The Potentially Rehabilitating Junky's Purse
February 25, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

So I found something of considerable value on the Queens bound what?

I spotted a tiny purse with no one around it. I looked around, seeing that no one seemed to be rushing back on board to snatch it, so I did what anyone with a longish ride would do.
I opened it up.

What I found:
-100 dollar bill and a penny
-vicodin prescription note (with number that gets a hospital's rehab answering machine, which was full of messages)
-one photography receipt for a roll being developed
-rolling tobacco papers
-social security card that matches the vicodin note's name
-loads and loads (29!) of single wrapped alcohol prep wipes
-three packets of sweet and low

So, gentle reader, what do I do?
If I return the bag to the MTA (the subway people), there's no way of knowing if the contents will get back the owner. They have been on an ad blitz to show that they really do have a lost and found department, though.
Should this person be a full-on junky, which the 29 prep wipes makes me think, giving the purse back in person would be a bad idea, as would giving a junky money.
If this person is legit about wanting to recover, they'll need the money, the prescript, and the social security card.

Geographically, this person is all over the place. The stop I got on and noticed the purse was in Brooklyn, the prescripton and roll of film receipt are both from Harlem, and the address on the prescript was in the lower 30s of Manhattan.

Since when has trying to do the right thing been so murky?
posted by blueneurosis to Human Relations (36 answers total)
I think the only ethical thing to do is give the purse to the MTA. You're not really equipped to tell whether or not the person is a junkie, and even if you were, you're not in a position to withhold his/her property.
posted by maxreax at 10:18 AM on February 25, 2006

Google her, try to find an address/phone number. If that fails, give it to the cops or the MTA. I can't believe you'd consider not giving it back because of the possibility that the owner is a junkie. It's not really murky at all.
posted by tristeza at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2006

Is it possible that the person is a diabetic? Or has OCD? Or MS?

My take is that it's their stuff, and it's not your place to judge them. Figure out how to get in touch with them, and give it back.
posted by fuzzbean at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Umm, did it cross your mind that maybe they have prep wipes because they're an insulin dependent diabetic? And that they may now be injecting them selves without alcohol wipes, thereby increasing their risk of developing a cellulitis, or abscess, or life threatening necrotizing fascitis?

There's no point in guessing. The stuff isn't yours. The right thing to do is give it back.
posted by drpynchon at 10:23 AM on February 25, 2006

Whether the person is a junkie or not is immaterial. It's their property, and it's your responsibility to return it. One simple way would be to go to the photography place, show them the receipt, say you found it, and have them call the number they have on file for the person. Then you can talk to him/her, and arrange a time and place to meet. Or just Google, but that could give you a bunch of false hits.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:24 AM on February 25, 2006

You have no moral obligation to withhold items from someone you may think is an addict (which may likely not be the case). In fact, that seems plain wrong to me. If I were in your position, I'd try to find the owner on the internet and if that fails, I'd give it to the MTA.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:25 AM on February 25, 2006

Why would giving a junky her purse back be a bad thing? Why would giving a junky her money back be a bad thing? Do junkies not buy food, and pay bills and such? Please, if you want to steal someone's money don't look here to confirm your rationalization.
posted by Doug at 10:27 AM on February 25, 2006

Keep the bag (don't turn it in to the MTA). Google the name on the Social Security Card. If that doesn't work (i.e., no hits, or nothing useful comes of it), call the hospital rehab center (during business hours) and / or the photo processing place. Explain the situation, "I found this person's purse on the subway..." and ask if they have a contact number so that you can return it.

Return it. Karma.

I don't know why it's murky. Sounds like it will take somthing like 1 hour to find this person. Then he or she can pick up the kit and caboodle. If you did all this, and still couldn't locate the person, then sounds like it's yours.

P.S. -- All those wipes don't say "junkie" to me. They say "prostitute." But who knows. Besides, who are you to say what people can and can't do with their money? I bet that if you kept the money, you might wind up spending it on alcohol (bottle of wine at the dinner you're treating yourself to? Bottle of fine scotch?), or drugs, or cigs, or porn, or gambling. And even if you didn't, many of your friends might (I don't know *your* friends by I know mine). And if you found their wallets, you'd give them back their cash without wondering or worrying if they would be getting loaded with that money, right?

When I give money to homeless folk on the street, and somebody says "But what if they spend it on drugs?!!" I reply with a kind, "Who cares, it's not like I wouldn't spend it on (probably different) drugs!"
posted by zpousman at 10:30 AM on February 25, 2006

Well, yeah, if you return the purse, the junkie will get high on the drugs. But if it were me, I'd still return it.

