Bad drug stories

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Jesse Thistle spent more than a decade on the streets and in jail. But despite this he has managed to become an expert on the culture of his Indigenous Canadian ancestors - with the help of his mother, from whom he was separated as a young. Sometimes, at night, feeling humiliated after a day of begging, Jesse Thistle would walk up to the fountain on Ottawa's Parliament Hill. Sitting on the edge of the monument, he would plunge his hands into the cold water, to fish out the coins visitors had thrown in for luck.

The policemen on duty always saw Jesse coming. They'd watch as he shovelled handfuls of wet change into his pockets, then chase him away. Jesse was 32 and had recently relapsed from rehab, but he'd been living on the streets, on and off, ever since his grandparents kicked him out when he was So the day that Jesse's grandmother saw a bag of cocaine fall out of Jesse's pocket, he was told to pack his things and leave.

Jesse's life had been chaotic from the start. Her name was Blanche and she gave birth to three sons one after the other, Josh first, Jerry, and then Jesse. Sonny drank and used heroin, and was often violent, so eventually Blanche ran away, taking the boys with her. For a while they lived in Moose Jaw, sleeping on proper beds rather than piles of laundry and eating three Bad drug stories a day. Then Sonny turned up again and told Blanche he had an apartment and a job in Toronto.

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Blanche was studying as well as working, and he persuaded her to let him take the boys for a few months, to give her a break. But there was no new job, and Sonny hadn't overcome his addictions. He'd disappear for days at a time, leaving the boys - all aged under six - alone in the apartment. There was little food when Sonny was there and none when he wasn't. He taught the boys how to beg, how to shoplift, and how to roll him cigarettes by harvesting tobacco from butts picked up off the streets.

It was a few months before a neighbour alerted Child Services, and police came and took the boys away. Jesse was by now aged four, and he and his brothers would never see their father again. After a period in an orphanage and a foster home, they were sent to live with Sonny's parents. It was called the Sixties Scoop - thousands and thousands of Indigenous kids were taken that way - it was endemic.

Other families in the neighbourhood were reluctant to let their children play with the brothers, and at some stage Jesse decided that it would make his life easier if he pretended to be Italian. I felt like she had ditched us. At school Jesse was always fighting, was held back because of his poor grades, and never learned how Bad drug stories read or do maths properly. Then he ed a gang in high school and really started getting into trouble. Jesse hitched a lift with a friend across the country from Toronto to Vancouver, where his brother Josh, now a policeman, let him stay.

He'd borrow Josh's police badge to avoid paying on public transport, and use it to pick up girls - "Girls love the police" - or to blag free Bad drug stories in restaurants. But the day Josh returned from work to find his younger brother using drugs in the house, Bad drug stories had to leave, and this time he had nowhere else to go. At the age of 20, he was homeless. Jesse slept for four months in a car parked by the Fraser River just outside Vancouver, surrounded by other homeless people - the majority of them also Indigenous.

It broke my heart to see all these Indigenous people with addiction issues there - and nobody cared," he says. He sold everything he owned apart from the clothes he stood up in, but still he was starving. After hitching back to Toronto, he drifted from sofa to bus shelter to refuge, begging to get enough money together to buy drugs and go to raves. And when a friend introduced him to crack, he was hooked from the first lungful. It was New Year's Eve, Jesse, by now 23, had been out partying all night.

The following day he went over to a friend's house. There were some people there he vaguely knew, who asked if he wanted to share a t and if he could help them find a lift to travel out west. They said they'd buy him a pizza if he could order one for them and they'd give him a new jersey in return for his efforts. Thinking this was the easiest work he'd ever had, Jesse, wearing his new jersey, then returned to his Uncle Ron's place - where he'd been crashing since all of his belongings were stolen from the last hostel.

Jesse and Ron sat down to watch a movie, but when a breaking news alert flashed across the screen announcing that a cab driver had been murdered in the neighbourhood the night and describing the two suspects, both in their late teens or early 20s, Jesse felt sick. They were trying to frame me for this murder that they had committed," he says.

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Jesse considered taking off - "running away was my way of dealing with life" - but instead went to the police. The two men who had tried to frame him were later jailed for murder. But word got out that Jesse was an informer. Old friends wanted nothing to do with him, people would lure him places so that they could ambush him, someone tried to knife him in an alley, and he was beaten so badly with a baseball bat he could barely walk.

In despair, Jesse stole a large quantity of painkillers from a pharmacy and swallowed them Bad drug stories before he could think twice about it. This led to a spell in hospital, but no change in his behaviour. One evening after becoming locked out of his brother Jerry's apartment in Toronto, Jesse fell three-and-a-half storeys to the ground while trying to break in. He survived and landed on his feet, but his right heel was shattered, his right ankle t destroyed and both his wrists broken.

Doctors couldn't believe that Jesse hadn't been killed. But his real problems began after he was discharged from hospital, when infection set in. Jesse was smoking crack to dull the pain in his leg, but when his toes started turning black and his toenails began falling off he realised he needed help. He vaguely remembers doctors telling him that his leg may have to be amputated, and that if the infection spread to his heart or brain it could kill him.

In panic, Jesse fled. I just wanted to rot away and die," he says.

