Brianna McCabe moved like a shadow among her classmates at Pullman High School. Quiet and shy, McCabe felt overwhelmed by interactions with her peers.
At 14, methamphetamine became a daily escape. At 17, she turned to heroin. Once a soccer player and runner who loved video games and her two sisters, she found herself falling deeper into addiction.
“It almost feels like I’ve been trying to reach this point of normalcy in order to be capable in society,” McCabe said. “Without drugs, I could never do that.”
Reality came crashing down on Feb. 8, 2018, when law enforcement officers raided a home on College Hill, seizing heroin, meth and $14,000 in cash. She was bailed out the same day and failed to appear to her court hearings, then was arrested again in Tacoma on July 11.
This spring, McCabe spent her 24th birthday in Whitman County Jail and then pleaded guilty to possessing heroin with an intent to deliver. .
Her arrest led to her first period of sobriety in almost a decade and offered her another chance to beat her addiction.
“I was in a position where it was not going to end,” she said. “My brain literally developed around it. That’s how early I started.”
Opioid deaths and incarceration rates increase
On the Palouse, possession and delivery of heroin is at a record high, according to police. Opioid deaths began ticking up in 2013, with the sharpest rise in heroin, according to state data. In 2017, the rate of heroin deaths in Washington was more than four times the rate in 2010.
Two years ago, the Moscow Police Department hardly found anyone using heroin. Now, they seize it almost on a weekly basis, said Moscow Police Chief James Fry.
“This opioid crisis will affect every family in America at some point in time if it continues,” Fry said.
The Quad Cities Drug Task Force – which includes officers from Pullman, Moscow, Lewiston and Clarkston – seized 619 grams of heroin in 2017, up from 91 grams in 2011.
The increase represents more than just numbers. Each day, addiction sabotages more lives , and many view it as a personal choice rather than as a medical condition.
Todd Benson, chemical dependency counselor at Palouse River Counseling and a former addict himself, said there is a sense of powerlessness in addiction.
Desperate to avoid withdrawals, addicts again and again seek out the drug, he said. Over time, prolonged drug use changes neurochemistry. At some point, people are getting high just to feel normal.
“That’s when it gets really hard to get out of it,” Benson said. “Once you quit, your body can start to heal. It just sucks at the beginning.”
Brianna McCabe understands this struggle on a personal level.
Jonathon McCabe still remembers the pride he felt when his 13-year-old daughter started to help out at his restaurant, Heros N Sports, in Pullman. On her first day, a team of young baseball players strolled into the restaurant.
“She came in, took orders, helped hand out food and was never rattled at all by the 25 boys who had packed into our small space,” Jonathon McCabe said. “She was like an expert her first day.”
He describes Brianna as quiet, but strong-willed and independent. She is someone who likes to keep to herself and has always loved expressing her creative side, her dad said.
She sketched the word ‘Cougarlicious’ on the chalkboard sign inside the restaurant that’s still posted today, Jonathon McCabe said.
After each shift, she would fold the receipt paper into tiny paper cranes. Each morning, her father would find a new crane on his desk.
“It seemed like it would calm her down,” he said, “Give her something to focus on.”
When Brianna McCabe spiraled deep into drugs, her family lost the close connection with her.
She said the only way she found bliss was through sleep.
“I did the drug and for the first time, I could go to school and have the day I always thought I could never have and then just wanted it everyday after,” Brianna McCabe said.
She moved away to Tacoma at 16 to distance herself from her family. She worked at Hollister while going to school and would return to Pullman each summer.
Eventually, she tried to sober up, admitting herself to a recovery center. She took Suboxone to avoid withdrawals. Her roommate at the recovery center managed to sneak in a supply of drugs, and McCabe ended up relapsing on her 21st birthday.
“We’ve got to get back from the stigma that this is a shameful thing. This is a heavy addiction, and it’s tough to kick these,” said Fry, the Moscow police chief. “So they do need our help.”
A few days of misery
It wasn’t until McCabe came to jail that she realized the mental battle and constant state of sadness she suffered through wasn’t normal.
The addiction is often co-occurring with mental health issues, said Scotty Anderson, commander of the Whitman County Jail in Colfax. He said they try to keep people safe so they can get sober.
“We’re there to take care of their welfare,” said Anderson. “The people we work with are inmates one day and in your local grocery store the next.”
Whitman and Latah county jails have become the place for inmates to withdraw from drugs, said Bill Thompson, prosecutor in Latah County.
“Right now we use the jail as the inpatient program to achieve the initial sobriety. We don’t have other facilities,” Thompson said. “It’s not right, but that’s the way it is.”
New inmates coming down from a high are placed in a special holding cell in Whitman County Jail. On the walls of this cell, McCabe said, inmates tally the number of days – no more than a week.
“Being in a small holding cell when you are coming off of a drug addiction is not a good environment for anyone,” she said.
After sobering up within three to five days, McCabe slept below this holding cell during the months she awaited her trial. Hollow knocks on the pipes, drawn-out cackles and groans drifted down from the cell, reminding her of her own experience there.
It’s a memory she tries to block out.
A second chance
Before jail, McCabe was working toward her associate’s degree in science and high school diploma at the same time. Fascinated by science, she dreamed of studying microbiology.
“I have this desire to understand everything the eye can’t see,” McCabe said. “It’s interesting to me that there’s this world we live in that hardly really anybody understands.”
Prisoner-of-war books are one of many ways she escapes into her own world. Books are her gateway to communication she could never find in people.
In jail, when she isn’t reading or crafting projects for her cell, like the woven mat she made out of toilet paper rolls, she’ll often lie in bed and reflect on her decade of drug abuse.
“I was trying to think, what I ever loved or liked about it,” McCabe said in an interview in the jail’s library. “There’s only hatred. Nothing but pure hatred. I let it take everything.”
After 10 months fighting her case with Idaho and Washington prosecutors, trying to reduce her sentence from the mandatory 10 years, McCabe received the best birthday gift she could have imagined during her trial on March 8.
She was sentenced to 12 months and one day. That meant just two more months behind bars.
She served those months in the Women’s Correction Center in Gig Harbor and was released on May 8.
Now, McCabe is living in the upstairs portion of her family’s home and working part-time at her dad’s shop while readjusting to the community. She is also planning her future, which includes going back to school.
She believes God had a major part in helping her get through her case and is attending church each Sunday. She is grateful for the opportunity to take her life into her own hands.
“I like to think that my story hasn’t begun yet, because the story so far is a not a story I really like,” McCabe said. “I’m still young.”
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