The debate over whether or not to legalize drugs is very personal to me. My husband and I owned a condo in Salt Lake City just north of the L.D.S. Temple there. It had a big balcony and a view of the sunset. In 1995 we paid $72,000 for a fixer upper and put a lot of money and sweat equity into making it very nice inside. It was our first home.
We lived there very peacefully for about 18 months until after one Christmas I noticed that the traffic of Christmas visitors seemed to still be there, the parking lot was always full. This was different. Then, a few weeks later, my husband who was serving as a member of the condo association was called into a meeting where a state official from the Drug Enforcement Agency notified my husband that we had a major drug ring operating in our building.
I was away at a family function that evening and returned to find the building evacuated, two fire engines, and many police cars. There had been a fire, the first of what would be three serious fires. Several people were arrested on possession of drug paraphernalia and some other things. I thought that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. That night began a battle that over several years was like a part time job that cost rather than paid almost $100,000. Eight years later, we are still paying for it.
How did living in a drug house affect my life? In every way you can imagine. During the worst of it, I didn’t really live there. My husband escorted me out of the building with my new baby in the morning and I returned when he came home. He did the laundry when I couldn’t take it to my mothers to wash there because there was only one way out of the laundry room. Going to the grocery store was frightening, but during the worst of it, when 4 units of the building were being used to cook methamphetamine, the building was full of criminals and prostitutes dangerous and armed. When arrested, the guns they had were not the kind that put a bullet in a person and if they happened to miss or hit you just right you might survive, they were the kinds of guns that would blow away a brick wall. All of the guns they had were stolen property. None of them had a permit to carry.
These people were well aware that we were watching their every move and calling the police and had hired an attorney to remove them from our building and our lives. Some would say that right there was my problem, if I wasn’t trying to put them out of their homes and separate them from their drugs all would have been well.
Not so. How is a legal burnout any better than an illegal burnout? There is no difference. Both are a drain on society. Both pose a danger to their neighbors. My daughter was 6 months old when our battle with Meth began. She was almost 4 when it ended. During the worst year, we slept in our sweats with our sneakers to either side of the bed and our daughter in between so that we could leave quickly when the next fire happened. We inhaled toxic fumes that burned in our throats and our lungs. When Methamphetamine is being cooked, it smells like an old unchanged cat’s litter box. Our building smelled like that for three years. We were never safe from fire or violence, ever.
Why weren’t these criminals simply arrested? Well, we all pay a price for liberty. And, we’ve paid some too. We can’t just say to the police, "Look the place smells like a litter box and we have scary looking people living in these 4 apartments in the building." You must have evidence and lots of it. When we were sure meth was being made, we called the police, when we saw drugs changing hands we called the police, when there were fires, we called the fire department. We organized a neighborhood watch. We hired an attorney. We went to court. Sometimes there would be arrests, but most of the time the system puts drug offenders back on the streets pretty quickly even though police literally risk their lives to make these arrests. (I would love to see a three strikes law.)
We tried to keep the flower beds and lawn nice in order to clean the place up. As soon as I planted the flowers, they would drive their trucks through the flower beds. I was threatened by prostitutes I could barely understand they were so high and so angry. My baby and I were cornered by an angry, poorly fed and wild German Shepherd that belonged to one of them because they had kick in the glass all around our mail room making it accessible to outside. It was terrifying. They broke locks constantly so that doors would remain open and when they couldn’t break the locks, they broke the doors. There was graffiti and other damage sometimes to the tune of a thousand dollars a day. Most of these criminals collected welfare and or unemployment.
They had children with them too. It was heartbreaking. A girl about two with what would have been curly golden locks were matted by cradle cap and filth always dressed in a only a diaper that was never changed. And a boy about 9, already using. I called the state, but was told that the child had to have an actual address for a social worker visit. Not that it was safe for a social worker to visit because it wasn’t. They told me that a cop could give what they called a "wild child" assessment, but the adults and the children were very good at avoiding the police, that was part of the problem.
One of the users came to our door and tried to get my husband to come to his apartment to "talk". We took it as a threat. One neighbor heard two men say outside her door that they were going to cut her body into a thousand pieces and she would be found in a black trash bag. Another single woman received threatening calls.
We became friends with some of the police officers and firefighters. They were good men and we cared about them and we saw them in very dangerous situations. We almost saw a drug dealer/user shot. It was like living in a war zone.
I am well aware than my story is not unique. In fact, it’s pretty tame compared to what people deal with in many neighborhoods, but it was and still is a personal and financial tragedy to my family. We live in a wonderful neighborhood now, in a comfortable home and I am more than grateful that we were able to clean up the building and sell our apartment with our integrity intact. I have great compassion for those who live in the shadow of drug abuse. However, my life would be a little easier if I were $100,000 richer with interest. I will never recover that money or the time stolen from us, or the happiness. We were robbed.
It is easy to say that drugs are a problem confronted by other people, by other races. But in my situation. I did not see one Hispanic and not a single Black. Most of the people we saw were White males. Some I knew to be former members of the L.D.S. Church. In another neighborhood, the racial makeup could be different I know, but I’m just telling you what I saw.
Some want to make drugs legal, claiming the war on drugs is too expensive and ineffective. Maybe there things that will make it more effective. But, I know one thing for certain, when a person uses or makes or distributes drugs, they are doing more than hurting themselves. My husband said the other night, "Peace, prosperity and wealth are just the natural consequences of honesty, integrity and industry." When we do harm to ourselves, we harm our peace our industry and our honesty greatly and we can’t help but harm our neighbors. We need to recognize the damage drugs does to our society, take them seriously and teach our children to "just say NO!"