Thursday, March 22, 2007
Editor’s Note: Adam Joseph is a student at CSUMB, editor of the Otter Realm campus newspaper, and a former Weekly intern. He spent several months last year interviewing and videotaping Steve Caldwell for a documentary film, Meth in Monterey: Beyond Addiction. (The images on the cover and in these pages are from the film.) Mr. Caldwell says he agreed to share his story in the hope that people would better understand the dangers of meth addiction.
Steve Caldwell rotates a small glass bulb filled with methamphetamine over a black lighter. As he leans back in a broken paisley recliner, the charred-black pipe fills slowly with thick smoke. He lets it settle momentarily before bringing the stem up to his lips.
The pipe looks as though it could melt at any moment. Caldwell grips it with callused hands and burnt fingertips and exhales a chemical-laden cloud, then coughs convulsively.
“That’s garbage,” he says, still coughing. He explains that the “real good stuff” produces a cooler, heavier smoke.
Acrid wisps trickle from Caldwell’s nose and the pipe as if from a recently fired shotgun barrel. He reaches into his pocket and wrestles out a small baggie filled with off-white shards that look like soap shavings. He dips the glass bulb into the baggie, scoops up some of the garbage meth, holds it over the lighter, takes a hit, and coughs again.
Caldwell’s face is rigid, tired and pock-marked. An infrequent half-smile exposes dark gaps that used to be teeth. The worn-out man is aged well beyond his 40 years. He says he has been addicted to methamphetamine for more than 15 years. His life has been one long string of struggles, letdowns and repercussions, all related to his addiction.
“After I got out of prison it was like, wow, that’s the feeling that made me start doing it in the first place. Not only did I get addicted again, I was twice as addicted as I was before.”
Caldwell lives in a small, wood-paneled room in the garage of the North Salinas home where he grew up. The cold cement floor is covered with three worn oriental rugs. A perpetual fog from cigarettes and methamphetamine hovers in the air and has given the room a permanent sepia tone. A disordered array of car parts, wires, cables, tools, and plates of half-eaten food are scattered throughout the windowless room.
Every wood-paneled wall has its own set of battle scars, each with its own horrid story. Brown splotches splatter the wall directly across from the paisley recliner.
“That right there, that was an accident gone bad,” Caldwell says, and tells a pathetic story about a disastrous attempt at making a batch of bathtub meth, which resulted in a small explosion. With a twinge of disbelief and regret in his voice, he recalls that after the mess blew up, he and a friend continued preparing the batch as if nothing had happened.
“I don’t even get high anymore,” Caldwell says, sitting expressionless in his recliner. “I have to use it just to be normal.” He nonchalantly takes another hit from his pipe. There is no sense of night or day in the room, or of time at all. The place has never been touched by a ray of sunlight or a glimpse of moonlight. The dismal aura of the tawny cave is invisible to the outside world. It is the ultimate tweaker pad, a place to disappear from the world into a tangle of trash where no questions will ever be asked.
A group of dedicated tweakers frequents Caldwell’s house. They work on their cars and motorcycles and he helps them. Other than the occasional sound of a drill or the sizzle of an arc-welder, there is dead silence while they work. They appear to be in meth-induced trances.
Caldwell complains that his 19 year-old neighbor is “sketchy,” because “he’s always holding a lot of stuff.” The kid comes and goes throughout the day and night, always wearing a tattered white T-shirt covered with several day’s worth of dirt and grime, and oversized cargo shorts with pockets stuffed to busting at the seams. His eyes lifelessly look in two different directions as he sporadically mumbles.
Another tweaker buddy, a burley, bald construction worker from Marina, is another frequent visitor. Around 9pm on a Saturday, he and Caldwell are working on an old black Datsun B210 that they found abandoned in a field near the Salinas K-Mart. The car sits in the pale glow of sparse shop lights at the mouth of the opened garage. Caldwell’s friend welds an exhaust pipe in a vise at a cluttered work table. He walks back and forth from the vise to the car to check on Caldwell’s progress in establishing a connection with the brake lights.
