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by Jin-Ah Kim
This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. For those of you who don’t know, the 45TH District is the election that will determine the balance of power in Olympia. Republicans hold the State Senate by one state senator. And this year, it will be decided by Manka Dhingra (D) and Jinyoung Lee Englund (R). An East Indian-American woman against a Korean-American woman. And one of them is my friend. You’ll never guess who.
By the way, I should preface all of this by saying I’m as liberal as they come. I was a Bernie delegate, pro-choice in Catholic school, and an intern on the now Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s campaign.
But this isn’t about blue or red. No this is white. Because we are waving our white flag of surrender, a bitter dose of reality for a country that has never lost a war on paper. Well, we have lost the war on drugs. And we are losing the battle of addiction now with the Opioid epidemic.
Addiction is not a partisan issue. Addiction does not care if you are black, white, or purple. It does not read your party registration. Addiction doesn’t CARE. Some have decided to politicize the issue and I have one thing to say: “You are using the lives of addicts to further yourself – and people will die as the result.”
Jinyoung has come out in support of banning Safe Injection Sites. And it absolutely breaks my heart and has shattered my soul. It has been a FOCAL point in her campaign against Manka going so far as to barrage online advertisements with photos of needles juxtaposed with Manka’s face. This is exactly the type of thing that continues to stigmatize addicts and push them further from recovery – because shaming doesn’t work. You are telling the millions of addicts reluctant to seek help for fear of being judged and cementing the idea that there is something wrong with us.
Despite our differences, I considered her a friend (think Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg). I make no secret of being able to disagree with someone and still respect them as a human being. I come from a military family in a conservative Korean-Catholic household, born in a red state (Alaska). But this has taken all of my fortitude to not take this personally because I am running for office for the first time. If elected, I’ll be the 3rd person in America to ever win an election – publicly open in recovery and the first to do so from an Opioid addiction. And I’m doing it – because we are dying every single day. Every 25 hours to be exact – within the Greater Seattle Area…including the district Jinyoung is seeking to represent.
Safe Sites have the unanimous consent of the King County Heroin Task Force and have had zero deaths from over 100+ sites around the globe. Do you have any idea what that means for someone like me? Someone who has lost count of the number of people I knew personally die THIS year alone, 2017, after eight…in May?! In the 12-step fellowship community, there is a saying told to newcomer addicts, fresh into sobriety: “You should buy something nice to wear because you’re either going to go to lot of funerals…or you’ll at least have something nice to be buried in.” How many people will never have to face the devastation of endless funerals? Do they have any idea what an emotional toll it takes to invest in a struggling addict’s life – only to watch them lose it within a blink of an eye?
The arguments against safe sites are based on fear. Not on facts. Concerns over crime rates rising near the sites are based largely on the fact that “Insite” in Vancouver, BC have high crime rates surrounding them. Only one thing wrong with that argument: the locations for these sites are determined by how crime ridden the neighborhoods are. In other words, that neighborhood was crime ridden to begin with. The site didn’t raise the level of crime…It was already there. Secondly, the sites being proposed for King County are called Community Health Engagement Locations (CHEL).
I started this article by calling them Safe Injection Sites largely for readers who may not know the correct terms. Well we should start using the correct terminology. Because in this case the opponents are right – there is nothing safe about using drugs. In fact, even the word “injection” is inaccurate to use in this case because we are not only including IV users but also smokers, those who snort drugs, users who may have never used a needle in their life. They are Community Health Engagement Locations – key word: engagement. These sites will have medical professionals, social workers, housing specialist, therapists, counselors – you name it, we’ll have it. The sites in King County may also provide the option of being able to test the drugs for harmful additives such as Fentanyl or Carfentanil that are causing DEA agents to overdose on drug raids from skin contact.
Jinyoung and I met as T.V. extras on the set of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle, the pilot episode. That day we were simply two young women having fun, dressing up in 1950s era clothing – never once bringing up politics.
Since then, over the years we discovered other similarities, eerie similarities, within both our lives. Our fathers immigrated to America from South Korea around the same time in the 70’s and also enlisted into the U.S. Army around the same time. They look like they could be brothers. Hell, who knows? After the Korean War, many records were lost. After all, my grandmother’s maiden name is Lee and the way girls are named within families are that they share a syllable that is the same.
