Bernard Fletcher started writing letters to drug treatment programs on March 26, the day after he had pleaded guilty to a heroin peddling charge. He wrote to Second Genesis, CADAC, RAP, Delancey Street, and then sat back in his cell at the D.C. Jail to wait for word on where he'd be accepted.
Fletcher is still waiting.
He rises at 5:30 a.m. to prepare thousands of breakfast sausages for other inmates, in his new job as jailhouse butcher. He spends the rest of the day reading the Bible, watching television and sleeping in his cell, hoping good news will arrive before his May 22 sentencing date.
Fletcher, 32, could be exempted from a four-year mandatory minimum prison term because of his longtime addiction to heroin. But unless he is accepted by one of the drug programs, he probably will be sent to one of the city's already crowded prisons, said his attorney, Leslie Holt. So far, the response to his letters has been sparse and discouraging.
Counselors at Second Genesis said they would not have a chance to look at his application for at least a month and it would be weeks after that before he could be admitted, if they accepted him. "If you have involvement with a court and you are scheduled for sentencing before May 19, 1986," wrote one of the program's therapists, "I would suggest that you contact your attorney to investigate other treatment alternatives, or try to get your case continued until late May or early June."
The impending date with the city's mandatory sentencing law marks a transition in Fletcher's 10 years as a hard-core junkie. He already has spent two years in jail for a variety of drug arrests, and had arrests for shoplifting in the Maryland suburbs.
A tall, slender man who wears a wooden cross on a beaded necklace, Fletcher was living with his brother and sister on Blair Road NW in the house they inherited from their mother. He graduated from Calvin Coolidge Senior High School and drove a dump truck for a demolition company in Northern Virginia up to the day of his arrest, but his life revolved around the heroin he injected morning, noon and night.
"It's like, once you start, if you don't get it, you're going to die," Fletcher said.
He would drive the dump truck downtown on his lunch break to get a fix and when he got off work in the afternoon would head for the drug market near 14th and W streets NW, he said, to pick up a package of heroin "quarters" to peddle for another injection.
After years of injecting heroin, Fletcher needed more and more of the drug. He would take three doses at a time -- more than $100 worth -- and cook it up in the lid of a mayonnaise jar, and then inject it into a vein in his groin. Fletcher said he usually stayed out on the streets into the night until he had sold enough to buy three more packets: his wake-up shot for the following morning.
When police picked him up Feb. 6, it was cold-turkey withdrawal for Fletcher. He walked into the jail sweating, he said, and spent the next week alternately pacing his cell and trying to sleep it off.
"They don't give you anything when you kick," he said. "You can't hold down food. You don't want to move. You just want to lay in your bed."
Fletcher said he still feels the tug of his addiction: "If there was a million dollars right there and the drugs was right there, I think I'd take the drugs." But he doesn't see why he should have to pay for his crime in prison.
"I'm 32 years of age now, and I know drugs just can't help me anymore," he said. "I will keep on trying. There's just no way out."
Attorney Holt has heard it before, and he's prepared for the worst.
"The people in the city are not spending money to treat these people," he said. "They're spending the money to incarcerate them."