From Prison to Professor: Randall Horton Chronicles Recovery in ‘Hook’

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Randall Horton’s addiction led to homelessness and international drug smuggling, but it was a comparatively minor offense – the attempted theft of laptops – that sent him to prison. After gaining control of his substance abuse problem behind bars, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in English at the University of Albany and have several books published, including his new memoir Hook.

In his exclusive interview with, Randall Horton talks about the impact prison can have on drug users, how the prison system can better serve addicts and why recovery is still a daily process for him.

When did your drug use first begin?

Randall:  When I was 13, I got introduced to marijuana through my friend’s older brother. I would smoke that, but when I went to college as a freshman, I was trying to express my newfound freedom and it was a playground of experimentation.

Eventually, I got introduced to selling powder cocaine. I became introduced to the drug and selling it at the same time. It was the ‘80s, so I knew about heroin, but I didn’t anything about cocaine. It was a party drug, but it introduced me to this whole naïve way of thinking that the drug wasn’t really affecting me. And with addiction, you don’t realize the effect until it dries up.

What were some of the low points of your addiction?

Randall:  After selling drugs and going through a series of other things, I spiraled downward and ended up homeless. That’s when the depression and the addiction really start to settle in. I got sucked in and it became a whole other odyssey for me. It was always a balance and always tied to selling drugs. I had this whole pipeline from Colombia to the United States and it was really hard for me to let go of that.

One of the things that surprised me was that you’ve talked about your time in prison as a positive experience in some ways.

Randall:  When I got sent to prison, it changed my whole attitude. I had been doing all of these things for 20 or 30 years and never really had to suffer any hard time for it at all. Going to prison forced me to wake up and see some of the devastation in my life.

I was sent to a two-year intensive drug program in North Carolina. It was almost like shock therapy, everyone’s in your face and cussing you out. It was the kind of place you went to when nice didn’t work, the regular 12-Step program didn’t work, and you needed a different kind of recovery plan.

There was also a work program where you had to work eight hours a day. It was court-ordered, so you had to take it or you went back to prison. But it was designed that you never wanted to return there.

What is the impact of prison for someone suffering from an addiction?

Randall:  It can go two ways. If you don’t address your addiction in prison, you can get heroin before you get a soda. You’ll still be using on the inside and causing problems. When I was in county jail, I was in a program called Jail Addiction Services. We had a separate unit in the dormitories and cells and had a structured day. That’s when I began to write because you had to write essays about what made you sick.

There are services out there, but no one is going to tell you to access them or enter a drug program. But on the flip side, there are people there who will tell you where you can get heroin.

What are some of the ways that prison can improve in treating addiction?

Randall:  The main thing is helping people get to where they need to be. The program that I was in has done wonders for a lot of people and they’ve gone on to live productive lives. But a lot of people behind bars aren’t focused on that. They’re focused on trying to make it through the day without getting shanked or not getting put in a precarious position. That shouldn’t be the goal of prison. The goal should be to start working on yourself. We can change the model if we want to, but choose not to.

Having been sober for decades – and now chronicling it in a book – do you consider yourself to be fully recovered at this point?

Randall:  It’s still an everyday thing. And the reason I wrote the memoir is because I’m a writer first and foremost. This is what I do for a living. I didn’t just come out of prison and say I’m going to write a book. People can tell their story, but how do they tell it? I didn’t write this to be a quick read or something you get through in a day. I want to take people on an experience through the language.

I’m not through telling my story – I just had a story to tell. And given the climate we’re in, we need to see more people who have gone through incarceration be able to talk about it.



Image Courtesy of Augury Books/Randall Horton

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