March In Review

Editor’s Note: As you may have noticed, we here at Points have not been publishing our regular Week in Review lately. Instead, we’re experimenting with a new monthly review column that will allow our readership to get a more holistic sense of the various projects Points’ contributors have been working on. This means that, in the interest of brevity, we will be offering less discussion of recent articles. Instead, we will provide reader with more straightforward references which, we hope, will promote ease-of-use. If you have any thoughts on our recent changes, please drop us a line at or leave a comment below.

March 2012 was one of Points’ busiest months ever, as the site’s army of contributing writers continued to provide us with original content nearly every day. From our innovative symposium to a spate of articles on drugs and alcohol in popular culture, we were happy to bring an extraordinary variety of voices to Points over the last four weeks.

Points’ biggest undertaking this month was undoubtedly our symposium “Addiction, History, and Historians,” a series of commentaries on David Courtwright’s provocative article “Addiction and the Science of History.” We were lucky enough to convince a number top-rate scholars to provide us with their own responses to Dr. Courtwright’s article. We started off the symposium with meditations from Points Contributing Editor Nancy Campbell, Alex Mold of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Clarkson University Professor of Anthropology Daniel Bradburd, and Columbia University Professor of History Samuel Roberts. With these four incisive, powerful posts in hand, Dr. Courtwright, himself a Professor of History at the University of North Florida, relayed a compelling response. Longtime Points friend and contributor Ron Roizen wrapped up the symposium with a spritely reply to Dr. Courtwright’s reply, which he accompanied with a truly memorable work of outsider art. 

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Lessons of the Narcotic Farm, Part Three: The Jenny Barn (continued)

Editor’s note: Today, we present the second half of Nancy’s Campbell’s “Lessons of the Narcotic Farm, Part Three: The Jenny Barn.”  You can find the first half of this post here.  Part One and Part Two of the series make useful complements to today’s post!

In addition to nutritious food, women at Narco lived on a steady diet of talk about drugs­. ‘Dope on dope’ was central to Janet’s experience:

“It’s an international exchange for information concerning dope. . . . You sit around in this dayroom . . . and tell one another stories about junk.” (1961, 220) She didn’t become any less of a junkie inside: “All is junk, and that’s all, you know; that’s the way it is. This identification of yourself as a junkie. After the first six, eight months that I was making it, I never said, ‘Well, I’m a junkie,’ as an excuse or anything. [Since Lexington] I say it constantly. I always refer to myself as a junkie, even when I’m not hooked on anything. And when you’re first introduced to somebody for the first time, the first thing you find out is whether he’s a junkie or not. It’s like belonging to some fantastic lodge, you know, but the initiation ceremony is a lot rougher.”

 Something of an amateur sociologist, Janet described “petty class distinctions” at work in the social structure of the Lexington sorority. Everybody’s first question was, “Vol or Con?” Cons stayed longer and were on top of the social hierarchy. Then came drug of choice: “The people who use horse [heroin] all look down on the people who use M and the people who use M all think they’re much better than the people who use dilaudid, and everybody looks down on demerol users as notorious fools” (1961, 219). Janet herself acquired a reputation as a “female homosexual,” because she deviated from the “one-woman-to-a-bed” rule. She disclaimed sexual feelings for other women, but described with interest lesbians bleaching their hair, dressing in slit skirts and sexy blouses, and gathering to dance after dinner—“as if every day was a holiday.”

While not enticed by the lesbian subculture, she was drawn to the jazz subculture. Unlike many of their female compatriots, Janet and May, a pregnant African-American women she befriended, were “hep” to the Chicago jazz scene (where Janet had met her husband, a trombone player, and pianist Howard Becker). On Friday nights, the women eagerly went over to the main institution for the “con” show. Concerts were an occasions for male and female patients to socialize. The inevitable illicit romantic entanglements that ensued were aided by an elaborate system of “kiting,” or messages sent between inmates by every surreptitious method imaginable.

On Stage at Lexington
On stage in the 1,200 seat auditorium at The Narcotic Farm.
(Courtesy Kentucky Historical Society)

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The Mule

In 2004, the role of women as mules entered the popular imagination with the release of the film Maria Full of Grace that depicts the life of a young Colombian woman who swallows cocaine and smuggles it into the United States  She passes through the port of entry at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the present day Ellis Island.  In the film,  Maria works in one of Colombia’s other leading industries, flower export.   She resorts to working as a cocaine mule due to her precarious economic situation when she loses her job.  Young, unemployed, and pregnant,  she enters into the trade seeking to improve her life. Instead she encounters difficulties.

Directed by Joshua Marston, 2004.

