Ben got in my car to get a ride to work. Soon after he asked if he can tell me about his life, although it might be boring, he added quietly. I said, “sure.”

“I grew up in a small town in Idaho, playing sports and…” snowboarding, skateboarding. He’s coming from loving and carrying family.  “Very young I tried smoking pot, this is all around age twelve and it was pretty harmless and then when I was eighteen I started experimenting with pharmaceuticals like xanax, somas; I tried cocaine for the first time and then Vicodin. I started dropping out of classes and that took over.

“If I didn’t have anything I had to find at least a little bit of weed and it became desperate. How crack addict fixates on crack. My parents found out I was doing drugs and my mom brings me to the rehab. I’m sober for like three or four days in there. Finally, this is the first time I’ve been sober and I started feeling really good. Right when I was having that feeling in walks the first person I’ve ever bought a Heroin from. Within ten minutes of talking to him we started skimming how we can get some in there. I get high there for two days and just decide to leave.

“There are some people on the streets that started talking to me about Jesus: ‘Do you know Jesus?’ And I’m like: ‘Yeah-yeah, Jesus is cool!’ and they’re like ‘I think Jesus is going to show himself to you today.’ The lights on top of the South Mountain, if you look at them from the certain angle you could see the word ‘love’ in the lights. As I’m driving just to find a place to sleep that night – I was mostly just parking in apartment complexes to sleep in my car – I’m looking through my windshield driving down the road and I’m seeing the lights from South Mountain, like in my view. I’m remembering what those kids were saying, like I think you gonna see Jesus today.

“For the next few days it was just a cycle of smoke weed for six month and then start smoking heroin again, maybe go to some meetings again and stop; living in my car; relapsing on heroin, relapsing on heroin, trying to just smoke weed; shooting up heroin again and for the next three years was the worst time of my heroin use. That was when I really-really turned into something bad.

“I’d work jobs but the job would never pay quite enough for my habit so I’d be like stealing. It’s such a weird thing with heroin. You want to be sober but you also… that switch can flip so easily of just anything. When I didn’t have job we would be like flying signs on the side of a freeway saying homeless, can you help. When you by yourself holding a sign on the side of the road you just feel so alone in the world and the only thing that’s gonna bring me any pleasure at that point is getting high.

“There’s so much shame involved in doing heroin for me because I’m coming from this loving family. I’m using drugs right now, so as of today I’d definitely just get high with you.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Lee Rosevere, Loopstache, and The Disco Boys

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

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