Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices
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Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices is an adaptation of a photo voice project funded through a Vancouver Community Action Grant. The purpose of this project is to highlight the tragedy of the overdose crisis and introduce some of those who have been lost. Their loss is most keenly felt through their loved ones. Their grief cannot be described in words and is their constant companion. This project also focusses on the impact of the stigma for using drugs and of how safe supply might have made a difference.
Photo by Gabrielle Beer
Funny, Adventurous, Loved being a dad
From a young age, Joseph was curious, and fun-loving. He always had a great sense of humour. He was a risk taker, loved hiking, swimming, dirt-biking, snowboarding, and spending hours in the forest. He loved animals, nature, rode horses, and cuddled his dog.
Joseph packed a lot into his short life, overcame tremendous odds, and put his life to rights again and again. He was adventurous, a great friend, and he just loved being a dad to his two boys.
Joseph experienced trauma at a young age. His father was emotionally and physically abusive. Joseph was very affected by the pain this caused him and others in his family. As a young teen he was introduced to drugs while at his dad’s home. He eventually started using crystal meth which caused severe physical and emotional problems. With the support of his mother, brothers and friends, counselling support and by his own sheer determination, he overcame these issues and regained his health.
Joseph began training to become a certified ironworker. Joseph had ADHD since a childhood and struggled in the school system. At BCIT he blossomed. His learning style meshed with the course of study, and he achieved marks in the 90s. He was very proud to obtain his Red Seal Journeyman Ironworker certification While in school he had started a relationship and soon he and his partner were expecting their first child.
After graduating, Joseph worked on many construction projects throughout Metro Vancouver. When their son was just a newborn, he was offered a job in the north. He took it, bringing his young family with him. He loved the outdoors and the small community where they relocated. The work schedule though was long and hard, sometimes working 10 to 12 hours a day 20 days straight. He was 22 years old.
Very quickly it was noted by supervisors that Joseph was a good worker, and he was given lots of responsibility. The stress of the workload took its toll. He and his partner were also expecting a second child. At some point a colleague suggested oxycontin and gave him some saying that oxy might help him cope, and at first it was helpful. He felt calm and focused. However, over time it became problematic.
Over the course of two years every part of his life was eroded due to oxy. He did not access the employee assistance program through his work, for like many in the trades, he feared that if his employers knew he had used or was using he would be fired.
Ultimately, he and his partner split up, he lost work, he became depressed and for a time lived in his truck in Vancouver. Things had spiralled out of control but again he pulled himself together. He asked his mom for help, and they found a clinic where he was prescribed methadone. Then through some friends he was offered work in Alberta and decided to take the job.
He spent nine months working there, making regular trips back to BC to see his boys. They were the light of his life and his motivation. In January of 2016 he decided that he would wean himself off methadone, which he did by the end of March. He was doing well but really missing his boys and in late June came back home to BC.
He was so happy to be back with his family. By mid July he had a new job, was looking for a new apartment big enough for the boys. Everything was falling into place. And then one day in mid August on his worksite Joseph either purchased or was given what he was told was MDMA (Ecstasy). He wasn’t seeking opioids. But the illicit drug supply is poisoned. Six weeks after returning to BC he was killed by Fentanyl poisoning. Joseph was only 25 years old.
Kat, Joseph’s mom says that if a safe supply had been available, Joseph would be alive today. The poisoned illicit supply makes taking any street substance a risk. If he was relapsing a safe supply would mean the difference between life and death and allow space for recovery. Safe supply and decriminalization are the keys to dismantling the harms of substance use.
Kat says, “The loss of Joseph has left a hole in all our lives and is especially sad for his children’s lives. He just loved his boys. They loved their dad. I worry for the trauma they have experienced losing a parent and what that might mean in future. And Joseph, he was just becoming the man he wanted to be in the months and days before his life was cut short. What would he have become? What gifts could he have brought to his kids, to the world and how might he have changed it for the better? We will never know. All the lost potential, of all the lost sons and daughters, we will never know.”