Smoke handcuffs me when stress hits home

I never wanted a cigarette as bad as I did when I got thrown into a “lockup” after getting kicked out of the courtroom by a judge whose ire I had raised by raising my own voice at him.

There I stood in an 8-by-10 foot cellroom with a metal bench and a thick glass in which I could see someone enter in a cramped walkway outside to speak with me. No one appeared as I looked out into empty space, asking myself if it was worth it. Why did I raise my voice at the judge? I got kicked out of another courtroom for the same outrage, but survived a contempt of court sanction when my office switched me from one judge to this other one for following the same procedure against a loudmouth like yours truly.

What I wouldn’t give for a smoke, I thought. No, it was more of a feeling, a longing, a desperate yearning for that satisfying first and second puff that could assure me that I’d get through yet another fine mess I got myself into.


I had quit smoking some seven years earlier. Went cold turkey. It occurred when I was trapped in a dentist chair and I wanted a cigarette to get me through the procedure and I knew I couldn’t light up. I applied what I believe was “mind over matter,” and it got me through the procedure. I might have actually meditated without knowing it, as I curbed my thoughts of such an agonizing discomfort. All I did was breathe slowly and not think of anything while the dentist moved his hands and instruments from one tooth to another inside my big mouth.

I emptied my mind of the desire for all desire to smoke.

And it worked. The next time I wanted to catch a smoke, I put “mind over matter” again. It wasn’t easy. Ask any anyone who ever quit. It was worse when I’d find myself in situations where I’d normally shake out one of my Marlboro Lights and light it up. Like the first cup of coffee in the morning. (With no breakfast, mind you!)

Or after having sex and lighting up before falling asleep on my back. Smoking was great after a really good meal, and I’d also have a good smoke while singing with my Doo Wop street corner singing group in Brewerytown, a section of North Philadelphia.


Craving at its worst makes us all a slave to the item or person of desire

But there I was, dying for a smoke, if you know what I mean. Smoking was ingrained in me as a youngster. Both parents smoked; my dad liked Chesterfield and my mom Pall Mall (Neither had filters.) I took up the habit at the tender age of twelve and didn’t stop for some 30 years.

When I finally did, I’d have dreams of cigarettes. They were sensual in nature and I’d wake up in a cold sweat after ‘em.

I could have cared less for sex then, for the only thing that could have satisfied me was a couple of drags from a smoke, be it a Camel or even a Lucky Strike. All would be well with the world again.

My craving ended when a lawyer from the Defender Association appeared before the judge, plead my “temporary insanity,” and chalked it up to my being overly zealous, something the judge himself knew all too well, and he imposed no further penalty. (See: Philadelphia Justice: Judge James Lineberger.)

At that time, all I wanted was a good stiff drink to celebrate my freedom. And I would have given my life for it at that moment, if you know what I mean.

13 comments on “Smoke handcuffs me when stress hits home

  1. […] (See my story of dying for a smoke!) […]


  2. I smoked for 30 years. Quit cold turkey as well. August will be 8 years smoke free for me. Fortunately, I never crave them. – Sorry I missed you today, my friend. Hope to be there next week.


  3. wolfshades says:

    I always like these slice of life stories you tell.

    You’ve got me curious though: once you found your power over cigarettes (or technique for handling the cravings), did you search out anything else in your life that made you feel at all chained?

    Asking for a friend.

    Just kidding: asking because that’s the way it is with me. Knowing that both my parents were addicted to cigarettes (and that my dad was heavily addicted to alcohol), I found myself checking every now and then to make sure I was clear.

    I only started doing that once I found myself *really* looking forward to that glass of wine when I got home. Decided to quit cold turkey for at least a month, just to make sure I could. That month turned into a year or two.

    Then it was pot. Now we all know pot isn’t physically addictive, but the high it gives can be psychologically so. So I quit that for a month – and that quitting turned into years as well.

