- Associated Press - Sunday, May 7, 2017

DAYTON, Ore. (AP) - Mae Muilenburg was briefly famous late last year - or at least infamous.

She lived with her family in the notorious “zombie house,” the owner-abandoned structure near Thompson Park that inflamed neighbors, drew angry crowds to city council meetings and sparked a general uproar for several months.

Most people confined their anger to the issue of alleged drug offenses at the home and the city’s response, but some of the vitriol was also directed at Muilenburg and her family. Muilenburg, already struggling with drug addiction, said the hostility was difficult to bear.

She wrote about her feelings in an online journal.

“Shhh, it’s all right,” she wrote. “Don’t feel bad.

“I know you hate me. You all do. I see through your eyes.”

And the 20-year-old shrank from what she saw through those eyes.

“Leave me, alone, cold in a land void of beauty because I am horrible, gross, disgusting …” she wrote. “I deserve nothing more than your hate …”

Of course, that’s not the real Mae Muilenburg. That’s the druggie version.

In the same journal, she described the person behind the drugs and the judgments that provoke them.

“I like hula hooping, dancing, splashing in puddles, photography, guitar, piano and violin,” she wrote.

“I sing in my school’s choir and take pride in each of my idiosyncrasies. I hate television; it tortures my creativity. I have a dog and an imaginary cat named Jeffery.”

That’s the young woman she truly is at heart. The one she wants the community to meet. The one she admits was shrouded for far too long in a fog of narcotics.

Now clean and sober for eight months, and holding down two jobs to make ends meet, she’s ready to introduce her genuine self. Mostly, she said, she just wants the chance to start over and live down her past.

“We’re still adolescents,” Muilenburg said of her crowd. “We’re not even who we are going to be yet.”

Before people judge, she said, she wants them to see the vulnerable human beings behind the addiction.

“Drugs are not the problem,” she said. “The problem is broken people.”

It was fear of becoming a statistic instead of a human being that finally led her away from years of drug addiction, she added. “I didn’t want to be a face on a roster all of the time,” she said.

Jamie Player frequently joined her on the Yamhill County Jail roster. Like Muilenberg, he amassed a series of felonies in pursuit of drugs to feed his addiction.

While he’s clean and sober these days, he said, the felony record he compiled makes it hard for him to start again at age 24.

“Instead of slapping these kids with felony after felony after felony, they should give them an option to grow without damaging their lives,” he said. “In my case, I can never get my record clean.”

He would prefer something like the Seattle program called LEAD, for Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion. A pre-booking diversion program, it was developed on a pilot basis to address low-level drug crime in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood and nearby unincorporated areas.

The program allows police officers to direct low-level drug offenders into community service commitments in lieu of booking them into jail for prosecution.

Supporters claim it ultimately reduces the criminal behavior. Critics say it gives too much discretion to individual officers in the field, introducing inequities.

“We have discussed it in the preliminary stages here,” said Capt. Jason Mosiman, commander at the Yamhill County Jail. “We haven’t completely decided against doing something like that.

“As I understand it, it targets first-time offenders and people who have no previous experience with the criminal justice system. I do think that’s worth some further investigation.”

Whether it’s LEAD or another program, Player said, the situation needs to change.

The criminal justice system’s response to drug addiction just isn’t working, he added. “Instead of continuing a broken cycle, give addicts a chance to truly better themselves.”

Drug addiction is sweeping, Player said, especially among millennials - children born between 1982 and 1997, or near those years, depending on the source.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 100 Americans die every day from a drug overdose. For Player, this statistic is embodied in a close friend who died of an overdose at 28.

“He was a very good person, very funny,” Player said. “I miss him.”

What’s more, Player sold his friend the drugs that killed him.

Drug overdoses can often be traced to a specific dealer, said Bob Hodges, who started the Dayton-based support group Christopher’s Gift with his wife, Chris, after their 24-year-old son died of a drug overdose in 2014. Hodges said he knows who sold his son the fatal dose, but is not out for revenge.