As far as returning the drugs, i figure that's not your decision to make. The junkie is going to keep doing drugs and/or (re?-)commit to rehab whether you return the stuff or not. So your decision will likely have very little effect on her behavior overall. And, ultimately, the drug use is her responsibility. She's the only one who should or really can make the decision to do them or not do them. So as I see it, if you return her drugs to her, you don't have any moral culpability for what she does with them.

But then there's the money; that's a slightly stickier wicket. I have no stats for such things, but I'm pretty sure that plenty of junkies manage to stay off the street, even if it's by the hair of their chinny chin chins. So it follows that they must pay some rent some of the time. And no one can get by entirely without food. (Though with enough vicodin, I'd imagine you can come pretty close). And she might be paying some medical costs related to rehab. Yeah, she'll buy drugs, but she'll probably buy other stuff too, stuff she needs. So there's a pretty good case to be made that you're morally obligated to return the money.

Like I said: if it were me, I'd give the whole purse back. It would probably make me depressed, but not doing it would make me feel worse.
posted by Clay201 at 10:33 AM on February 25, 2006

on preview, what everybody else said, only they said it faster and more succinctly.
posted by zpousman at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the Give It Back votes.

My family and myself have had less than stellar dealings with junkies, so I guess those memories have been creating this conflict.
Now, the real question is how well does the MTA's lost and found work? Anyone lose something and manage to find it through their system? When I first moved to NYC, when I asked about a Lost and Found area the response was mostly rolling eyes.
posted by blueneurosis at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2006

Just hand it in to Lost & Found, you goddamn nosy hippy.
posted by chrismear at 10:38 AM on February 25, 2006

The easiest way would be to contact the hospital (or better yet, the doctor who's name is on the prescription), and tell them you've found someone script.
posted by drpynchon at 10:42 AM on February 25, 2006

In fact, even if it's not easiest, the best thing to do would be contact the physician who wrote the script as this is a scheduled medication that is watched closely by doctors and the government. "Losing" scripts raises lots of eyebrows, and I'd hate to see someone with legit pain issues go back to their doctor and get questioned or get twice the pills. Either way, the doctor should probably know.
posted by drpynchon at 10:47 AM on February 25, 2006

You have just sas much claim to the $100 as the MTA does. If you must go the MTA route, keep the money and leave your phone number in its place.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2006

what drpynchon said
posted by matteo at 11:02 AM on February 25, 2006

I found a wallet on the A train last year with cash, credit cards, and ATM cards but no contact information. I have heard bad things about the MTA lost and found, so I opted to take the wallet to the bank associated with the ATM card. I spoke to a manager, who verified that she was customer, and said they would contact her and arrange for the return. I felt much more confident about leaving the wallet with them than the MTA.

Maybe you can talk to the manager of the photography store, since there is a good chance that her film might have contact info. Perhaps he/she could contact the owner. You might try the same thing with the rehab clinic.

By the by, the MTA lost and found center is at Penn Station.
posted by kimdog at 11:13 AM on February 25, 2006

Should this person be a full-on junky, which the 29 prep wipes makes me think, giving the purse back in person would be a bad idea, as would giving a junky money.

You have only your supposition to believe that this person is a junkie. (If I read you correctly, there were no actual drugs in the purse. Unless you were being cute when referring to packets of sweet-'n'-low, and I doubt you were.) Based on your supposition, you're willing to withhold their property, or at least make no effort to return it to them. This is a bad thing, in my opinion.

I respect the idea to want to do the thing that is, in the long term, best for them, but you are not their parent nor in a supervisory position over them. Perhaps a simple display of kindness in attempting to get their purse back to them would be better in terms of showing them that the world can be good. Small events have big ripples.

I think your most promising avenue for returning would be where this person is getting their film developed. Presumably said shop has contact information for the purse owner. If not, the person will be going back to said shop to pick up their developed film. Either way, you have an avenue by which it can get personally hold them.
posted by WCityMike at 11:20 AM on February 25, 2006

Should this person be a full-on junky, which the 29 prep wipes makes me think, giving the purse back in person would be a bad idea, as would giving a junky money.

Cuz, y'know, junkies are the only ones to ever make bad choices and do stupid things with their money. And certainly never buy groceries.


That aside, I honestly believe the golden rule is the only hope for humanity. If you lost $100, you'd damn well want it back. Given that people are saying the MTA lost and found is sketchy, I second going to the photo lab - but just leave your contact info, since you've no reason to trust staff at the store either.
posted by poweredbybeard at 11:23 AM on February 25, 2006

Should this person be a full-on junky, which the 29 prep wipes makes me think, giving the purse back in person would be a bad idea, as would giving a junky money.

you can't "give" someone something that's already hers ... i don't know what to tell you about the mta, but you have an obligation to turn this in to someone who can find the person who lost it
posted by pyramid termite at 11:31 AM on February 25, 2006

You can debate about giving money to a junkie, and I've been there with unfortunate friends, but not returning their own money. I too would try to contact the photo store.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:37 AM on February 25, 2006

Once she realizes she lost her purse on the train, the first place she is going to contact to try to find it is the Lost and Found at the MTA. That's what it's there for, I suggest using it.

