From Lupe L. Salazar, Barrios Unidos:
Fourteen years ago, I began a fruitless search to find help for Fernando. He had just turned 18 and landed in the Espanola City Jail with his 1st Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charge. He walked out of jail, a Tecato, a junkie, an intravenous user. I went to every imaginable person in power to ask for help, and found no one. I was told by officials and judges “we had no drug problems!”
As time progressed, Fernando became entrenched in “the system.” His situation grew worse, especially in Tierra Amarilla County Jail. There, a doctor from University of New Mexico Hospital drugged the inmates, hence the inmates nickname became: “Zombies of Rio Arriba County.” Still, I found no help; no one listened to me.
Out of desperation, not knowing if I was not being listened to because I am female, or perhaps because I only had a high school diploma, I went back to school at Northern New Mexico College. I owe so much to my experience as a student there. The program I enrolled in when I began college was cut. As a result, I enrolled in humanities courses and met my Barrios Unidos co-founders and mentors, Dr. David Barton and Dr. Tucker Brown. They encouraged me to “look outside the box” for help. I was sick and tired of being told we didn’t have an addiction problem, or worse, that “addicts liked being addicts.” It didn’t make sense to me. I watched Fernando deteriorate right in front of my eyes! I have a photo of him at his very worst that I keep reminds me how close he has come to death. Tucker allowed me to speak openly and freely, never judging, my curiosity about addiction. We all agreed that addiction stems from soul sickness, soul trauma. I came to understand that the psyche is conditioned to want to be in that box, jail. I knew that due to the fact that addiction is a systemic problem here in the Espanola Valley, it is not uncommon to have generational addictions in one family. I began to learn how we could begin to heal the addict, the family, the community (barrio) and the nation of this epidemic that is out of control.
My Northern Family saved my life, gave me the power of education and knowledge of where to look for help. It took me seven years to earn my bachelor’s degree in Integrated Health Science. That enabled me the time to study addiction from every angle possible! Solving Heroin Addiction was all I thought about.
The more I learned, the more I hurt. I witnessed Fernando and many others be over medicated while in the jail system. When they were released, there was no “script” to accompany them home. Time after time, they were back in jail the very next day. Unable to get the medications they were given in jail, and now addicted to, heroin, their drug of choice on the street.
Addiction cannot be healed by covering up the problem, by simply medicating addicts. The root of the problem must be addressed and uncovered with each individual. I am the founder and president of Barrios Unidos in Chimayo, New Mexico. I formed Barrios Unidos out of desperation and frustration to find help for my son, Fernando. Barrios Unidos was birthed out of a dire need. Barrios Unidos will provide a space for individuals to acknowledge their pain, trauma and hurt. A safe haven to address, release and heal by providing support through peer counseling and (w)holistic healing methods. We hope to offer support and education to all ages and generations.
My strength is born of suffering. I buried my nephew, and then a few years later my sister. Both died from addiction. My mom died from a broken heart. Addiction affects us all. The elderly suffer. My dad is 87, and he constantly worries for my younger brother, my son, my daughter, his grandchildren, and for his friend’s family! My two year-old granddaughter, Estrella, ‘Lil Star,” lives with me. She has not been with her mom since she was 9 months old. Her traumas are evident. I want to bring sustainability to my grandkids and their kids and generations beyond.
I am saddened, outraged, determined, and driven. My son was released after 14 months in prison. Addiction put him there. He stayed out of jail 27 days. We found no help, no crisis triage, just a waiting list. Barrios will support the body, mind, and emotions of the addict. My son not only needs help for addiction, he needs mental health support, behavioral health support, and help for institutionalization.
Barrios Unidos is an interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and intercultural community investigating cultural and psychological issues related to addiction and trauma in Rio Arriba County. The organization brings together experts and mavericks from the sciences, the humanities, and the healing arts to explore the root causes of these issues, and to envision pathways of transformation.
Editor’s note: United Way of Northern New Mexico sees the value and passion Barrios Unidos will bring to the region. The drug epidemic is a complex and overwhelming issue. United Way sees giving residents access to facilities like Barrios Unidos is a critical need to take on this challenge. We are inspired by the fight we have seen in Lupe and the team at Barrios Unidos.