So if pills are cheap and reliable, why does anyone bother smuggling in heroin? Because there is a social cachet to buying overpriced drugs from gangster dealers, and there is a stigma attached to taking pills that were, until recently, in someone else’s mouth. The latter is seen as low and unmanly. Nevertheless, the desire for escape, at least for a few hours, trumps pride in most prisoners and turns the med line into a drug shop.
The prison administrators, naturally, see this as confirming every instinct they have to deny sick old murderers a painkiller. Thus, there are measures in place. You can’t just have a bottle of Percocet. Any pill with even the remotest chance of being abused is issued by a nurse from a window in the clinic. The nurses dole out the pills slowly and carefully, three times a day. It may take an hour to receive yours. After the nurse confirms your identity, she gives it to you, making you wash it down with water while a bored cop watches.
And yet the med window is a fountain of money. While the sick line up at the appointed time, so too do eager customers. Some buyers have “contracts” with sellers -- arrangements to buy a week’s or a month’s worth of someone else’s pills -- but most people shop “on the wood” at the med line, bringing a pack of cigarettes with them and trading on site. As they say, “Money on the wood makes the world go good!”