Especially given your concern about her being a junky, the fact alone that there is stuff in there from rehab might imply that she's trying to get help already. Please don't make things even worse for her by complicated the return of her property, medicine and money.
posted by RoseovSharon at 12:00 PM on February 25, 2006

Return it!
posted by chef_boyardee at 12:11 PM on February 25, 2006

The prep wipes, packets of sweet and low, and fact that the person receives their health care at Harlem Hospital strongly argue that the person's an insulin-dependent diabetic, probably quite poor. A recent rehab discharge with a vicodin prescription points to a recent long hospitalization - probably several weeks - with pain persisting after the hospital stay.

The most important thing in this purse is the hundred dollar bill, by the way. To the sort of person I've described, that's a *lot* of money.

The fact that this person was carrying around a "tiny purse" ought to tug at your heartstrings. You have far more information than you need to return these items to this person, who clearly has gotten the butt-end short straw of life. Do not further contribute to the fucking-over of this unfortunate person - do what you need to do to get the purse and its contents back to them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:19 PM on February 25, 2006

Oh, to be clear about whether "rehab" discharge was drug rehab or not: you should know that the vast majority of people who are discharged from "rehabilitation" have had things like strokes or hip surgery. It's got nothing to do with drug addiction.

This person clearly was not discharged from a drug rehab program. Why? Because they have a vicodin prescription. You do not come out of drug rehab with a vicodin prescription.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:21 PM on February 25, 2006

This is my favorite thread in months, by the way. I feel all Sherlock Holmes-y.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:23 PM on February 25, 2006

In fact, it's too bad you don't post a photo of both sides and the inside of the purse, and the actual Social Security number; I could probably paint you a very clear picture of the individual in question.

My initial guess would be a woman, of Puerto Rican or Dominican descent, in the fifth or sixth decade of life, height 5 foot 2, weight 160-200 lbs, with an abnormality of gait resulting in slower walking than normal; clothing brightly colored but inexpensive. Slip-on shoes, somewhat worn, possibly with holes in the toe.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:29 PM on February 25, 2006

ha. as the owner of a recently found lost object, i'd vote for giving it to the MTA.
posted by judith at 12:47 PM on February 25, 2006

I'm glad you've decided to return it, but I wouldn't do it through the MTA. Look her up in the phone book, Google her, or try to work it through the rehab clinic (and if their machine's full, try going there). If those fail, maybe pick up the developed pictures? That's pretty creepy, but they could be a clue to where she lives.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:16 PM on February 25, 2006

If you decide to keep it, maybe call the lost and found and give them a heads up that you are keeping the purse and doing some sleuthing on your own...if you give them a phone # and someone calls reporting the purse, they can put you two in touch.
posted by apple scruff at 1:42 PM on February 25, 2006

I dont think your in a position to "judge" this person, make every effort to give it back to her or turn it over to the MTA
posted by crewshell at 2:00 PM on February 25, 2006

My family and myself have had less than stellar dealings with junkies

Most of my family were junkies.

I came to this a bit late, but I'm amazed that anyone could look at more than three or four items here and not think "diabetes". The saccharin's a dead giveaway.
posted by meehawl at 2:17 PM on February 25, 2006

By the by, the MTA lost and found center is at Penn Station.

Yeah, if you ever want to waste time even less productively than here on MeFi, go over to the Lost and Found.

Like everyone else said, give it back ferchrissake, but don't do it through the Lost and Gone Forever unless you've exhausted all other options.

And ikkyu2, you're my hero.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: So here's what's gone down so far:
-The photo receipt was a dead end, at least from telephone contact. I'd have to come in person for anything, and the person on the phone didn't promise anything.
-Hospital operator said the same thing, over and over: go to a precinct.
-So I did. Reported it, gave it to the officer at the desk. The guy I talked to didn't seem too interested in anything other than who I was and where I lived. Felt like a chump, but at least it will give it a record.
-I'll call the rehab place on Monday and tell them that so-and-so's purse is at the precinct.
-And maybe, just to cover all the bases, I'll tell the MTA where to point her on my way back into the city.

Thanks again everyone.
posted by blueneurosis at 3:38 PM on February 25, 2006

Send me the info on the script on Monday if you have no luck. I'll call the doctor directly and get contact info if you like. E-mail's in the profile.
posted by drpynchon at 3:53 PM on February 25, 2006

Congratulations on doing the right thing, and ikkyu's my hero too (Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson rolled into one, hot damn). So's drpynchon -- please take him up on his offer to contact her doc. She's probably frantic about the loss.
posted by melissa may at 3:56 AM on February 26, 2006

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