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I'll be safe in there, have a place to rest, access to food and medication. So he held up a convenience store and helped himself to the takings - but instead of waiting to be arrested, as he'd planned, he jumped into a large rubbish bin at the back of the shop and hid. Now lock me up and throw away the key. He received the medical help he so urgently needed for his leg, which quickly began to improve.

But there was no support to come off the drugs and alcohol he'd been addicted to since he was a teenager, and he went through a "horrible, horrible" withdrawal, involving agonising seizures in solitary confinement. Surprisingly, the experience spurred him to his education.

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After his release from prison, Jesse went into rehab to continue this work, while also dealing with his addictions. I took etiquette courses to re-teach me how to eat at a table and take care of my hygiene - all the things that I'd forgotten because I'd been drifting around so long. I felt good about myself for the first time in many, many years. It wasn't plain sailing. He relapsed at one point, returning to the streets to beg - and take money from the Parliament Hill fountain - only managing to get back on track after he was sentenced to a one-year stint back at the same rehabilitation centre.

While there he received a strange - a woman was looking for him, it said, and there was a to call. It turned out to be his mother, whom he'd seen on only a handful of occasions since she'd let Jesse and his brothers go with their father to Toronto as small children. Shaking and through tears, Jesse called Blanche but was so overwhelmed that he had to hang up several times while they were talking. Then more unexpected family news came, a message from his grandmother - the first contact he'd had with her since being banished from his grandparents' home years ly.

I want you to make me a promise - follow through with this education, go to university, and go as far as you can. Jesse swore that he'd do as his grandmother asked. He urged her to get better and they hugged before Jesse returned to rehab. Two weeks later she died. The day after his grandmother's death, Jesse received Bad drug stories message of condolence from an old school friend of one of his brothers. Jesse and Lucie started talking often, sometimes for hours at a time on the phone, and they'd Skype one another regularly. When Jesse finally left rehab in Lucie gave Jesse a place to stay and eventually they became a couple.

Lucie helped Jesse find a restaurant job, cutting French fries - "I made sure I was the best damn fry cutter in the whole city," he says - and within two-and-a-half years they had married. Jesse started a history degree at Toronto's York University that same year, aged I'd brought a pen and a pad of paper to take notes, and I looked around me in the lecture hall and all these kids had laptops and smartphones," he says. I sat at the front and nobody wanted to talk to me. In his second year, Jesse was set an asment to research his family history and reached out to one of his aunts in Saskatchewan who'd been doing a lot of research.

Jesse's Bad drug stories was passed to a professor, an expert in Indigenous history, who immediately hired him as her research assistant. Jesse was flown back to Saskatchewan to reconnect with his mother and aunts in Now aged 37, this was only the fourth time he'd seen his mother since he'd been taken into care at just three-and-a-half or four years old. Soon Jesse's research was winning awards.

He graduated as the top student in his faculty and since then has picked up two competitive doctoral scholarships, has almost finished writing up his PhD, and now teaches Indigenous history as an assistant professor at York University. It's a beautiful thing to watch people get to know their history. And Jesse now hires his mother, Blanche - whose father was a trapper "who hunted and picked berries and fished" - as his own research assistant. It's great because we can work through our broken relationship as son and mother - it's not always easy, but it's beautiful. We're just joyous to be in each other's company and I say that our research methodology is based on love.

Although Jesse isn't religious, he believes his grandmother somehow brought Lucie to him, as a lifeline, to help him start again. He often thinks about the men who tried to frame him for the murder and worries about acts of retribution.

Deep down he's sorry about Bad drug stories happened, he says, and that he was put in a position where he had to protect himself. But he's lived a good life and if they come for him now, "it is what it is. I just have to learn to manage it," he says. I'll say, 'Yeah, I want a nice, big rock today, but you know what? I'll use tomorrow. I can handle this tomorrow-never-comes scenario - I've been doing it for 12 years - but infinity without the drug is too much to handle. Meanwhile, the pain in his right foot, more than a decade after his fall, reminds him every day that he's lucky to be alive.

He now has a partner and a job, has restored his relationship with his mother and reconnected with his roots. But there is still one important thing missing. For as long as he can remember, Jesse has always hoped that his father, Sonny Thistle, would come back into his life. But a chance meeting some years ago with an elderly man threw that into doubt. Whatever trouble your dad was running from, whatever people, they got him - they killed him in Jesse took the news to the police and officially reported his father missing.

Jesse knew that his father was dealing drugs and would rip people off before fleeing to the next town. But while it was devastating to learn that his dad might be dead, it was comforting to think that there was a reason why he had never been in touch. He hasn't given up all hope, though, that his father might still be alive. Images courtesy of Jesse Thistle, unless otherwise stated. Jesse Thistle is the author of a memoir titled From the Ashes. Each year, dozens of Canadian Aboriginal women are murdered or disappear never to be seen again. Some end up in a river that runs through the heart of Winnipeg.

The Sixties Scoop. Despite its name, the Sixties Scoop started in the late s and persisted for more than 20 years About 20, Indigenous Canadian children were removed from their homes by child welfare agencies and placed with non-Indigenous families These children lost their names, their languages, and Bad drug stories cultural identity. And then his grandparents kicked him out. Prison was an unlikely turning point for Jesse.

She was dying, she said, and asked Jesse to visit her. He still struggles with the legacy of his addictions.

Bad drug stories

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