“Drugs kill people,” he said. “People don’t kill people.

“He feels bad enough. I can’t pick on him. Most addicts are good people. They just make bad choices.”

The death of his friend haunts him every day, Player said. “You can never punish addicts more than they punish themselves.”

Player may have punished himself for his friend’s death, but it wasn’t by depriving himself of drugs. If anything, the overdose pushed Player further into the world of abuse.

“I still couldn’t get clean,” he said, even after his mother caught him shooting heroin on her front lawn.

“I realized I didn’t care,” he said. “All I cared about was getting high.”

It took a slew of reckless driving and reckless endangering convictions to eventually convince him he needed help. “I realized I was going to prison,” he said.

However, he knew he couldn’t do it on his own.

“I don’t process things like other people,” he said. “I get angry. Then I get high to deal with the anger.”

A program like LEAD might have helped, he added. “I don’t think I would have taken so long to get into treatment,” he said.

As part of the D.A.R.E. program, officers used to come into schools to warn kids to avoid drugs.

That was a joke, Player said. “I would be sitting there thinking, ‘When I get out of here, I’m going to go get high.’”

He started using drugs when he was 14.

“I thought I was just having a good time,” he said. He used marijuana before moving on to heroin and meth.

He got drugs from older kids. “Every kid knows it’s easy to get weed,” he said.

While his felony arrests helped convince him to get clean, Player said arresting addicts repeatedly tends to overwhelm them with a sense of hopelessness.

“I was already hopeless,” he said. “I was like, ‘What else are you going to take away from me?’

“Addicts have to be given opportunities to help themselves.”

Now Player is going to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor. He has also launched a line of recovery-based clothing.

His mother, Tricia Player, said she initially resented having to help her son with his battle. “I would say, ‘Why do I have to get to meetings? I’m not the one with the drug problem!’” she recalled.

She also worried about people thinking she was a bad mother. “You don’t know how people are going to react,” she said.

Nonetheless, Tricia Player said, she gritted her teeth and got involved. She felt she had to, as the alternative was going to be a dead son.

“I had buried him in my mind a couple of times,” she said. “Telling him he had to leave because he was going to kill himself was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I told him, ‘I will fight with you, I will fight for you and I will fight against you.’”

Player’s mother joins fellow parent Carol Sumner at meetings of Christopher’s Gift.

Sumner agrees the current method desperately needs an overhaul.

“The system is just not working,” she said. “We need a long-term rehabilitation program. If we took money out of the jail and put it into rehab, we could actually save lives here.”

Sumner also wants to put a human face on addiction.

“It’s not just these so-called junkies that are on the street,” she said. “These are our kids. These kids are dying because they have zero support.”

Parent Shannon Ray said the jail is designed to punish rather than rehabilitate. It took felony arrests for her daughter to ever get any help, she said.

Hodges remembers exactly when Christopher died - 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 30, 2014.

He and his son had been working together that day. They had just returned home and had a conversation. His son went into the bathroom to shoot up, and ended up fatally overdosing.

“I don’t want any of these parents to go through what we went through that evening,” he said.

Christopher’s Gift has been meeting for three years. The group meets Mondays at Dayton Pioneer Evangelical Church in Dayton.

The Rev. Steve Hopper, pastor of the church, is also the parent of a child battling addiction, so he related. “We’ve all questioned ourselves and avoided talking about our kids’ addictions,” he said.

The support group offers people a place to turn and share their stories, he said.

The stories Player and Muilenberg related at a recent group are ones of hope and redemption.

Muilenburg, like Player, is working toward a career as a counselor. She wants to help other people confront the kind of addiction that almost consumed her.

“We need people who have been there,” she said. “I know I did. I’m very bullheaded.”

Player said people need to understand some basic truths about addiction.

“No addict loves his life,” he said. “No addict is happy. I just didn’t have the tools to deal with life on life’s own terms.

“The war on drugs is a joke. We’re losing the war on drugs.”

___

Information from: Yamhill Valley News-Register, https://www.newsregister.com


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide