office, continuously adding check marks to the patients’ account forms. The counselors were endlessly signing their names below each check mark. Accountants would then send the claims to Medicaid.

The little clinic buzzed like a beehive: bzzz . . . bzzz . . .

Then, there were new patients who had just been released from prison, sitting in the waiting area, their backpacks and old wheeled suitcases in hand. Some were already high, having met up with their drug man on the way here.

Bzzz . . . bzzz . . .

Oh, my dreams from a year ago that excited my imagination, where are you now? When I entered the substance abuse school, I assumed that in the near future I would meet artists and rock-stars suffering from drug dependency. But I now recalled my fellow students from the drug Institute with some sadness. Why had I so hastily taken them to be hooligans, street thugs, and criminals? My dear classmates—where are you? How was I, an ignoramus, unable to evaluate your merits? Now it seems you were the best of the best, the most capable and persistent, having made the climb to the first rung out of this filth!

All of the current patients merged into one blurry face, regardless of race and nationality. There were African Americans, Whites, and Hispanics, but they all resembled one another. Was it their humble clothing? Their coarse faces? Their poor manners? Their hoarse, slurred voices?