Margo Lawson died clean. She was 48 years old.
After living on the streets of Overtown for more than a decade, she had beaten impossible odds; stopped using drugs, moved from a shelter into an apartment with another sober friend and kept a job. She was weeks away from her dream coming true: being hired by UM Jackson to work as a peer advocate at the first legal needle exchange in the American South. Then, she suffered a massive heart attack and was taken off life support on June 19.
“For a lot of people all they need is a head start. It’s that first step,” Lawson said in an interview with the Miami Herald early last month. She proudly showed off the tattoo on her right hand. It read in big black letters: “An IDEA saved my life.”
IDEA is short for the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act, signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2016, which paved the way for the IDEA Exchange to open its doors in Overtown.
Currently, it provides 1,400 of the estimated 15,000 IV drug users in Miami-Dade County with clean needles and outpatient care daily.
Four years ago, Margo Lawson was one of them. It was also where she came for help to quit 21 months ago.
It’s only fitting that this was the place — not a church, synagogue, mosque, or even a 12-step recovery room — where loved ones congregated on Saturday to pay their respects. No clergy attended. There was no invocation prayer or incense burning from a gold thurible. But to those present it was a holy display of faith; if she had overcome, they could, too.
“I knew Margo from when we were out there. Anywhere she went, people would camp all around her. She kept us safe,” a former drug user who goes by Flaca said in tears.
Many of those interviewed by the Miami Herald asked to be identified solely by their first name or nickname to preserve their anonymity. “I was like, bro if she got clean, I can get clean,” Flaca told the crowd. Everyone chuckled.
Three of her friends popped two blue canopy tents in the middle of the parking lot. They handed congregants red plastic cups with their choice of Pepsi or water for a toast. Instead of an altar, people stood in front of the exchange’s colorful medical van, which had been painted with graffiti, including a female angel in homage to Lawson.
“She’ll always be a hero to me. She made it clean to the other side,” said Lawson’s roommate, Ernesto, who also painted the van. Under her initials, he added the names of all their friends who perished from drug-involved overdoses.
Meanwhile, the exchange was still open for business. In the background, participants made their way to the window to pick up a new batch of syringes.
|Margo Marie Lawson
|April 11, 1972
|in Miami, Florida, USA (heart attack)
|Cleveland, Ohio, USA
|5 feet, 4 inches (163 cm)
|107 lbs (49 kg)
|Top of left breast; Rose right shoulder blade