An oversized American flag stapled to the inside of the open garage door sags down. Every so often the flag softly grazes the top of the bald man’s head and sends him into a quick jolting burst of paranoia.
Caldwell lies halfway in the car’s trunk on his back as he tries to sort out a tangled surplus of red, yellow and black wiring. After a few minutes he slides out and the trunk slams shut, crushing his hand.
“Fuck!” Caldwell yells, breaking the silence.
His hand looks like a mangled piece of a dried-out roast. It’s stained with grease and motor oil, but the dark purplish tint of what looks like a painful contusion shines through. After a couple of moments gripping what must be a couple of broken fingers, Caldwell shakes his hand vigorously, then crams an unfiltered cigarette between his teeth and lights it.
Caldwell’s skin bears many untreated wounds, some similar, some worse. And this mass of scars and bruises reflect inner wounds. Caldwell is a man wracked with turmoil and despair. He blames all of it on his meth addiction.
“I’m not a criminal,” he says, pleading. “I’m not a bad person.”
His attempts to quit using the drug have been numerous and unsuccessful.
“I’m not happy, he says as he gazes down at the ground. “There’s more to life than just dope.”
~ ~ ~
Caldwell has lived in the same house all his life. He attended North High in Salinas for a while but transferred to Mount Toro, a continuation high school. He says he doesn’t remember much. He mentions that his father was an alcoholic who choked to death when Caldwell was 15 years old. He says that happens to be the time that he discovered meth.
“I knew it was the drug for me,” he says. He admits (or brags) that he would have done it every day right from the start. But back in those days it was scarce, so he had to settle for coke.
“I never learned responsibility. When my father was alive he was drunk all the time and when he died my mother never made me work. She knew I was doing dope but she never wanted any trouble.”
When he was 25 the meth supply in Salinas became plentiful and he began using it on a daily basis.
Now, Caldwell says that he wants to clean up.
For more than four years beginning in 2002, he made several efforts to kick drugs. Each of them failed.
Caldwell’s first clean-and-sober period was forced on him. On Sept. 27, 2002 he pled guilty to 50 felony counts of identity-theft crimes (the largest ever in Monterey County) and was sentenced to five years at Susanville Correctional Facility. He had been making fake IDs using information he stole from mailboxes. He needed the IDs to purchase red phosphorus, a key ingredient needed to manufacture methamphetamine, which is stringently regulated.
Bobby Jaurigue, program director of Genesis House, says that 90 percent of their beds are occupied by methamphetamine addicts.
The two years at Susanville forced Caldwell to give up his meth habit—although he admits using the drug once in prison. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous were regularly offered in Susanville but Caldwell says he never went to any NA or AA meetings because he wasn’t ready to quit using.
After serving more than two years, he was released in December of 2004 and placed on parole. Two weeks following his release, Caldwell found himself back in his old routine. He was living in that same humdrum environment in which he had previously always found escape within a small glass pipe. He was out of prison but he had no job, no responsibilities and no foundation of rehabilitation.
Looking back, he says that he “wasn’t ready” to get clean at that time in his life. He says he would have been getting high the whole time he was in prison if he had been able to find any meth.
“When I did it again after I got out of prison it was like, wow, that’s the feeling that made me start doing it in the first place. Not only did I get addicted again, I was twice as addicted as I was before I went to prison.”
A year passed. And then Caldwell finally decided he was ready to quit. He recalls thinking: “I’m too old to be doing this. It’s not fun anymore.”
In January 2006 he began to attend Door of Hope, an outpatient treatment center in Salinas. But he says his efforts there were half-hearted at best.
“I would go every day for a 12:30 meeting, but that didn’t do any good, because I would just get high before and after the class.”
He says he then tried something called the Stimulant Abuse Program, located on Salinas Street.
He screwed up there too.
Recalling these failures, Caldwell says kicking drugs is just too hard. “When I quit doing dope, I’m bed-ridden for at least a week,” he says. After a few days of uninterrupted sleep “the dizziness sets in, and then you just feel miserable.”