In our case it is “Jin”
A little insight into our friendship: Shortly before the Nov. 2016 election, I had written this to Jinyoung:
“I have to say Jinyoung Lee Englund, I have had nothing but the utmost respect for you throughout this election. It been a bit surreal to see someone with such a similar background — both being Korean-Americans with U.S. Army fathers — both involved in our city/state/country’s politics…except on the opposite sides of the aisle. With you and your clear perspectives — I am more than pleased to know there will be conservatives like you involved in shaping America’s future. It has reminded me to empathize with the other side as not the enemy but my fellow American brethren. That Republicans are not the monsters that [unfortunately] many of my fellow Democrats have labeled your party.
It has been unfair, hurtful, and unjust to see the actions of few define the many and label them as unreasonable, unkind, and irresponsible. What you have said here in this post shows the exact kind of empathy and understanding I strive for in the hopes of bipartisanship. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that I met you on the set of Man in the High Castle — where two Korean-American women, both had ball, as extras on a t.v. set playing the role of Japanese girls in the background. I’m glad we met so that I could watch from afar your work, first on the Bush campaign, and now with the Marines. God bless Republicans like you. And I just want to end with this — I was told long ago by my father that the syllable “Jin” in my name stands for “truth” in Hanja.
I was raised with the belief that nothing in this world is by coincidence and that those who bear the word of truth in their name shall one day realize the true image of themselves. I am honored to share that wonderful part of my heritage with you and I hope that we will both continue to be guided by that universal principle and that someday our word comes to be regarded as synonymous with Truth.”
I added that comment so that you would understand how truly heartbroken I am to write this. How I have dreaded the thought of facing her again knowing full well that my people will die because of her…if she wins this election. I say this with no hesitation that it is fully transparent to me that Jinyoung has used the lives of us addicts to further her cause despite the unanimous support for these sites from the King County Heroin Task Force – comprised of medical professionals, law enforcement officers, and advocate leaders within the community. This shouldn’t have been a partisan issue.
This shouldn’t have been used as a tool to divide. This is a disease that affects all within both parties. One of the most powerful and eloquent speeches I’ve ever seen advocating on behalf of addicts came from Gov. Chris Christie. Yeah, that Chris Christie that was one of Donald Trump’s earliest cheerleaders. This is topic we must come together on, because it’s not about you anymore…it’s about them. They are mothers, daughters, sons, husbands, doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, priests…we are your family, fellow human beings…and most of us are still trapped in there, that dark place that I never want to return to ever again, a place with no doors or light, no ability to move or breathe.
It is hell. There are no mincing words about addiction. It is horrifying to lose the ability to control any of my actions. My body did not belong to me anymore. It belonged to the drug. Heroin was my only friend, family, and higher power. My mind, body, and soul were utterly broken and taken away any semblance of the kind, bright, energetic Sunday school-teacher with four godchildren.
No…Jin-Ah no longer existed.
My father told me…
My name in ancient Korean (Hanja) means:
“Jin” means “truth”
“Ah” means “self”
“When you are reborn, you will realize the true image of yourself.”
I died within my addiction. In recovery I was reborn. Very few life circumstances will lead to such a rebirth. And in that sense…I am living my new life. Nothing about the way I live reflects my life then. But there are so many of my brothers and sisters that die every single day. We cannot pull any of the options off of the table if we have even a glimmer of hope to show them the dawn of a new reality. We must do everything possible. Because what we have done isn’t working.
Everything we have tried has failed. I have begun slowly realizing the true image of myself. It reflects everything I do especially in my quest to save others like me. Stay true to yourself. Stay true to what is right. I beg of you to do the right thing. Please don’t allow this to be a partisan issue. Fight for what is right and help save us all. This will work.
Jin-Ah Kim is a photographer and political activist. She is an Executive Board member of the 32nd District & King County Democrats and APACE (Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Empowerment). She has long been an advocate for immigrant and disability rights. As a candidate, she is focused on ensuring Shoreline’s financial stability, building the city’s ability to provide services to underserved populations, and mitigating changes brought by developments. If elected, Kim will be the 3rd person in America to ever win an election, publicly open in recovery — and the first to do so from an Opioid addiction.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Tony Hawk