Pubdate: Sun, 05 Nov 2006
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2006 The Advertiser Co.
Author: Mike Linn
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority


Julie Bodine considers herself lucky. After all, she  isn't in prison 
- -- or in the ground. At one point,  though, she could have been in 
either place.

The 29-year-old Marshall County resident started using 
methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant drug,  when she was 16. 
Then, she began dealing to support her  habit.

"It's kind of like it's your friend, and then it holds  you hostage," 
said Bodine, who began using meth to lose  weight. "I got to a point 
in my addiction where I just  didn't want to do it anymore. It was 
either quit, die  or go to prison."

Bodine, who has been clean for three years, represents  a growing 
number of white women in Alabama and  nationwide who have abused meth 
to lose weight, get  more work done or get their kicks on the 
weekends,  according to former users, researchers and counselors.

While Bodine didn't do time, anecdotal evidence shows  more and more 
white women like her do.

The Alabama Department of Corrections reports the  number of white 
women incarcerated in state prisons has  nearly quadrupled in the 
past 16 years, from 332 in  1990 to 1,225 in September. There is 
little statistical  evidence linking the increase to meth abuse 
because the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center didn't  begin 
keeping statistics on meth use until 2003.

But "in terms of anecdotal things we've heard, I'd say  yes" there is 
a link, said Bennet Wright, a  statistician with the Alabama 
Sentencing Commission.

The number of white women charged with felony  possession of a 
controlled substance, which would  include meth arrests, increased 
from 293 to 642 in a  five-year span ending in May 2005, Wright said.

Meth, a synthetic drug that is relatively easy to make  using 
over-the-counter ingredients, widely is  considered a white person's 
drug: Last year in Alabama,  66 percent of those charged with 
manufacturing the drug  were white men and 33 percent were white 
women. The  remaining 1 percent were black.

White men and women also account for more than 90  percent of those 
charged with possession of meth,  according to statistics provided by 
the Alabama  Criminal Justice Information Center.

While white women represent the smallest number of  prison inmates as 
a percentage, their group is growing  the fastest.

And use of the drug is exploding among young white  women, even high 
school students, said Dr. Mary Holley,  founder and director of 
Mothers Against  Methamphetamines.

"They want to lose 50 pounds to fit into a pretty prom  dress," said 
Holley, a former obstetrician/gynecologist  who started the 
organization after her brother  committed suicide while on a meth 
binge in 2000. "I met  one woman who got on meth so she could fit 
into her  wedding dress. It destroyed her marriage."

Most women start using meth to either lose weight or  become a "super 
mom," Holley said. "They don't consider  it a drug. They sprinkle a 
little of it in their coffee  in the morning and think they can get 
by with it."

Some eventually smoke it, inject it or deal it -- and  that's when 
they tend to get in trouble with the law,  she said.

Though most women incarcerated in Alabama aren't there  on meth 
charges, their crimes might be meth-related,  said Robert Jenkot, a 
University of Alabama criminal  justice professor who has researched 
the drug's effect  on women. Some crimes such as child neglect, he 
said,  might be fueled by meth addiction.

The rise in white female inmates also could be a result  of concerted 
efforts by police to fight the meth  epidemic, Jenkot said.

"There's a lot of women using it -- not just to get  high -- but for 
the weight loss aspect," he said.  "There's also been a lot of 
reports -- especially out  of Iowa and the Midwest -- of women using 
meth for getting work done. To do everything that a good 
mother  should, they need a little boost, and if they get  pulled 
over with it or found with it, they're busted."

Five years ago, Gina Kennington did time in a Coffee  County jail on 
meth charges. Her sentence: six months  for possessing, manufacturing 
and trafficking. It got  her the help she needed to break her habit.

Kennington, 42, started out smoking and snorting the  drug, then 
graduated to injecting it. She used the drug  for about two years 
before getting busted.

"Somebody had some one day and I tried it, got tons of  work done 
around the home and then I was hooked," she  said. "It makes you feel 
like you can do anything ...  but it's absolutely one of the worst 
things in the  world I've ever done because it about killed me."

Now, Kennington tells her story to female inmates in  hopes they'll 
kick their habit. She estimated about 70  percent of the white women 
in jails and prisons have  had problems with meth.

Steve Box ended his bout with meth, which can cause  extreme paranoia 
and even hallucinations, after firing  a gun in a Las Vegas hotel 
room. The shot, which he  says was an accident, landed him in jail 
for attempted  murder because his wife was in the room.

Box had heard voices in his head -- voices induced by a  16-day meth 
binge -- that kept telling him she was a  federal agent.

The attempted murder charge was dropped, he got  straight and wrote 
the book "Meth = Sorcery," which he  sends to prisons across the country.

Now, the Missouri resident dedicates his life to  helping others get 
off meth by turning to Jesus Christ.

Bodine, the former addict from Marshall County, wants  to do the same.

She and her husband, Jeff, also a former meth addict,  plan to set up 
a nonprofit center in Marshall County  for male drug addicts making 
the transition from prison  to society.

The ministry, Stepping Ahead, will open in about 30  days. The couple 
also plan to start a center for women  once the men's center is up and running.

"God has just given us a vision," she said. "Getting on  meth isn't 
worth it. That stuff destroys your life and  everybody around you."
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