The case of “Maria” is not unusual in considering the work of contemporary anthropologists and criminologists who study drug trafficking.  Maria Full of Grace gained recognition because it placed women into an alleged masculine world.  Maria is instrumental to transnational flows of products whether of legal carnations or illegal cocaine.  The protagonist Maria was not the stereotypical feminine image of films in the drug genre. Women of this melodramatic imagination play sultry sirens to drug lords, junkies in search of  fixes, or whores who turn tricks in the freak houses.

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Alcohol policy – a risky business

Last Friday, the UK Government released its new Alcohol Strategy.  It outlined plans to more strictly regulate late-night alcohol retail while signalling to the drinks industry that it should do more to tackle excessive consumption through voluntary agreements. However, it’s headline-grabbing provision was the introduction of minimum unit pricing to tackle binge drinking.

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Lessons of the Narcotic Farm, Part Three: The Jenny Barn

Editor’s Note: Today, Points presents the third part in an ongoing consideration of the Lexington Narcotic Farm’s history and legacy.  Readers may wish to have a look at Part One and Part Two of the series, authored by JP Olsen.  Part Three, “The Jenny Barn,” comes from Contributing Editor Nancy Campbell, as a two-part post.  Look for the second-half of this post shortly.

The Jenny Barn

When the United States Narcotic Farm opened in Lexington, KY in 1935, it was for men only. Two decades of strict enforcement of narcotic controls had fostered an illicit underground of criminalized drug addicts willing to break the law for a fix – and they were mostly men. But in 1941 the Public Health Service opened a new Women’s Building at Narco named Kolb Hall. Everyone called it The Jenny Barn.

The "Jenny Barn" at Lexington
The "Jenny Barn"
"Using Women" (Routledge, 2000)

A “jenny” is a nickname for a female donkey.  That the term was applied to female patients at Lexington signals the depth of sexist attitudes at the time.  Representations of female addicts as more deviant than their male counterparts were common. Women who did not conform to gendered social norms carried a heavy burden of intersectional stigma, a subject I discuss in depth elsewhere.

The more polite moniker for the Women’s Building honored Lawrence Kolb, Sr., first Medical Officer in Charge, who campaigned to admit women. His logic, expressed in correspondence with his superiors at the U. S. Public Health Service, was the following:

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Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks”

Consciousness Raising Session, 1969
(Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)

Editor’s Note:  A few days ago I articulated my interest in uncovering the radical feminist position on drug use and abuse—or in figuring out why radical feminists didn’t have one.  Now in the document-gathering phase, I’ve come across one early statement on drugs that seems particularly noteworthy.  “A Female Junkie Speaks,” which appeared in the collection Notes from the Second Year, a volume that might well be subtitled “greatest hits of women’s liberation,” is also difficult to obtain.  Edited by Shulamith Firestone, Notes collects various writings by the group New York Radical Women; it appeared in limited numbers in early 1970 and has never been reprinted.  Key essays within it form the canon of the movement and are widely anthologized– Pat Mainardi’s “The Politics of Housework,” Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,”  Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political,” and Kathie Sarachild’s “A Program for Feminist ‘Consciousness-Raising,’” (a later version is available here) to name just a few. 

“A Female Junkie Speaks,” however, is not a canonical text, despite its subject’s facility with key concepts in women’s liberation.  In this short “interview” with feminist poet and NYRW member Lucille Iverson, she articulates white middle-class culture’s propensity for the symbolic annihilation of women, theorizes the normative female subject position as a form of prostitution, and endorses women’s consciousness-raising and female community as key antidotes to oppression– and addiction.  But late in the piece, “Susan” notes her consciousness-raising group’s negative response to her admission that she is a drug addict; the text is frustratingly silent on what prompts the members’ “resent[ment].”   It concludes with a hopeful call to radical feminists to actively engage with “female junkies.”  Exactly why that call was not heeded will, I hope, be the subject of future posts.

A Female Junkie Speaks
Interview by Lucille Iverson
Susan, the girl speaking here, has been a drug-user and junkie off and on for almost ten years; she has recently joined Women’s Liberation.

No one can be liberated alone….

To come home and be all alone, man, I can’t stand that.

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Weekend Reads: Rick Scott Edition

Rick Scott, Governor of Florida

As you may or may not know, Points’ HQ is nestled in the sticky, swampy collegiate backwater of Gainesville, Florida. Located just a few hours from the state capital of Tallahassee, we here at the University of Florida get a regular chance to see Governor Rick Scott at work. While Scott’s archconservative policies don’t tend to play well within Gainesville’s baby blue confines, even the Governor’s most ardent critics must acknowledge Scott’s chutzpa. The Governor is conservative in mindset, but certainly not in method, as to watch him work Congress is to watch a man very much on the vanguard of reactionary politics. Without sounding overly grandiloquent, I consider Mr. Scott nothing less than the Arnold Schoenberg of the Tea Party scene.

The first fortnight of March has seen Rick Scott pushing an agenda that, as is so often the case, finds Florida’s chief executive blazing a new trail for the right. Florida, like many other states, remains ensnared in recession and that has the head of the Sunshine State feverishly searching the 99% for scapegoats. Having already put in place drug and alcohol tests for welfare recipients, Mr. Scott just recently passed a measure instituting drug testing for the state’s public employees, a move that will, by no means, address the economic issues he claims are his top priority. The Florida legislature passed the measure on March 9 and, pending legal challenges, government agencies will soon have the power to, once every three months, randomly test up to 10% of their workforce for drugs (illegal and prescription) and alcohol.

Big Brother: The only known force - except for pizza - that can bring together unionists and libertarians.

Scott and his supporters claim that the measure is not politically driven, but is rather an earnest attempt to protect the public from impaired public employees. Moreover, it will provide an opportunity for – or, perhaps more accurately, will foist the opportunity upon – civil servants with drug problems to “get clean.” Despite the professed good intentions of the measures, the proposal has raised objections from both the right and left, bringing together an unlikely coalition of labour unionists, lawyers, and libertarians. While the groups do not necessarily share the same concerns – conservatives have more often expressed worry over the costs of the program; liberals frequently seem to see the central issue as being one of personal rights to privacy – the opposition is very real, though unlikely to derail Scott’s plans. At this point, the only real barrier to drug testing Florida’s public employees is the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear upcoming legal challenges on whether the program violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, specifically those measures barring illegal search and seizure.

Given that public drug testing is experiencing opposition from both sides of the aisle, and the program will be burdened with real challenges regarding both expense and legality, why is the Scott government so insistent on pursuing this policy? As Mr. Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor points out, it’s not really about drugs. Rather, the Scott government is trying to make political hay out of insinuating that the economy is bad because of waste, inefficiency, and theft. Jonsson spoke to Colin Gordon, a labor historian at the University of Iowa, who notes that, “despite our constitutional legal traditions, there’s always a lot to be reaped from the argument that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” Gordon laments “how little weight the civil liberties argument has – an implication that has become exaggerated in the war-on-terror era, and which says we can and should suspend liberties for people who don’t deserve them.”

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In Search of the Drunken Native

In a March 3, 2012 New York Times article, “At Tribe’s Door, a Hub of Beer and Heartache,” reporter Timothy Williams provides yet another account of the terrible consequences associated with alcohol consumption among native Americans.  This article, which of course joins many others on the same topic, touches on a number of familiar points, in particular the assumed collective susceptibility of Native Americans to alcohol and their vulnerability to the agents of capitalism.

Whiteclay, Nebraska is a ramshackle hamlet on the border not only of South Dakota but of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation—which has banned alcohol since the 1970s. There, a small number of  white beer store owners sell annually almost five million cans of beer and malt liquor—almost all to members of the Oglala Sioux tribe.

Whiteclay, NE
Pop: 14; Annual revenues from alcohol sales: $3 million

These are the latest version of the unscrupulous white traders who have populated the narratives of Native American drinking since the seventeenth century.  In this case, they offer to cash income tax checks for a 3 percent commission and selling 30 packs of Bud for a price higher than that charged in New York City and more than twice the going price in most of the country.  In this account the ravages of alcohol consumption involve virtually every family.  “As an indication of the depth of the problem,” the Times notes that even a tribal vice president, a leader in the fight to restrict alcohol sales in Whiteclay, was recently arrested on alcohol-related charges.  In 2011 tribal police made 20,000 alcohol-related arrests in a reservation with an apparently undifferentiated population of 45,000.

The article reminds us that this is not just a problem for the Oglala Sioux, but for Native Americans generally.  Without an explanation for the leap to a national/racial scope, we’re reminded that about one third of U.S. reservations ban alcohol and that “excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of preventable death among American Indians.”  And in fact the threat of extinction lurks in this article as it has in accounts of native drinking for four centuries.  As one tribal police captain notes, “not to disrespect our elders and ancestors, but we’ve gone through several generations.”

When It's Time to Lose Command over Yourself

In his famous 1802 testimony to Thomas Jefferson, Chief Little Turtle told the President, “your children have not that command over themselves which you have, therefore, before anything can be done to advantage, this evil must be remedied.”And so the Oglala Sioux, implicitly recognizing that they “have not that command over themselves,” have gone to court to lay blame for their affliction not only on the beer stores in Whiteclay but  the Anheuser-Busch company that produces the high-alcohol Hurricane High Gravity Lager that is the current drink of choice in Pine Ridge. The purpose of this post is not to dismiss or intellectualize away the enormous problems linked to alcohol in many of the nation’s Native American communities, but to invite discussion about  the remarkably persistent and pervasive mythology of the drunken native and of the more general susceptibility of aboriginal (or “indigenous”) people to alcohol. 

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