Pubdate: Tue, 23 Jun 2009
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Mike Smyth, Canwest News Service


For Marshall Smith, Cocaine's Grip Was Instantaneous and Relentless
and Led to an Even More Vicious Drug: Crystal Methamphetamine. Mike
Smyth Chronicles One Man's Shattered Life -- and How He Put It Back

He was one of the legislature's brightest young political staffers
during B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell's first term in office: Smart,
popular, good-looking, a sharp dresser and a sharper talker, Marshall
Smith seemed to have it all.

Cruising the corridors of power with an easy confidence that belied
his 28 years, he'd whisper advice to cabinet ministers one minute,
spin a scrum of reporters the next, then crack up his fellow Liberal
insiders with an always-ready joke.

"The Minister of Social Planning," they nicknamed him, because Smith
was the guy who organized all the after-work parties. In any number of
bars near Government Street, you'd find the ministerial aide long
after the legislature had shut for the night.

"I was on top of the world and having a blast," he recalls now, even
travelling to Prague with Campbell for the announcement of Vancouver's
winning Olympic bid. He was introduced to Henry Kissinger and
hobnobbed with Olympic glitterati.

Then it all came crashing down, starting one fateful night in

"I was in a bar and someone offered me a line of cocaine," said Smith,
now 36. "I did it, I liked it and I wanted more. But it was the
beginning of the end." He had managed a serious drinking problem for
years, but the cocaine was different. Its grip was instantaneous and
relentless. It soon led to an even more vicious drug: crystal

"I was hooked and couldn't stop," he said. "It was too powerful and I
wasn't interested in getting help, only in getting drugs."

Quickly enslaved to a $2,000-a-week habit of cocaine, meth and booze,
his once promising career unravelled rapidly. He was fired, lost his
apartment when the rent money ran out, lost the many friends who
couldn't believe his sudden and shocking transformation.

One night, he slung a knapsack over his shoulder and drifted through
the streets of Victoria in a drug-induced haze, snorting coke and
smoking meth all night, ending up in a doorway as the garbage trucks
rolled by. It was his first night as a homeless addict -- a cycle that
would go on for the next three years.

 >From 2004 to 2007, the one-time rising star became a sketchy
street-level hustler, dealing drugs to get money to feed his habit,
sleeping in Vancouver parks and alleys, and playing cat-and-mouse with
police who knew about his former life in the loftiest circles of
political power.

He lost count of how many times he was arrested, eventually doing two
stretches in jail for trafficking. He got mixed up in the most
dangerous side of the drug world and several times feared for his life.

"I passed out in a house one night and four guys burst in with
crowbars to rob the place. They broke my knee, cheek and hand. One guy
jammed a crowbar right through my foot and into the hardwood floor."

He was free on bail at the time. Picked up by police again, the
incident led to his first drug conviction and a seven-month stretch in
Victoria's Wilkinson Road jail, where another former iteration of his
life ironically circled back on him.

Before he got into government work, Smith pursued a career in law
enforcement. He studied criminal forensic science at the B.C.
Institute of Technology and worked for several years as a prison
guard, including at Wilkinson Road.

"Now the guards I used to work with were guarding me," he said. "And
the prisoners I used to guard were my fellow inmates."

Some of the more hard-core prisoners didn't take kindly to a former
"hack" suddenly appearing on their side of the bars. One of them broke
his jaw. But even that didn't shock Smith out of his ruinous cravings.

"When I got out, I went straight back to the street, right back to
using and dealing," he said. "I lived for six months in a steel
shipping container under the Granville Street bridge. Dropped down to
125 pounds. Some people reached out, but I was beyond help."

Those people included his well-to-do parents, who worked in the B.C.
film-production business and provided what Smith calls a loving,
stable upbringing in an upper-class Victoria neighbourhood and a
private-school education.

He said the lowest moment came during a robbery in a Vancouver
apartment. "These guys came in and I had something they wanted. One
held a shotgun to my head. That was the bottom for me. I thought, 'I
can't live this life anymore.'"

Smith entered rehab in 2007. Free and clear of drugs and alcohol for
two years, he accepted a post as director of a Prince George rehab

"I lost many wonderful friends and fantastic people in my life," he
said. "Hopefully, I can one day earn their respect again."

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