Jessica Wade started taking ecstasy in her teens and began dealing soon after. In the early 90s, her crew controlled the E supply in Dublin’s major clubs, but getting hooked on heroin marked a downward spiral that led to her arrest and eventually, becoming a drug mule. Wade is now 14 years in recovery and works in addiction services. See more of her story in Dublin Narcos on SKY Documentaries and NOW, out now.
I remember sitting on a flight to Dublin, dripping in sweat, with thousands of pounds worth of heroin and crack cocaine inside me and strapped to my stomach. I’d been organised to fly in and out of Dublin on the same day to drop off the gear to someone in the airport. I was actually on the run from the police at the time, so it was an insane risk, but maintaining my habit was my only priority. At this point I was smoking heroin all day long, and the deal with drug smuggling was I’d be sorted with any drugs I wanted when I got back to London.How did I end up here? I guess it started when I was about seven. Growing up in Ballyfermot, drugs were everywhere in our community – they were in the family. Before I really understood what dealing was, the adults in my house threw drugs out the bedroom window, then I’d run down and collect the cash that’d been put through the letter box.I was 14 when I first got drunk and started smoking hash – I very quickly moved onto ecstasy. It was only two years after my Confirmation, where I’d sworn not to take drugs, but drugs were completely normalised by everyone around me. It was a natural progression.
I remember walking into my first club on E so clearly – the feeling was just incredible, everyone was pounding, you literally could taste the sweat. Ecstasy felt like a magician clicked his fingers and transported you into a magic world. I actually got into dealing with my mates from a place of genuinely wanting to share this feeling. I was very good at talking about how well it was doing for me, so I’d be dancing around, meeting new people and spreading the word. Our clothes were amazing, my hair looked great: We created an audience and captured people pretty quickly.
We kept the Es in Kinder Egg capsules and we’d walk into the clubs with our pockets bursting. We were making so much money that I don’t think I ever cooked a meal: I was always out for fancy dinners, buying new clothes and trying to get the money gone as quick as it came in because we couldn’t put it in the bank. I even managed to get a buy an amazing car and put a deposit down on a house in a lovely estate.As the years went on, the whole operation got bigger and more organised: We were given targets for how much we needed to make in a night, and we were selling pills in the thousands. We couldn’t carry them all in at once like before, instead we went back and forth from our stash in a nearby car. I tried not to carry more than £5,000 on me at any time, but the pockets of our 80s boiler suits would be full of money almost every hour, so we’d keep going out to dump it with one of our guys on a motorbike. The bouncers weren’t a problem, they were in on it too, so that’s how we got away with it.
Everything changed when I became a mother at 17. Being pregnant with my two kids was the only time I stopped taking drugs and as soon as they were born, I hit the raves even harder. I think the longest I ever partied was from Thursday to Tuesday night – I only realised what day it was when I was told at home. At this stage, the drugs began taking a serious toll on my mental health: Trying to juggle motherhood, dealing and using led me into harder drugs.The golden rule of dealing was to never get into heroin, but I always thought rules were made to be broken. I was around 18 or 19 when I was first offered it, by a guy smoking it at an afterparty to deal with the comedown. Once heroin was introduced to me, I just didn’t stop. Before I knew it, I was an expert at rolling heroin and I was smoking any chance I got – I was more stoned than I was sober.I never did it directly in front of my children, but I’d lock myself in the bathroom at home and do it when they were near. My habit became unmanageable in such a short space of time: We thought we were powerful and untouchable, but heroin took over.
At 23 I got caught by the police picking up an eighth of heroin – I was lucky it was just my personal supply for the week. My kids were about four and five when I eventually had my court hearing. I’ll never forget that moment walking into court. My dad was with me for support, and although we knew I was going to get sentenced, we didn’t realise I’d get taken to prison that same day. When my dad found this out, he looked at me and said, “Run!” I legged it out the court room, palms sweating, convinced I’d feel a hand on my shoulder pulling me back at any moment, but I never did.
My father met me with some money later that day and told me to get out of Dublin. I gave him a hug, then got stoned out my head and suddenly, I was on a ferry to Holyhead, Wales. People I spoke to on the boat told me there were lots of Irish in London, so I made my way there and ended up quickly finding a new crew: This was when I got into crack cocaine and methadone.After two and a half years in London, a reckless trip home to visit my family led to my arrest and I was forced to finish my sentence with added time. Three years later, I walked out of prison with no idea what to do with my life. I was on temporary release under conditions of signing in at the prison and police station a few times a week, but I didn’t keep to any of it and went back on the run.Returning to the UK was when it really got messy. After picking up new contacts in prison and new ideas for making money, I became a drug mule, smuggling gear from the UK back into Dublin. I still ask myself why I put myself in those situations. I could have stayed in Ireland, finished my time and tried to build relationships back up with my children, but I didn’t – I chose self-destruction.I was being groomed, really. These dealers were putting a roof over my head and feeding my habit, so I never had to worry about getting drugs – but it was my choice at the end of the day. I’ve lost count of how many times I smuggled stuff over, sometimes I’d be given a schoolgirl uniform to look as innocent as possible. I was always plied with dihydrocodeine tablets, an opioid like codeine, as I wasn’t allowed to get stoned on runs. Everything was all managed for me and I never got caught – I’ve no idea how.
I was in and out of prison after that, and 15 years on from trying my first E, I’d had enough. I was injecting and smoking so much heroin and crack that I just didn’t want to be part of this world anymore. In early December 2008, I went to the church I’d had my Confirmation in with plans to overdose outside. I’d tried to kill myself countless times before, but I’d always been found just in time to be revived – the needle often still in my arm. This time I wanted it to be final. I had the drugs cooked, the syringe ready, but first I went inside the church and lit a candle for my children and parents – it was my way of saying sorry. Then, a lady walked over to me, placed her hand on my shoulder and said: “Light a candle for yourself.”What I experienced then can only be described as the love of God rushing into my heart. I walked out the church and threw my drugs away like I was burying them – something had to die that day. Within two weeks, I went into a Christian treatment programme where I had to go through complete withdrawal, there was no weaning off. I went into psychosis the first week but slowly I got my feet on the ground. I needed a higher power in my life and God became that for me.I spent 27 months in two different treatment centres in total. At this point my parents were already raising my kids, so they were settled and I gave myself the permission to get better – it worked.I’m 14 years in recovery now and the relationships with my family are still repairing. There wasn’t exactly an open-arms reunion with my kids, but they love and respect me for the changes I’ve made. I threw myself back into college and worked really hard to get to where I am today as an addiction practitioner: Helping others keeps me grounded, it’s a constant reminder of who I was, and it never lets me forget where I came from.There are whole years of my life I don’t remember, but I’ve built a life that I don’t want to escape anymore – life isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for me. It’s good to be free from the hold drugs had over me. I’ve experienced grace in my life and I’ve experienced mercy and I don’t take it for granted – I know I was taken from a life of hell.@beckyburgum