More Than a Statistic

Mick Whitlock
I was standing at the microwave heating water for my 3:00 a.m. coffee when I met Mike.Friendly. He had just the sort of disposition that we all look for in an individual. He introduced himself and we shook hands. He had a bagel he was going to warm up. Did I have any more coffee? Mike had only been working at Thor a few days and enjoyed it immensely. This was the first chance we had to speak,but we didn't have long. By the time Mike's water was heated and we walked to my work station, our break was over. After our first encounter, Mike joined me for every break. When he learned I was on work release, Mike was quick to inform me that he had served seven years in prison "on a dope case".

I didn't ask questions.The man had paid his dues. Besides, drugs were a part of my past, as I hoped they were for Mike. Mike had been at Thor for two and a half weeks when he received his first full paycheck. He was practically ecstatic. Again,I didn't ask questions. Perhaps the check would keep him from being evicted from his apartment or to buy food for his family.

I went to work the next night and began my usual routine. When break time arrived, I headed to the microwave where Mike was always waiting. But there was no Mike.This seemed odd. Mike had never missed work before, and I knew how much he liked his job. I returned to work, but Mike's absence weighed heavily on my mind. An hour or so later my supervisor came by, and I had to ask. Did Mike call in? She looked at me with apprehension then she told me that a relative of Mike's had called and informed her that Mike had overdosed and died earlier in the day.

The news hit me like a punch to the gut. I didn't get much work done the rest of the night. My mind was elsewhere. I thought about the numerous articles I had read about the heroin epidemic and the impact it was having. But when it takes away someone you know and care about, it really hits home. Mike often talked about his kids, and I had to wonder how his death would affect them. It would be easy for many of us to judge Mike, but until you walk a mile in his shoes, you have no room to judge.

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