Ekaterine Gardapkhadze, 55, Tbilisi

„I was a young girl when I got married. Back in our times, this is how it happened – right from the class, you could end up in an odd situation, called marriage. I gave birth at the age of 16. I was one of the best students at school, and after school I went to the university. It was around that time that my husband offered me drugs. “We will be in the same mood, we will enjoy it together,” – he told me and I was not smart enough to analyze what difficulties and calamities it would bring into my life.

In the beginning, I did not use injection drugs, but because of how much they cost, I had to. You don’t really have much choice: you have to go for the drug that will last you for ten days, not the one that you will use up in a day. At this time, the organism is demanding drugs and it does not really matter whether you inject it or take it in any other form.

I had a few attempts to quit and return to normal life but I could not. No doctor or rehabilitation center can help a person unless he or she is determined that he or she really needs to be free from drug dependence. I have many friends, both male and female, who were highly addicted to drugs, and used to hang out with me, but many of them chose another path, changed their lives and now most of them serve in the church and receive a lot of love from people.

I was a drug user for 25 years until I was arrested. It was the time when the government applied zero tolerance policy to people like me. I was sentenced to 25 years, but I served 5 years in prison where conditions were not fit for either men or women, and especially were not fit for drug addicts. I faced huge difficulties there. It was a torture. There was no help; nobody cared how you handled it. I survived, but some of my friends could not stand it and they passed away – some died due to heart failure, and some just were not physically able to bear it… The time spent there was so difficult, especially the first three months, that I don’t even want to remember and relive it.

In prison, I decided to set up a women’s organization. We now have a non-governmental organization that has been around for five years. We have a few projects run mostly by former drug addicts who are now helping other women – pregnant women, their children, injection drug users (we offer free-of-charge tests to them), community members and others. We want to help those people who, like us, have been through difficult and horrible times and are now free, free from drugs.”