“Raw, brutal, and shocking. Move over, Orange Is the New Black.”—Amy Dresner, author of My Fair Junkie
When word got out that Tiffany Jenkins was withdrawing from opiates on the floor of a jail cell, people in her town were shocked. Not because of the twenty felonies she’d committed, or the nature of her crimes, or even that she’d been captain of the high school cheerleading squad just a few years earlier, but because her boyfriend was a Deputy Sherriff, and his friends—their friends—were the ones who’d arrested her.
A raw and twisty page-turning memoir that reads like fiction, High Achiever spans Tiffany’s life as an active opioid addict, her 120 days in a Florida jail where every officer despised what she’d done to their brother in blue, and her eventual recovery. With heart-racing urgency and unflinching honesty, Jenkins takes you inside the grips of addiction and the desperate decisions it breeds. She is a born storyteller who lived an incredible story, from blackmail by an ex-boyfriend to a soul-shattering deal with a drug dealer, and her telling brims with suspense and unexpected wit. But the true surprise is her path to recovery. Tiffany breaks through the stigma and silence to offer hope and inspiration to anyone battling the disease—whether it’s a loved one or themselves.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“One, two, three.”
The light from the flash was blinding. I’d been ordered to remove my glasses for the picture, and I could see nothing for a moment. I hadn’t washed my hair in three days, and since I was arrested directly from my bed, where I’d been sleeping, the mugshot about to be plastered all over the papers and the local news broadcasts was most likely just as horrendous as the crimes that started the whole ordeal.
“I am going to uncuff you, briefly, so that you can remove your jewelry and place it in this bag. Once you do that, you will head to that holding cell right there,” the officer said, pointing. “And change out of your clothes. You look to be a large, so here, take these,” she said, handing me a polyester jumpsuit. She reached into a nearby bin and pulled out a pair of rubber flip-flops.
“These are your new shoes. You will wear them at all times—including when you take a shower. Don’t lose them.” She thrust the shoes into my already full hands and nudged me toward the cell. I tried my best not to think about all the different feet that had already worn these rubber shoes, but, despite my best efforts, I was haunted by the thought of how many different species of bacteria would soon be inhabiting my toes.
I jumped when the metal door slammed behind me. The room was dark and the acidic smell of urine was overwhelming. I held my breath and quickly stripped off my clothes before slipping into the jumpsuit. It felt like I was wearing cardboard. The female deputy had been observing me through the window and opened the door once I was dressed.
“Put your stuff in here.” She held out a brown paper bag and I stared at my belongings as I dropped them in. My heart sank as she folded up the bag and handed it to another deputy. My clothes were no longer my own; they belonged to the county now. “C’mon, you gotta see the nurse for some blood work and a pregnancy test.” For a moment, I secretly prayed I was pregnant. Maybe then they would let me go home.
Home. I wasn’t even sure where that was anymore. I certainly couldn’t go back to where I was living. In fact, by now, my belongings were most likely packed and sitting outside.
As I sat down on the cold metal chair across from the nurse, I suddenly realized how shitty I felt, physically. The chair was freezing, yet somehow I was sweating. My bones began aching and my eyes watered uncontrollably. I was sick.
“Okay, Missss . . . Johnson. I’m going to do a couple of tests, but first I’d like to ask you a series of questions,” she said, grabbing a nearby clipboard.
“Gah. Like one-sixty, I think?”
“Currently taking any medication?”
I hesitated. She glanced up at me and repeated the question. “Are you currently taking any medication? Yes or no.”
I took a deep breath, and began. “Dilaudid, Roxicodone, Oxycontin, Xanax, Percocet, Lortab, Vicodin, and marijuana. I’m not sure if that last one counts as medication but—”
“Okay. And would you describe the crimes you have been charged with as ‘shocking in nature’?”
“Yes. Yes, I would.”
She looked up at me over the rim of her glasses as she set her pen down and leaned back in her seat. “Okay, I don’t usually do this, but you have piqued my interest. Would you mind telling me why you consider your crimes to be shocking in nature?”
As I proceeded to tell her what happened, I watched her expression morph from confusion, to shock, to disgust, then back to confusion as she leaned forward to check something off on her clipboard. “Okay, yes, I would say that counts as shocking in nature, definitely,” she said, attempting to regain focus.
She cleared her throat and nervously glanced up at me as she made some notes. “All right, since you are obviously going to be experiencing a severe withdrawal from opiates, we are going to keep you in Medical for a few days before bringing you to the general population. There we will be able to monitor you to make sure you have a safe detox. I am just going to quickly get a few samples from you and then they will take you down.”
I watched intently as she prepared her syringe, and my stomach doubled over on itself at the sight. My palms began to perspire and suddenly I felt as if I might explode. My skin crawled and my legs were restless. It had only been about twenty hours since I’d last gotten high and I already felt like shit. This was going to f***ing suck.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the way Tiffany chooses to tell her story: the reader is immediately thrust into prison, and introduced to her as an inmate before they are introduced to her as a person. What do you think about the chronology of the book?
2. Tiffany weaves humor into the memoir’s narrative. Which of her actions and thoughts were most surprising to you? How does her sense of humor impact your reaction to the scenes? Do you feel the humor or sarcasm take away from her experience, or do you think they make it more accessible?
3. Tiffany structures her story so that many of the chapters end in a shocking reveal. Did you find this to be an effective strategy for drawing readers in? What was the most shocking or surprising moment of her story for you?
4. In Chapter 18, Tiffany reveals her experience in solitary confinement. Based on what you have read or seen on television regarding solitary confinement, do you find her experience shocking? Are you surprised by the kindness the guard extends to her?
5. Many people consider addiction to be a family disease. Discuss how Tiffany’s drug addiction – and recovery – impacts her closest relationships. How are different family members and loved ones affected?
6. Further to the above, discuss the differences between Tiffany’s relationships while abusing drugs versus while sober in prison. She mentions that Sarah, who she met in prison, was one of her first true friends. Discuss her friendship with Kayla. What differences do you see between the women?
7. In Chapter 38, Dr. Peters questions the reality of Tiffany’s story. Did you ever feel that she wasn’t being completely honest? Or did you find her to be a reliable narrator? Discuss how your reactions to her story shifted over the course of the book.
8. If you were making a movie of this book, would you keep the same structure and flashback technique? What moments would you highlight? What relationships would you focus on?
9. The book ends with Tiffany sharing her story with a group of recovering addicts, many whose stories are much like her own. What do you think about her second chance at life, and how she has chosen to share her message? If you got the chance to ask Tiffany one question, what would it be?
10. Are there any parts of Tiffany’s life, like her family or her relationship with Eliot, which you would have liked to hear more about? Why do you think she chose to focus specifically on her time in prison and the months leading up to her arrest?
11. Did you find the story impactful? How does Tiffany change the way you think about your own life story? Compare this book to other memoirs your group has read. Is it similar to any of them? Did you like it more or less than other books you’ve discussed?
12. Did Tiffany’s story about the tumultuous nature of addiction change any preconceptions that you might have had about drug abuse or the opioid crisis in the U.S.? Do you feel more empathetic or more distanced from those in similar situations to Tiffany’s after reading her story?