Louisville Magazine

AUG 2015

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 51 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 51 with seven cross streets, many homes look arthritic, exhausted. Only half of Austin's homes are owner-occupied. Listen to talk on the streets — two or three landlords in town get labeled slumlords. On the north side, people walk at all hours. (One proba- tion ofcer compared it to a college cam- pus.) Tere's no reliable public transportation in Austin. Few people have the money to purchase cars. Or their licenses are revoked, tagged with massive fnes. It's late afternoon and a raw sewage smell stains the air — fumes from Morgan Foods, a canning plant that's been around for 100 years and remains the city's largest employer. Supposedly, on the days workers can sauerkraut and greens beans, the pungent smell thickens. (Neighboring towns came up with the nickname "Austink.") Combs rolls past Tammy Breeding's house. Breeding glares at the SUV. "I've been nothing but pleasant to her," Combs says with an exasperated laugh. "I don't know what her problem is." Te day before, Breeding had told a Lou- isville news station that a recent decision by the state health commissioner to extend the needle-exchange program for a year was a big mistake. "Give them the drugs too," she said. Combs was originally also against the idea. On one of the frst few days of the exchange, she handed needles to a mother who chuckled at her daughter passed out on their kitchen table. "I'm like, 'Oh, my God, what are we doing?'" Combs recalls. But research proved convincing. Needle exchanges stop disease transmission. Combs heads to Scottsburg, four miles down the road, to check on a couple re- cently evicted from their Austin home. "I knew we had couch-jumpers in this community, but I didn't know it was this bad. Like, literally I fnd people in diferent houses every time I see them," Combs says. "Tey have nowhere to live." She pulls up to a compact apartment complex in the shadow of Scottsburg's water tower. "Who is it?" a woman yells. "Needle exchange!" Combs replies. Te woman opens the door, spots the Time photographer and cups her hands over her face. A short, thin man with a mil- itary ball cap follows suit. "I'm serious," he warns. "I'm schizophrenic bi-polar." Later, he'll tell his story in what seems like one memory that runs 30 minutes long — his father committing suicide, a violent child- hood, his sister's death from a dirty needle, the way Opanas calm his demons. "No pill has helped me as much," he'll say. For now, he heads to the trunk of the SUV. His limbs fdget but eyes rarely blink. "How often do you shoot up?" Combs' partner on to- day's needle exchange asks. "Every second of the day if I can get it," he says. "I'll take 140." Tat's the max- imum number the needle exchange will give out in a week. A chart on the back of the clipboard shows the math — 20 injections a day. Te exchange has three sizes of needles — 27s, 29s and 31s. Te bigger the num- ber, the thinner the needles. To me, they all look the width of sewing needles. Te 27s can hurt, but shooting liquefed Opanas typically takes a larger-gauge needle. Tat can increase tissue damage, heightening the risk of HIV transmission. (Opanas used to be crushed, mixed with water and injected. In 2012 Endo Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Opana, introduced a version of the pill that was supposed to cut the risk of abuse due to a new coating. But users still can cook it down into a liquid.) Te woman who answered the door agrees to talk if we call her "Nicole." She's 28 years old, with green eyes that rival the Northern Lights. Her mom had a brown eye and green eye. "Grandma said one looked for trouble, the other looked to heaven," Nicole says. She plops into a wheelchair and grabs a newspaper to color in letters like bubbles on a multiple-choice test. She occasional- ly picks at a dark, caterpillar-like scar on her right arm. It's a nervous habit. Her sister introduced her to pills as a teenager, and Nicole liked the high. But they also helped with chronic neck pain, a result of getting hit by a car while walking on a country road. Nicole has quit pills in the past. Once while serving time for robbery. But the relapse rate for opiates is about 85 percent. "I'm real weak-minded to every- thing," she says. "When I lose somebody, I just give up." Both her parents died while she was incarcerated. Nicole's a well-known fgure in Austin. And at the Scott County courthouse. She has shufed in zebra stripes across the Scottsburg town square from the squat jail to the handsome brick courthouse many times, wrists in cufs, chained in single fle to fellow inmates. Nicole points to a tattoo on her right foot that she got during one stint in jail — Loyalty. Her pal used staples from their court papers and melted check- ers to mark them with matching ink. It's estimated that about 80 percent of Scott County's inmates have been arrested for drug-related crimes, including theft and prostitution, two ways to scrounge up money for pills. Nicole has a court date in a few weeks. She says her probation ofcer found drugs on her. While she's enrolled in the needle exchange, that doesn't make drugs legal. (Even sanctioned needles give law enforcement enough probable cause to search.) Nicole throws a cigarette butt into a trashcan a body length away. She wants to get sober, she says. Instead, on July 7, a month after we talked, booking will snap her mug shot — green eyes round and fro- zen, a tired pout. Back in jail. D onald Spicer, Austin's police chief, stands as wary watchman to the justice system's revolving door. "It's the same people I was dealing with six or seven years ago," he says. We are having lunch at a Huddle House, one of Austin's two restaurants. Aside from a handful of gas stations, it's one of the few places to grab food. Austin's only grocery store shut down a few years back. (Te closest one is in Scottsburg.) Spicer fts the part of small-town chief — trim gray beard, and a 46-year-old's round, soft shell buttoned into a pressed navy-blue uniform. Spicer opts for the country-fried steak. "Mashed potatoes?" our waitress asks. "Yeah," Spicer replies. "Gravy?" "Yeah." "Green beans?" "Green beans are fne." Te law-abiding majority of Austin fumes at those who commit crime, rinse and repeat. Te county is spending $15 million to renovate and expand the jail just to ft them all. Spicer's an easy punch- ing bag. Even a 15-year-old Austin girl told me, "I think the authorities could be tougher." Last summer a new Indiana law soft- ened penalties associated with thefts and low-level drug-related charges. Many drug-possession charges that used to be felonies are now misdemeanors. Manda- tory minimum sentences on drug ofenses were abolished. (In Kentucky, possession of most controlled substances is a felony.) Jason Mount, Scott County prosecutor, "I'm real weak-minded to everything," Opana- addicted Nicole says. "When I lose somebody, I just give up." Both her parents died while she was incarcerated. Opposite page: Whitney and David Richie at home and at a food pantry.

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