Ins and outs(Part 6): Her vessel

“The Cycle” (2 x 2′) Mixed Media on woodpanel by April Curran, private collection in Arizona.

By the time I was starting college the Covington Delgado Community College campus closed, so we moved to Midcity in New Orleans so I could be nearby where I was attending school. We were both on probation and were successfully transferred to Orleans Parish. Everything was okay. In addition to school, I was working three jobs to pay my restitution and probation fees. We checked in monthly with our probation officer like we were supposed to. Eventually, Joanna moved back to the Northshore, and a new probation officer took her case. She worked for a shady moving company with her boyfriend. Doing drugs at work was part of the culture.

But she wanted to change. She started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She switched jobs to being a cashier at a town crier instead of working at the shady moving company. She went to community service, paid probation fees on time, and checked in with her probation officer just like they told her to. She tried to get away from that lousy, mentally and physically abusive boyfriend of hers. He relentlessly refused to leave her alone–constantly showing up and demanding that if she didn’t go with him he would do something stupid.

It was around that same time that we both received letters in the mail from the Department of Corrections that stated that we had missed a court date. We both reported immediately to our P.O.’s officer who took us in the back, one by one, and stated that we were under arrest. When we asked her why, she could not give us a direct answer. She put us in Orleans Parish Prison for three days and then came back to pick us up that Monday to transport us to St. Tammany Parish Jail.

After a week, Joanna got my mom to call her judge, who got her out of jail because he didn’t even know why she was in there in the first place. I was released a week after Jo got out because the jail ran out of bunks for the newer inmates being transferred into the back, which was just a male trustee dorm turned into a women’s central lock-up. After my release, I got a call from the P.O. officer, who was surprised and mad that I had been released from jail. She told me to follow up with my first P.O. from St. Tammany.

I went to meet the old P.O. at the Covington Courthouse in some weird small room that I had never been in before. It seemed like she was trying to find any reason or flaw in my actions to lock me back up, but they could not find any because I was back in school, making good grades, working, and paying my probation fees. They ended the meeting by asking, “Where is your sister? Tell her to come and meet us here.” When I asked them why they replied, “We just want to talk to her.”

I went home and told Jo that they wanted her to go there “just to talk.” I said it would be okay. She gave me the biggest hug goodbye that anyone has ever given me. I can still remember the tears of fear that I saw in her eyes. They locked her up again for three months without any justification.

Although my mom found a rehab in Ohio willing to accept Jo, the P.O. would not allow her to go there for help. Upon her release on August 4, 2013, she was told to report to a “halfway house” that was in Old Golden Shores neighborhood, which, ironically, is also where my grandpa and mom lived at the time just a few streets over. When she arrived the morning of August 5, 2013, she was a few minutes late. The addicts who were in charge told her she couldn’t come in.

The next time I saw Joanna, she was laying swollen, pale, cold, and dead with shitty funeral make up on inside of a blue coffin. My 11 year old nephew found her in her room laying still and lifeless. The funeral home said that we were not allowed to advertise the time and location of her funeral due to the high amounts of teen overdoses that had been occurring in St. Tammany at the time and had filled up the entire funeral home with fellow teen visitors at previous funerals. Had we of been allowed to, I am sure that a lot of her friends would have attended because surprisingly for someone with so many friends, not many of them showed up.

The moving company Joanna worked for had a high amount of deaths of employees. At my sister’s funeral, the wife of the moving company’s boss showed up toward the end and said to me that the corruption of the parish could never be solved. When it was my mom’s turn to speak, she had an emotional break down and began to cry over Joanna’s body. I had to get up and tell her mom, “It’s okay. That is just Joanna’s vessel, her spirit will still live on.” I looked at the crowd and they were all crying, too. The kids who did come were wearing their finest court clothes like khakis and white collar shirts.

Afterwards, we had a gathering at my grandpa’s house, and I noticed that one of the Beau Chene boys was sitting in a chair in the corner by himself very quietly and looking disturbed. I don’t know what was weirder–the way he was acting, or the fact that none of his other brothers, who were our friends, showed up with him.

My mom called the coroner and went to the office in Slidell many times to beg them to give her an autopsy report. When we finally got it, the report said that there were small traces of an opioid-like substance.

Articles in the Free American Press have reported that there’s a drug out there that is marketed on the streets as heroin called fentynol. This is the same drug that killed Prince and Philip Seymour Hoffman not too long ago. On the streets, heroin is cut down with “Special K,” a fancy word for horse tranquilizers.

Jo saved her boyfriend’s life so many times by recessitating his heart when he was overdosing, but no one that I know of, was there to save her. After the public realized the high death toll of overdoses, a life saving drug reversing adrenaline epinephrine shot called Naloxne/Narcan is available to anyone. It’s sold at CVS and Walgreens. Soon after Jo’s death, the coroner’s office was charged with corruption and theft. The halfway house in Old Golden Shores shut down.

Changes in the St. Tammany Parish Justice System have recently begun. Robert Rhoden, a writer for The Times Picayune, reported:

Former District Attorney Walter Reed, a hard-nosed prosecutor who jailed criminals on the North Shore for 30 years, was convicted Monday (May 2) of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements on his tax returns. A federal court jury of six men and six women deliberated for about four and a half hours before returning guilty verdicts on 18 of 19 counts.

The article said Reed was allowed, “to remain free on bond, pending sentencing.” The sentencing guidelines for Walter Reed range from a maximum of three years per count for the four counts of false statements on income tax returns to a maximum of 20 years for each of the five counts of mail fraud, according to the federal government.

It would be a taste of his own medicine to have to serve time in his own jail, which is St. Tammany, because he once told a reporter that he treats the inmates like animals because he thinks that they act like animals. In addition to this, the head of the Sheriff’s office was finally voted out of office after serving over 20 years. I saw a commercial for the winning guy’s campaign, and they showed what movies were popular when the losing guy entered his office position. One example was the movie Toy Story, which is very old and must have really showed the public how long this guy was in charge.

Matt explained that these long-lived office terms seemed more like a monarchy. Everyone hopes that this system will be held liable for its corruption and some day change for the betterment of humanity. Just in case, Matt warns you that if you are a poor teenager or have dark skin and are driving a beat up old car around Mandeville at night, just beware that the cops are likely going to stereotype you, pull you over, and make something up to mess with you about.

Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series reprinted from the book A Guide to South Louisiana: Stories of Uncommon Culture. Each author was a student in Rachel Breunlin’s “Storytelling and Culture” course for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans in the Spring of 2017. The Neighborhood Story Project sponsored the project as part of its mission to publish collaborative ethnography in high quality books in which the authors receive royalties for their creative labor.


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