Jesse Harvey was found dead on Monday, September 7, in Portland, Maine. He was twenty-eight years old. I wrote about Jesse in a November 2019 Commonweal article about needle-exchange programs and safe-injection sites for people addicted to opioids. After graduating summa cum laude from King’s College in 2014, Jesse founded two nonprofits: Journey House, which oversees four recovery houses in Maine, and the Church of Safe Injection, which advocates for harm-reduction programs for people addicted to drugs. I met Jesse the last time he visited King’s College, in spring 2019; he was here to speak at a conference on nonprofit leadership and social entrepreneurship. We corresponded by email and occasionally talked by phone. The last email I have from him was sent June 15, 2020. I owed him a response.
Jesse had a rough year. He had relapsed and overdosed more than once. In one email, he wrote that he had “recently experienced fentanyl poisoning and was out for 11 minutes, not breathing, reportedly blue skin,” before four doses of naloxone and rescue breathing brought him back. He had also been arrested and charged with two felonies, which he vehemently denied. He expressed a lot of anger toward the legal system. He was outraged by media reports that, to his mind, used his arrest to invalidate his activism. He confessed to feeling shame. “There are so many things I would go back and change,” he wrote. “I left a lot of wreckage in my wake, and I look forward to the day that I can make amends to those I’ve hurt.” But he also spoke of hope: “I am glad to be starting over. Despite my arrest, it is, ironically, a ‘clean slate’ of sorts; I can leave the industry and the perpetual grief and everyday [overdoses].” He committed, again more than once, to focusing on his own recovery.
Since his death, Jesse’s friends have described him as quirky and even a bit goofy at times. I also saw glimpses of that. While Jesse was politically “radical,” he never struck me as strident. There was a gentleness to him, and he sometimes seemed bemused by the world. He was passionate about the dignity of “throw-away people”—his term, and I doubt he had read Pope Francis on our “throwaway culture”—but he was also interested in gardening.