During a May 2006 routine parole search of Caldwell’s home, a broken meth pipe was found. This violation of the conditions of his parole could have sent him back to Susanville. Instead, it gave him an opportunity that might end up saving his life.
“I had never heard of Prop 36,” he says. “Without it I would have gone back to prison, so I thank God for it.”
~ ~ ~
Proposition 36, a California initiative which passed on Nov. 7, 2000, allows non-violent drug offenders who are arrested to be given the option of drug treatment instead of incarceration.
California Campaign for New Drug Policies, the predominant sponsor of the initiative, hoped its enactment would improve public safety by preserving jail and prison space for violent offenders and providing adequate treatment for drug addicts.
Prop 36 passed with 61 percent of the votes and went into effect on July 1, 2001.
The California initiative has diverted 140,000 people from prison into treatment in its first four years. At the end of the program’s fifth year, about 60,000 people completed drug treatment programs. Overall, since Prop 36’s enactment, there has been a 32 percent drop in the number of people incarcerated for drug possession.
Theisha Naidoo, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance in Oakland, says that putting drug addicts in prison instead of giving them treatment creates a “revolving door” inside the California prison system.
To meet the demands of those diverted to treatment there have been 700 new drug programs licensed in California since Prop 36 went into effect, a 66 percent increase according to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. And current treatment programs have been able to increase their capacity to treat tens of thousands more people each year.
Wayne Clark, behavioral health director for the Monterey County Health Department, the lead agency for Prop 36 in Monterey, says the initiative is good because “rehabilitation is a better alternative to incarceration.”
While Prop 36 has come to be regarded as a solution directly helping California’s drug problem, there is much debate surrounding the initiative’s funding and possible amendments.
The Legislature approved $145 million for Prop 36-related programs last year, but for 2007-2008, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed $120 million and recommends putting all of it through the Substance Abuse Offender Treatment Program (OTP), a one-year-old fund which requires each county to match funding before the state money can be distributed. (See sidebar, this page.)
~ ~ ~
It’s a Friday in early summer, and Caldwell is preparing to check into Genesis House, an inpatient drug rehab in Seaside, on Monday morning. He sits in his usual paisley chair with his legs reclined and his toes pointing up to the cobwebbed ceiling. He pulls his pipe and his lighter from his jean pocket and fires up his pipe. The lighter’s flame reflects a drab orange off his glasses. There is a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” Caldwell yells from his chair.
A faint voice struggles to be heard in the near distance. Caldwell puts the still smoking pipe and lighter back into his pocket, gets up and leaves the room.
Caldwell’s elderly diabetic mother gives him the phone. It’s a call from Caldwell’s 15-year-old son. He has been in juvenile hall for the past two weeks after being arrested for being under the influence of cocaine and assaulting a police officer.
“I don’t know what to do; I wish I could tell you but I don’t know. Take anything that keeps you out of CYA,” Caldwell says to his son. He stands with an intense anguish in his eyes and takes short, quick breaths.
“I’ll call your lawyer on Monday from Genesis House. They have to let me do that. It’s not going to make my time any easier there not knowing what’s going on with you.”
Caldwell runs a hand through his coarse, graying hair.
It’s evident that the distress in Caldwell’s voice provides little relief to the young teenager on the other end of the phone.
“I love you. Everything’s for the best,” he says before hanging up.
Caldwell expresses his excitement to turn his life around and leave behind the misery of meth addiction but he also admits that he dreads the unknown outcome of his son’s situation and the excruciating withdrawl he knows he will have to endure.
He smokes meth up until the moment he leaves for the Seaside treatment center.
One week later Caldwell exits the program, claiming he “didn’t agree with the way the program was run.” He begins smoking meth that day—just after he began to experience withdrawal symptoms.
“Addiction is a disease of chronic relapsing,” says Clark. “There is no silver bullet. [Methamphetamine addiction] is the hardest to treat because it impairs all health.”
Clark recalls that when he first started in his position five years ago, 20 percent of Monterey County’s drug addicts identified meth as their drug of choice. Now, that number has gone up to 40 percent.
