Slave to drugs for a decade
Turners man says he needed jail to get cleaned up
Lance Rice sits in the stairwell of his Turners Falls apartment complex. Rice says he started when he was 14, drinking and smoking weed on the weekends with his friends. Within a year, at a party, an older girl offered around lines of a pain prescription she’d gotten for a recent surgery.
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Lance Rice stands in front of his hat collection, hanging on a wall in his Turners Falls apartment.
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Lance Rice marked his first full year of sobriety since middle school this February — at the age of 24.
“I never want to use again and you know, I just want to be happy. I spent the last 10 years slaving to drugs and I don’t know what life can really be like,” Rice said, seated at his mother’s kitchen table in Turners Falls.
Rice says he started when he was 14, drinking and smoking weed on the weekends with his friends. Within a year, at a party, an older girl offered around lines of a pain prescription she’d gotten for a recent surgery.
Prescription opioids were cheap back then, and easy to find.
“They just made you feel unbelievable, like you never thought you could feel, and when I tried one, I think I was hooked from there, because I never stopped,” he says.
For much of the decade between when he started drinking and when he landed in jail on burglary charges at the age of 23, he wouldn’t have set off many red flags.
His name appears on the honor rolls from Greenfield Middle School and later Franklin County Technical School, the latter after he was thoroughly dependent.
“I remember going to school withdrawing terribly and being sick to the point where, you know, you just want to bash your head off the wall,” Rice said.
He graduated from the culinary program in 2008, and says he worked throughout high school and for a time after graduation, usually as a cook.
He had his own place, and is proud of some of the things he accomplished in that time, even as his addiction escalated.
From pills, he recalls, he and his friends had moved quickly into cocaine and heroin. They would take cocaine, a stimulant, then heroin, a depressant, when they wanted to go to sleep. These became his drugs of choice and at 20 he began injecting both. Around this time he lost his first apartment, and everything else — and decided to stop.
“Just realizing I really had a problem and this was getting in the way of my life, I wanted to try and catch it before it got worse,” he said. “I put myself into a detox and went through treatment.”
It didn’t take. After 90 days sober he came back home and picked up where he had left off.
Three years later he was in jail. By that time he was a skeleton, walking around at 110 pounds. Like most injection drug users — the lower rates found in studies are in the region of 70 percent — he had contracted hepatitis. He couldn’t hold a job and every day was a pilgrimage to Holyoke by bus for drugs. At one point he was sniffing 50 bags of heroin a day just to fight off withdrawal.
“We wake up sick as hell. It’s not about getting high, it makes you feel normal,” he said. He uses the word “running” to describe his life at the time.
Once, he overdosed on cocaine in his mother’s apartment, on her birthday.
In 2012, he ran into legal trouble, first in Holyoke when he was caught up in a drug raid, then in Turners Falls, where he was charged with the attempted burglary of a Third Street business, trying to feed his habit. Out on bail, Rice quickly returned to jail after he resumed using and was charged with the burglary of a Central Street home.
This time he sat in jail for 200 days.
“After a while my head started to clear up,” he said. His lawyer was talking to him and in the end he pleaded to sufficient facts, a sort of lesser guilty plea. The judge continued the case without a finding, holding an almost certain jail sentence over his head as leverage, and he spent the next 90 days in a New Bedford treatment program. Rice speaks highly of that program. He thinks without it he would not have stopped, but he faltered at the next step.
Rice felt so unwelcome at the Gardner halfway house he was sent to that he hitchhiked home to Turners, spent the weekend with his mother and turned himself in, still sober, on Monday.
He sat in jail again waiting for a slot in another treatment program, but nothing could be found and he enrolled instead in the Drug Court probation program.
Drug Court has kept him sober with the threat of jail, with regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings — which he was surprised to find were helpful — and with therapy. In midwinter the cravings almost became too strong, and he began Suboxone therapy through the CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Center in Greenfield. In February, he had been on Suboxone for a month, and the cravings — which could be so intense he felt almost as though he were on the edge of heroin withdrawal — were gone.
Now, he shares his story for two reasons: he wants people to understand that addicts are people controlled by a disease, and he hopes to warn people off the path he took.
Needed jail to get clean
Once he had started, he said, nothing short of jail could have taken him off that road.
“I’ve been trying to get clean since I was 20 years old ... but going to jail really saved my life. Jail is what I needed, and now being in Drug Court I am realizing how many people need that jail experience to get clean.”
Rice said he has thought about it, and doesn’t have a compelling reason for why he started. There was no real pressure, he said. He just wanted to fit in. He had taken health classes before he started, but says he had no conception of what his life would become.
Now he’s set on trying something new.
“I know what happens if I relapse. I know where that’s going to lead, but I don’t know what’s going to happen if I stay clean, so I’ve decided to try this route,” he said. “I’m just praying that it gets better. And it has, already.”
Two months after this interview, Rice was doing temp work and had moved out of his mother’s place into an efficiency apartment in Turners Falls, and was receiving math tutoring through the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission office in Greenfield. That agency aims to get people back to work, and was sending Rice to Greenfield Community College in the fall, where he plans to study visual arts.