    Prescription drugs: scary, that one, and I worried about the effects of quitting but I did it. I quit cold turkey and never looked back.

    It’s a control thing, I think. I never want anyone or anything to control me, ever.

    On another note: I don’t suppose you ever had a chance to have a heart to heart with Jusice Linebarger, did you? Ever have a chance to talk about PTSD and the horrific effects it had (has?) on your life?


    • wolfshades says:



      • contoveros says:

        I never got a chance to talk with Judge Lineberger about the war or PTSD. After writing this, I Googled his name only to find out that he had passed away two years ago. He was a great man, having held one of the highest positions for an African American in the city of Philadelphia until the city elected Mayor Wilson Goode mayor some 30 odd years ago.

        I attended law school with his daughter, Carmen, and while we served on two different aisles of the criminal justice system — she with the prosecutor and me with the criminal defense, we remained friendly. Maybe I’ll check with her and let her know how I still feel about her dad.


        • Carmen says:

          You just did Mike. In fact I’m in Florida, had a conversation with a friend today and as I was talking about my dad, a car drove by a convertible Mercedes cream body Brown top just like he had. He had it painted red after a Korean friend Lawrence crashed it. Then I googled my dad, to send a link, and found your story today. It must have been meant to be….hope you are well.

          Liked by 1 person

          • contoveros says:


            I am so happy you were able to see it. I wrote the post as a tribute to the judge when I was in Korea some two years ago. I’ll never forget how he ordered the sheriffs to take the “short” attorney out of his courtroom. It might have been the worst insult he could have through at a man barely five-foot, six inches tall. No wonder I needed a smoke . . .

            I went out on disability after getting into three fights with two different assistants DAs. I got diagnosed with PTSD and tried my last case in May 2008. Have been on a spiritual journey ever since visiting Greece (my father’s village), Jerusalem. South Korea as well as West Conshohocken.

            Good luck and thanks for visiting!


    • contoveros says:

      My good friend Wolfshades,

      I’m battling an addiction right now. It involves eating.

      Just getting back from another country, I feel that I can lick this problem. The problem starts as soon as I hit the couch at night and doesn’t end until I leave and go to bed several hours later.

      I eat junk and more junk. I bought all this candy at reduced prices and I feel as if I have to eat a lot of it. And of course I can’t let the potato chips and other salty stacks go to waste.

      I am going to place “mind over matter” for the next 30 days. That is when I will have my class reunion and see if I can knock off a few pounds to get back into one of my suits.

      I think we all have some sort of an addictive behavior to some extent. For the longest time I think I had it with love. I wanted everyone to love me and I went out of my way to get love from people. I would do anything, act out and play the clown, and even Champion the causes of others so that they would love me.

      Was it an addiction? Who knows. I’ve been able to deal with that better in my life nowadays.

      But the food, ah the food. I too will beat this with a controlled mind over what really matters!

      Michael J


      • wolfshades says:

        Yeah, it’s the one thing you really can’t quit cold turkey. I struggle with that too. Found out that the best way (for me) was to use an app called “MyFitnessDiary”. It’s pretty great because, in addition to helping you identify the number of calories, sugars, etc. that you eat in every meal, it has a search function that allows you to identify foods from all sources, including many many restaurants. I’ve put myself on a limit of 1500 calories a day, and enter each meal – which automatically calculates how far into it I am and how many calories I have left to go.

        It also hooks up with other fitness apps so it can take into account any exercises (including walking) that you do. So far, in about five months or so, I”m down around 25 pounds or so.


        • contoveros says:

          Twenty-five pounds!

          What I wouldn’t give to shed one tenth of that . . .

          Maybe I’ll try something like that. Who knows if I can be disciplined enough, but it will be worth a shot.

          Thanks my good friend!

          Michael J


  4. […] the story of my incarceration, please see: Smoke handcuffs me when stress hits home. No Smoking […]


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