“Fifty-three percent of Calif’s 36,000 Prop 36 offenders recently identified methamphetamine as their drug of choice,” says Naidoo.
Caldwell was given the opportunity to continue his treatment at Sun Street, another impatient treatment center located in Salinas. He checked in on July 10.
In an e-mail I received on Aug. 28, he writes, “Everything is going great hell I’m vice chairman and a dorm rep. and I love it. It couldn’t be better.
“I’m coming up on 50 days clean I got a sponsor and I turned my life over to God and every day I feel better than the day before now if I could only find a job.”
The e-mail also states that his girlfriend, Carol, is in jail for possession of a glass pipe and his son received a five year sentence for his offenses.
“But all that just makes me stronger I don’t see me going back to that way of life! I’m having too much fun being sober.”
Caldwell’s mother Patricia, who has watched her son flail and fail for all these years, says she believes that this time the treatment might take.
“I have never seen him this happy,” she says.
Can treatment work for a meth addict?
Bobby Jaurigue, program director of Genesis House, one of the three Prop 36 inpatient drug treatment centers in Monterey County, says that 90 percent of their 36 beds are occupied by methamphetamine addicts. Jaurigue doesn’t believe that Prop 36 is the answer.
“Everything works and everything fails; [addiction treatment] is all trial and error,” he says. “[Prop 36] is just another Needle Exchange and it is definitely not the answer.”
Terry Spitz, chief assistant to the district attorney of Monterey County, says Prop 36 could be implemented better and needs to be “redefined.”
“Twenty to 22 people out of 100 people complete their Prop 36 treatment. [The committee] didn’t see that as successful,” Spitz says.
Spitz is a member of the California District Attorney Legal Committee, which is trying to amend Prop 36 to make it more effective. He supports a change that would give judges the power to send someone in Prop 36 treatment to jail if they relapse—a program called “flash incarceration.”
Theisha Naidoo of the Drug Policy Alliance is against this because she believes relapse is a natural part of drug treatment.
“Jail isn’t the answer to relapse,” Naidoo says, “intensifying treatment is.”
~ ~ ~
Caldwell left Sun Street’s 90-day program in early October. After he was halfway through the program, Caldwell admits that he began using again. “I thought I was done, but I guess I wasn’t,” Caldwell says. Though he completed 90 days of treatment, he exited on his own and was never officially “coined out.”
He says that no one ever caught him using but “[the staff] definitely suspected that I was high.”
Nothing had changed. He went back to that one place where it always begins all over again: his childhood home. Caldwell was into the same routine, sitting on that same broken recliner, exhaling those same clouds of electric smoke.
Caldwell knew it would only be a matter of time before his parole officer would demand a urine test. On Nov. 1, two weeks after his exit from Sun Street, that day came. Caldwell says he didn’t even bother taking the test, he simply admitted that it would be dirty.
The positive drug test was a parole violation resulting in a warrant for Caldwell’s arrest on Dec. 23. He spent two months in Monterey County Jail before he was placed in the Salvation Army’s six-month treatment program in San Jose in mid-February.
Caldwell’s freedom today, more than ever, depends on his ability to stay clean. He has used up two out of the three chances that have been given to him on Prop 36. “If I test dirty one more time,” he says, “I’ll be sent to prison for seven years.”
After more than 60 days clean and sober Caldwell feels alone. “I am lonely. I can’t hang out with anybody I used to hang out with.” He also feels tired and “misses the energy” meth gave him.
Caldwell came back to his North Salinas home once again on March 13 after completing his first month at the Salvation Army. But this time is different than the other times he has returned. He is clean shaven and has even put on a little weight. His tired eyes still droop, but there is some evidence of life in them now that hadn’t been present for a long time. The drug-tinted haze of Caldwell’s room has been lifted and all the brokenness is much clearer, as if a white spotlight shines on all the damaged remnants of a depressing past.
Caldwell rolls a cigarette of Bugler tobacco and says, “You really have to have the desire to quit.”
He licks the quarter inch rolling paper shut and lights the loosely rolled cigarette dangling from his lips and adds:
“I like doing meth and I love getting high, but there are too many consequences now.”