April 24, 2013

Released From Prison After $50K Heroin Bust, Fmr. Cornell Student Gets Clean, Writes Book

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Keri Blakinger ’11 had been arrested with about $50,000 worth of heroin, sentenced to more than two years in jail and learned how female inmates make a dildo with little more than a toothbrush holder and Maxi pad. So nothing, at that point, seemed too out of the ordinary — even getting married in the visiting room of a county prison.

“I was in an orange jumpsuit, and a guard was there as a witness. A very questionable clergy member, who was apparently on probation himself, [officiated],” said Blakinger, who has since divorced the man. “It was regrettable all around … probably not what my parents had in mind when they dreamed of their little girl getting married.”

Much of Blakinger’s life has diverged from the course she and her parents once envisioned.

In December 2010, while still a Cornell student, Blakinger was arrested with  several ounces of heroin. She pled guilty and was sentenced to third degree criminal possession of a controlled substance in March 2011.

But now, about two years removed from her last hit and seven months since her release from prison in Fall 2012, Blakinger, a former editor of The Sun, feels her life has finally stabilized.

She is now in talks with book agents to publish her story. More importantly: She is clean.

“When I look out across the desolate wreck of those years of active addiction, most spots are entirely devoid of life, all memories long since erased; the overgrown clumps that remain are bizarre snapshots that come together to form a surreal collage,” she writes in an excerpt of the book given to The Sun.

In a wide-ranging interview this week, Blakinger talked at length about her hopes for the book, how she managed to get on the Dean’s List for several of the semesters she was at Cornell, and the difference between attending an Ivy League school and living in a prison.

But pinpointing exactly how or why she began using heroin still eludes her.

‘A Self-Destructive Streak’

“I think I’ve always had a bit of a self-destructive streak, but if I could say what makes someone a drug addict I’d put every [rehab center] out of business,” Blakinger said.

The daughter of a Harvard-educated lawyer, Blakinger was a straight-A student in a private high school who competed at U.S. Figure Skating Nationals, she writes in her book.

But “obviously (given the way I turned out, that is) my childhood wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” she writes. Blakinger writes that she was molested when she was nine and struggled with depression and eating disorders as a young teenager.

“When my need for rebellion joined forces with my existing tendency toward self-destruction, ultimately I turned to a tragically common solution … heroin,” she writes.

By the time she was at Cornell, Blakinger was using significant amounts of heroin every day, she said.

“It was difficult: It required a lot of excuses, a lot of creative scheduling. It’s very difficult to balance a drug addiction with a full time career as a student,” Blakinger said.

Heroin was just one manifestation of her drug use. Her book describes her kitchen at one point during her addiction: “The freezer is stocked with LSD, DMT and other hallucinogens; the microwave is used only for cooking ketamine; all the drinks in the refrigerator are laced; the plates are only used for chopping up and snorting cocaine; the vegetable drawer is filled with marijuana … the only thing that gets cooked in the stove is crack … the forks have simply begun to migrate after they melted the last time you ate acid,” she writes.

Blakinger declined to say whether she was dealing drugs, noting that she was only charged with possession. But Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson told The Ithaca Journal that Blakinger was the “Queenpin” of heroin dealing in Collegetown, and Blakinger does not deny the charge.

“I can’t say anything about whether I was or wasn’t dealing …[but] you could draw your own conclusions based on the amount I was arrested with,” Blakinger said.

Blakinger was arrested with six ounces of heroin — certainly enough to get her entire Cornell English seminar high, and maybe enough to get the entire English department high, she writes in her book. As terrifying as the arrest was at the time, she now credits it with helping her turn her life around. Initial police reports indicated that Blakinger was in possession of $150,000 worth of heroin, though that number was later revised down.

“I think if anyone had attempted to interfere, I wouldn’t have been willing to listen,” Blakinger said, adding that she went to great lengths to prevent Cornell professors and administrators from finding out about her drug use. “I needed a catalytic occurrence to make me decide to get sober. It could’ve been anything tragic or earth-shattering.”

“Gangster Ass Bitch”

Soon after her arrest, Blakinger was making national headlines. Gawker, The Huffington Post, the New York Daily News — all covered the story of the Cornell student and former figure skater arrested with thousands of dollars worth of heroin.

Blakinger did not know the extent of her media celebrity until after her release. But there were hints.

Blakinger was in several different jails throughout her 21 month sentence, including one, she said, in which the male inmates could see the female inmates. It was while she was there that Maxim Magazine published its profile of Blakinger.

“They were pointing at the article and pointing at me, and I said, ‘I don’t know what they’re pointing at, but this is really embarrassing,’” she said. “One of the [correction officers] brought over the article and I thought, ‘This is mortifying.’”

Blakinger also said the extent of the media coverage was made clear to her as she received “really vicious hate mail” from strangers.

“I got one letter telling me I was a ‘gangster ass bitch’ and offering to let me sell drugs for him when I got out,” Blakinger said.

She never took up the offer, but going through detox, she said, was anything but easy.

“My first week in jail was a blur … I’m told I was behaving rather strangely in my near-blackout delirium, pushing spoons around the floor with my foot, banging my head against the wall, refusing to brush my hair and sleeping – almost 24 hours a day – in strange contortionist positions,” she writes in her book

Her time in prison overall, she said, almost defies description, marking as it did yet another shock to her psyche after years of drug abuse.

One jail she was transferred to forced its inmates to spend three days in solitary confinement upon arriving — one of the worst experiences of Blakinger’s life, she said.

“It drives you crazy,” she said.

Blakinger’s book describes constant turmoil in the prison.

“In prison at one point I was bunked next to a girl who punched someone for ‘invading her dreams.’ At that point I discovered that sleeping with one eye open is not quite as easy as it sounds,” she said.

That she is now able to process, write about and, hopefully, move past her time in prison, she says, is a testament to both her Cornell education and the love and care of her family.

“I was fortunate because I had a desire to stay clean, opportunities and a supportive family — most inmates don’t have any of those things,” she said. “Now, as I’m looking back on that same subject matter, I’m letting myself actually feel things about it.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein