PLEASE ANSWER EACH QUESTION COMPLETELY
NAME: Harris “Hands” Conaway
DOB: 5/1/ 77
ADDRESS: Withheld because of privacy concerns (available from applicant)
Employer: St. Louis Cardinals, L.L.C.
Person Making Referral: self
Describe when you first knew you were addicted to drugs, include references to the circumstances leading up to the realization and describing the life events, traumas, experiences and relationships that you believe caused the addiction.
It all started that September weekend in St. Louis three years ago. We were chasing Pittsburgh for the second wild card. Skip wanted to pull me in the top of the sixth while we were down one. I talked him out of it. “Its in my hands, Skip,” I told him, “there’s a reason that’s my nickname.” In the bottom of the inning I worked Hashman for a walk. A dribbler got me to second and then Garp pulled one into left that got down and I was off for home as fast as my 37 year old legs would motor. Bledic’s got a cannon so Pop should have held me up but he was giving me the windmill. I put it into high gear and put my head down. I looked up just in time to see a white blur flash into Espinosa’s mitt. I was still ten feet from home.
Putting on the brakes as fast I as could, I felt a tug and then left knee exploded in pain. I went down, folding up like a paper bag. I tried to get up but I wasn’t going anywhere. They tagged me out. I was out for the season, having torn my ACL.
My knee swelled to three times its normal size, the ligament was completely torn. To put any weight on it was like setting my leg on fire. Doc said at my age it’d be best for me to give up activity that put stress on the knees. That’s hard when you pitch for a living. Its even harder when you’ve got 291 career wins and nobody’s ever supposed to reach 300 again. So I asked Doc what Plan B was.
Plan B was reconstructive surgery. He took out the damaged ligament and replaced it with a grafted tendon. The tendon acts like scaffolding that a new ligament can grow on. A couple of weeks off and I started the rehab from hell. My knee hurt all the time. Even sitting in the Laz-E-Boy too long made it throb When I tried the exercises the first time I cried like a baby. I’d read about Brett Favre’s problems with pain-killers so I said no the first three or four times I was offered them, but eventually it just got to be too much.
The first time I took an Oxycotin it was like swallowing manna from heaven. In a matter of minutes it took me from cold sweats and nausea to a warmth I hadn’t known since my moma wrapped me in a blanket as a child. I had a new best friend.
In this rehab you needed a friend. The static bike was o.k. but when my PT guy said hop on my bad leg I asked him if he was kidding? He wasn’t. It was like somebody put a jack hammer to my knee cap. Doc’s number was my most frequently dialed. By the time I started jogging I was eating pills like candy. Nothing else really touched the pain. Not the constant ice packs, not the local injections. I should have known then I was hooked but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking I had nine more to go and not much else.
By February Doc said I could try throwing again. He wasn’t making any promises, but I could try it. It was show time and the pressure was on. Funny thing about them little pills. If you’re feeling uptight and tense before you take them all that goes away pretty quick. The Club didn’t say it in so many words but I knew I only had so much time. 300 wins or not they had a rotation to fill and they wanted to know if I was their man. So I was tense a lot, at least till my best friend showed up.
I hadn’t really thought about the fact I would have to pee in a cup when I got to camp. That wasn’t on my radar in years past.. It didn’t take Einstein to figure all the pills I was popping would put me over the limit. Still, I’d never been one to juice, so I went in ignorant of what might happen.
I was nearly twice the legal limit. A referral to the Health Policy Committee and an order to report for a treatment evaluation followed. The Club told me not to go back to my doctor, I was to report to their handpicked pain doc. I squawked a little but I was doing what they said, not wanting anything to come between me and number 300.
Their doc was a pill Nazi. He cut me off the Oxycotin. I started cramping up all the time. I threw up nearly every day and constantly felt like I had the flu. The pill Nazi was not sympathetic. Ibuprofen was his solution to everything.. But Ibu didn’t even touch what I was dealing with. I could get in about ten minutes of warm up before I got nauseous. Pitching and stomach cramps don’t mix. The Club declared me an addict and mandated me to inpatient rehab.
The Recovery Farm might have helped some people but for me it was an education in the fine art of sourcing illegal pills and passing urine screens. I was there two days before a college kid in my group therapy had me hooked up with a dirty doc in Collinsville. A friend of his from St. Charles sold high priced urine and a tube contraption that worked even in the presence of a “collector.” I’m not proud of it but I didn’t see how sitting in a folding chair spilling my guts to a group of pill heads was going to get me back in the rotation. Time was not my friend and my GM was not a man of unlimited patience. I did what it took to get out of there quickly.
Twenty eight days later I walked out of The Recovery Farm a “new man.” The press release talked about the dangers of opioid over prescription and the importance of selecting your medical providers more wisely. Meanwhile I was making a weekly trip to Collinsville. The Club send me back down to Florida for an extended spring
As long as I had my best friend along things progressed well in the Sunshine State. The surgery worked and my knee was feeling pretty normal as long as the pills were available. The Club sent me up to Peoria for a rehab stint and I was looking forward to getting quickly back into the Show.
But things fell apart in Peoria. My Collinsville doc got arrested. His runner didn’t show up at the appointed time.I knew I was in trouble. The next day I was cramping pretty badly and scheduled to pitch that night. Late that morning I got a knock on my hotel room door. It was my urine guy.
“Hear you got a problem,“ he said, after closing the door.Reaching into his hoodie pocket he pulled out a plastic baggie full of brown cakey powder I’d never seen heroin before but nothing else in a baggie looks like what this did. “No!” I shouted. “Get that outta here now, I ain’t no junkie.” I pressed my hand to his shoulder and went to open the door. Pills were one thing, but in my mind there was a difference between guys who took a pill to help get them through a rough patch and the junkie that shot up. I wasn’t going to be one of those.
To my surprise he pushed back. “ Look,” he said, “it’s a temporary solution just til you find another doc. You don’t have to shoot it, you can snort it, just keep it to that and it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Somehow, between the stomach cramps and the nerves that made sense to me. I took the bag and got a quick lesson on the finer points of snorting heroin. One line later, I had a new best friend. If Oxycotin was like watching cable TV then heroin was watching in HD. I was feeling no pain. I threw seven innings of two hit ball that night. The Club called my rehab a success and placed me back on the roster. I left Peoria with a new best friend.
Describe previous treatment for your addiction, include assessments of your success or failure in treatment, and to what you attribute those successes or failures.
Nothing has really worked well, but I guess some programs made more of a difference than others. I’ve already told you what a farce The Recovery Farm was. Part of that was me just looking for paperwork to show the Committee I had “recovered.” Part of it was a lack of commitment to holding people accountable on their part. Both sides were more interested in what looked good on paper than what actually gets people clean. But take that for what’s it worth, I know I’m not clean yet.
When the Club called me back up, I tried for a few weeks to get rid of the junk and back to the pills, but I soon found out pills were hard to come by. My doc’s arrest had spooked off those that had them. My name recognition probably kept them at arm’s length too. No matter how much money I offered, nobody was selling.
In the meantime, my urine guy kept the junk coming. Taking his advice, I kept doing lines and nothing else. I had no intention of sticking a needle in my arm. I never liked them even in a doctor’s office, and there was no way I was doing that to myself.
My season started off pretty well. The Club had already set their rotation by the time I got back from my extended spring so they slotted me in as a long reliever The idea was I would get stronger and wait til one of the five starters was struggling before I would go back into the rotation. I went along with it, thinking it wouldn’t be long before somebody’s year went south and I’d be back where I belonged.
But near the end of May, my urine guy just disappeared. Our deal was he would deliver a week’s worth of junk at a time when we were home and two weeks if we were going on the road. But near the end of a homestand he didn’t show. No call, no text, no nothing. We left the next day for Miami and I only had three days worth.
By that next Wednesday my stash was gone. The trip was a short one, just three games in Florida and then three more in Atlanta. I was hoping he’d show when we got back home and I could make it through somehow til then. I had a buddy on the team that had just had hammie surgery and a script for Vicodin. He let me bum a pill once or twice when I told him I was short. That helped a little but by the time we left Miami for Atlanta I was hurting.
Sitting in the pen the next night I started to cramp up. It was hot in Georgia so I didn’t have explain the sweat on my forehead, but when they told me to warm up, standing up made my head swim. I threw 5-6 pitches before the cramps got real bad. I had to bend over and try to get my head on straight. “What’s wrong, Hands?” was the last thing I remember hearing before I passed out. I went down right from the bullpen mound, crashed into a heap in front of the whole crew and twenty some thousand Braves faithful. I woke up two hours later in the ER, hooked up to IV and a nurse taking my blood. I was praying the junk I’d snorted three days ago was out of my system but I was pretty sure that Vicodin was gonna show up.
Turns out they both did. I was violated under the Substance Abuse Policy. I spend two days in the Atlanta hospital and got my notice of an intent to suspend the day I left. Fifty days off and I was to complete treatment.
The team doc sent me to a rehab called Clarity. It was part of a hospital in the middle of Utah. One nice, long drive for any media that might think about snooping around and in a county that was dry, enough to keep any reporter I knew away.
Clarity was big on structure. In that way it was a cut above The Recovery Farm. They kept you busy twenty four seven. Out of bed at six. Breakfast at 6:30. Group at seven. Drop sometime after that unannounced. Individual therapy at ten. Lunch at 12 Plenary session with special speaker at 1. Back to group at three, Service project at 4, Dinner at 6, Serenity time (by yourself in your room ) til 8, Lights out at 8. Get up at 6 and do it again. Structure was supposed to give you no time to think about using. The special speakers were mostly ex-jocks or business people that beat their addiction. They did it mostly by focusing on their goal. “If you want the ring, you gotta stay clean, “ more than one of them said.
That struck a chord with me of course. I had a goal- number 300- and now what stood between me and it was getting clean. I started to pay attention to what the counselors in group were saying. The pill heads and junkies in group weren’t such losers after all. They were all working toward something. One guy towards his MBA, a soccer gal trying to get a D I scholarship, another kid trying to keep his marriage from falling apart. Suddenly it all made sense to me. Focus on the goal and you’ll stay clean. Pretty simple. Why hadn’t it sunk before now?
I checked out of Clarity ninety days later with a clean bill of health and a new attitude. I found out I could work out without too much pain without my best friend. I kept the focus on what lay ahead, I forgot about the past. I was going to finish well, get those nine wins and help the team make the playoffs.
The Club sent me back down to Florida for conditioning. My trainer started me out light, riding a bike, stretching and jogging. But gradually we worked back toward throwing. I started slowiy, fifteen minutes the first day. Twenty the second. Gradually I worked it up to an hour and a half. Then we brought in some kids from the Rookie League team and had a three inning simulation. That’s when it went South again.
I mowed the first six newbies down without working up much of a sweat. But then in the top of the third the first guy up drove one down into the dirt in front of the plate that high hopped toward me. I jumped up to catch it. Coming down, I landed on the back side of the rubber with my right foot, twisting as I pivoted to throw to first. My kneecap was twisted and I felt pain like I hadn’t in a long time. I had to have help getting up.They rushed me to a local ER. The pictures didn’t show a break but the ER doc thought I might have slightly torn my reconstructed ACL. The thing was burning like crazy. They called the pill Nazi but he wouldn’t give me anything but Ibu. The ER doc was sympathetic but he didn’t have any other solutions. They sent me back to the hotel with some Ibu and told me to rest.
Fat chance I was doing that. My knee throbbed all night and I couldn’t sleep. I flipped on the TV just after midnight and was greeted by some talking head on FS1 telling the world how I was the new Roger Clemens. Opioids were the new steroids and I was the poster boy for MLB getting tough on them. He didn’t care if I won 400 games, it didn’t mean anything as long as I was drug addled. And how would anybody really ever know? That was about as much of that as I could take. I hit the remote and limped down to the bar.
About halfway through my second beer the thought occurred that the talking head might be right. I sat in the near empty lounge, knee barking, head pounding and began to wax philosophical. Was I the next Roger Clemens? Was it really worth it punishing my body the way I was and would have to for the next year to make a goal that the geniuses on cable sports would dismiss as “fake news.?”
I’d spend my whole life playing a game meant for ten year old boys. I’d loved every minute of it until that day in September. But the thrill was gone. It wasn’t fun anymore. It had become a grind. A grind I was risking my life and liberty daily to make happen. And who really would care? Some die hard Cardinal fans, maybe some of my old teammates. Plenty of media types, but not because they cared about me. They’d care because it would give them something to write about, talk about, yell at each other between commercial breaks about.
Four beers and forty five minutes later the bar was closing. I didn’t feel much better, in fact I was getting nauseous so I stopped by the concierge desk to see if they had any pink stuff. The guy behind the desk brought me a bottle and I gimped my way back to the elevator.
Five minutes after I got back to the room I heard a knock at the door. Looking through the keyhole I saw the guy from the concierge desk. I opened the door and he thrust a foil packet of Tylenol toward me. “You looked like you was hurtin’ Mr. Conaway, so I thought these might help.” As he plunked the packet into my hand, I felt something underneath it. Turning it over, I found a large white pill.
I assumed it was a sleeping pill, but comparing the markings on it to what I could find on my phone showed it was probably Vicodin. Definitely on the list of prohibited substances. I threw it onto the desk next to the TV and hopped back to bed, flipping the TV back on.
The talking head was now part of a panel of three debating whether I should give my Cy Young back. “How do we know he wasn’t takin’ his happy pills back then?,” the genius pronounced. I didn’t wait to see if I had a defender, I shut if off and tried to go to sleep.
Sleep didn’t come easy, I rolled and tossed for a couple of hours before I finally drifted off. Next thing I knew my phone was going off. It was the pill Nazi wondering how I was. He was flying down to take a look at me. “Maybe we can get you something a little stronger for your knee,” he mumbled.
Something a little stronger turned out to be a double dose of Ibuprofen. That didn’t really touch the pain. Give it time said the Nazi. Easy for him to say I thought. He gave me an exercise regimen that kept me busy 4 hours a day and flew back to St. Louis. I wasn’t supposed to throw til the second week. That left me too much free time.
My knee throbbed ten minutes into the PT regimen. The Ibu was worthless and I had nothing to do but trade jokes with my trainer, drink, play games on my phone and watch TV. I wasn’t sleeping well, lucky to get 3-4 hours a night.
After four days of this I limped in from the bar and tried to find the TV remote. There sat that white pill. It felt like it was calling me. I was a little buzzed and my knee was barking pretty loud. Why not? I thought, I’ve had Vicodin before, what’s one little pill gonna hurt. I grabbed it and swallowed.
My knee pain disappeared within a few minutes, finally I thought, a little peace. But then I started feeling a high like I’d never had before. The rush was incredible. This stuff wasn’t Vicodin. It just kept getting more intense. I broke out in a sweat, the room started spinning, I couldn’t breathe. I staggered out into the hallway and yelled for help. Somebody rushed over to me from the elevator. That’s the last thing I saw for two days.
I woke up in the hospital, Turns out the pill was Fentanyl That was the start of my next rehab. I was suspended for a year. The foil packet had two more in it. Good thing I hadn’t taken them. But I’d stuck the foil in my jeans, that earned me a Possession of Controlled Substances charge.
Describe why you believe Drug Court will be beneficial for you and why you believe you will succeed in it when you have not succeeded in traditional treatment programs, be as specific as possible in describing the factors you believe will make you successful.
When my one year suspension was announced The Club released me. It wasn’t that I didn’t expect it, but still after 18 years you might expect an effort to try to work something out. All I got was a phone call.
The isolation I felt was killing me and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Baseball had been my life for as far back as I could remember. Now nobody in baseball wanted anything to do with me. Guilt by association I guess. I got a visit or two from a retired teammate, a couple of calls and texts from current ones but after the first couple of weeks they all stayed away. Everybody but the press of course. After I got back from my second stint at Clarity they were everywhere I went. I holed up in my house if I wasn’t at the Doctor’s, the gym or my P.O.‘s office. I couldn’t leave the house without a car following me, somebody snapping photos.
I keep telling myself I wasn’t giving up on my goal. I went to the gym everyday and hired my own trainer to keep me honest. But had I been honest with myself, the truth was I really didn’t believe I would pitch in another MLB game. My agent was not calling. There was no interest in signing me. I was fooling myself into believing things were going to get better. I was so desperate I took a couple of calls from Independent League teams.
All of the workouts were not making my knee feel better. It was hurting all the time, barking loudest when I got home from the gym. Which is why I eventually convinced myself relapse was inevitable.
Embarrased as I am to say it, I called on my urine guy and, as usual, he was faithful to deliver. This time though I didn’t get away with it. There was a new prosecutor assigned who didn’t trust urine tests. He had all his cases blood tested. And naturally I came up dirty. They arrested me on the spot.I was headed back to court on a Probation revocation and looking at the possibility of prison.
My lawyer was shocked the next day when the Judge took my bond reduction request under advisement, leaving me in jail for the time being. He and the prosecutor went back to the Judge’s chambers to talk. When they came out he said the Judge wanted me to talk to somebody and wasn’t going to set bond til I did.
The lawyer and I went back to the jail and they sat me down at the table in the Visitation Room.My lawyer was being mysterious about whom I was to talk to. “Just be polite, and keep in mind the Judge will hear hear about everything that goes on here,” was as much as he offered.
He’d barely finished when the hallway door opened and in walked Colten Lynch. Colten Lynch was my 19 year old son. He looked terrible, pale and thin, tattoos everywhere.
Colton’s mom and I had briefly been together during Spring Training of my rookie season. When she told me she was pregnant, I asked how she was going to care of that. That offended her I guess and I didn’t see her again til Colten was eighteen months old. She invited me to court to wrangle over child support. She wasn’t happy with what I was willing to pay. She didn’t understand how hard it is for a MLB player to see their kids during the season. One ugly shouting match in the Courthouse lead to me not seeing Colten for another three years. Even after that it was only in the off season and only when the Court said so. Since he’d gotten into high school it seemed like he was busy or I was busy and we were just missing each other. I’d kinda lost track of him.
But here he was now. Reflexively I stood up and went to give him a hug.
“Sit down old man,” he scowled back at me,.. I ‘m not here for no family reunion, you’ve had plenty of time for that which you never bothered with, …It’s plenty clear you don’t give a rat’s about me, never did, I’m done with all that.”
Puzzled and hurt I slowly sat back down.
“ I dragged myself down here cause somebody who does care for me asked me to. See you and me got a mutual problem, seems we both like smack too much and we both been runnin’ in and out of rehab..”
He paused and stared at me, looking for a response, but I really couldn’t of said anything, even if I’d of thought of something to say. “O, Colten…I had no idea…” was all I could manage.
“Well, course you didn’t!” he shot back, “ you had important stuff to think about, pennant races and World Series rings, Cy Young and of course, the Holy Grail…number 300, God knows you can’t let a little thing like family get in the way of important stuff like that. It’a been awful selfish of me to get in the way of that! So hey, don’t sweat it man, no biggie...”
I hung my head, not really thinking about what was coming out of my mouth. “ Nobody told me, son, I’m so sorry but I didn’t know.”
“Yeah,” he snarked, ”poor old Hands,” He put his hands on his hips and looked away from me. There was award silence in the room that felt like it lasted forever.
Finally I thought of something to say. “Why did you come, son, why’s this Judge want me to talk to you?”
He calmed down a bit and pulled up a chair, “I been clean for nine months now. Haven’t touched the smack. I’d been using just about every day for two years before that. Mom had me in rehab for six months. That didn’t work. I caught a Burglary and was lookin’ at 3 years but then the DA offered Drug Court. At first I said, “No way, I’ll go to prison before I sign up for that Nazi crap, droppin’ every day, huddlin’ up with all the other junkies teliin’ them how I feel their pain, that ain’t me…. But my lawyer said you think you’d like prison better? So that made me give it a try. And you know, all I can say is it works. It works cause you can’t b.s. your way through it like you can with rehab. You screw up you go to jail, not six months after you screw up but the next week, man. You see the Judge every week and you gotta tell him everything you did since last time you seen him. Plus you drop just about every day at first. If you’re using their gonna find out…”
Colton and I had never really gotten deep before. Most of the time when we spent time together we’d talk about me and my latest and greatest acheivements. I really had no idea there was a problem with him using. His mom and I had stopped talking years before. The gears were spinning wildly in my head. The noise from my head was too loud for much to be clear, but one thought seemed to blast its way through. My life had been all about me for too long.
Somehow I’d let the golden ring I was chasing overshadow the things that should have really mattered. While I was chasing 300 wins my son was drowning in drugs and I had no clue.
They called me “Hands” because I also seemed to be in control. Skip could hand me the ball every five days knowing he could count on six or seven innings of solid work. I was like clockwork. I was as dependable as the sun rising in the east.
But that dependability came at a terrible cost. I had drawn my circle too narrowly. Anything that fell outside the orbit of baseball was excluded. And now that baseball had forced me out of its orbit, I was drifting, lost in an unfamiliar space, tethered to nothing.
I hope that Drug Court will give me a base of stability to be anchored to. I’ve come to realize I can’t control my urge to do heroin on my own. I thought I could control my injury with the drug, but in reality the drug was controlling me. I know now that I can’t do conquer this addiction on my own, its out of my hands.
Tom Funk is an Associate Circuit Judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Illinois. For the past four years he has been the presiding judge in the Logan County Drug Court where he meets weekly with 3-5 participants in recovery and hears their stories. He is married to Karrie and has three children.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.