Pubdate: Wed, 03 Mar 2010
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2010 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Gary Pettus
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


If not for methamphetamine, the lives of Gayla Chalmers and Nickie Langford 
probably would have never intersected in Mississippi.

Chalmers, 44, is from Rogers, Ark.; Langford, 24, is from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Recently, both discovered the Friendship Connection in Jackson, a 
residential drug-treatment facility for women.

They began their lives separated by hundreds of miles and an entire generation.

But meth brought them to the same place.

For Nickie Langford, it started with a guy.

Until then, she was never interested in any "harder drugs," she said, never 
mind meth.

"When I was 13," she said, "I would drink once in a while and smoke some weed.

"But the weekend of my 18th birthday, I met this older guy. He was 30.

"I started dating him.

"I was trying to keep him in my life by living the way he did."

His way of life was using meth.

For Gayla Chalmers, it started, more or less, with several guys.

"I was 13 when I started drinking," said Chalmers. "I was terribly 
insecure. I couldn't talk to guys.

"When I drank, I felt like I fit in. It took away all the bad feelings."

 From alcohol, Chalmers began climbing, or descending, a stepladder of 
harder drugs. The last rung was meth.

"I never said 'no' to anything," she said. "I had tried everything else.

"For $25, I could buy enough to stay up for a couple of days.

"I don't remember feeling anything special the first time. But after a 
while, I would get that rush."

Chalmers never made meth, she said.

"I was scared to. I've been around people who made it; they were really psycho.

"They'd describe it like when a witch makes a brew."

Langford became a user too; she got meth from her boyfriend for free.

It was different from booze.

"With alcohol," she said, "I could pretty much function and be happy.

"The meth: I would hear things. I would see things. I would look outside 
and see something that wasn't there.

"I wasn't myself anymore."

Her head, chest and back hurt.

"Meth goes straight to your kidneys," she said.

"I lost weight, 40 pounds in a month.

"I walked around looking dead."

She dropped to 90 pounds. She had no appetite.

A hit of meth, with a side order of one honey bun, kept her up for days.

At last, she'd crash and sleep for two or three days straight, she said.

"Then I was ready to go again."

At one point, she got off meth, began drinking, and gained about 60 pounds.

"I went back to meth to lose weight," she said.

Then she lost much more.


The witch's brew is what Chalmers craved.

"I wanted it all the time," she said.

"I would forget about all my problems. You just feel so good."

And then you don't.

"I remember being really paranoid. I would be driving and thinking everyone 
was after me.

"I thought the Federal Express people were after me.

"It doesn't make sense, but in my mind, it did."

Langford's mind raced, but it never got anywhere.

"I really wanted to change. I tried to quit. But then I ran across an old 
friend who used."

The next day, she did, too.

She tried to hold a job at a diner. But she could never get the orders 

"I could never focus on one thing," she said.

At first, all she lost was her job.

One day, three or four years ago, Chalmers was driving from Atlanta to 
Arkansas; she was stopped for speeding in Mississippi.

"They caught me with a gram of dope," she said. "It took prison for me to 
stop using it."

Before that, she had lost her job as a substitute teacher.

Later, it was her children.

All four, ages 13 to 20, live with their dad in Atlanta.

She lost any custody rights after she failed a drug test while on probation.

Even before that, she avoided her children.

"I would get high on the way to see them," she said. "I was so paranoid. I 
didn't want deal with it.

"I couldn't be a good mother to them in that state of mind.

"So, before I got there, I turned the car back around."

She had kept the older man in her life, for two years. Then he went to jail.

Langford had to support her habit alone.

In exchange for the drug, she began buying supplies for people who made and 
sold meth, including over-the-counter cold medicines with the essential 
ingredient: pseudoephedrine.

Other users do this too, often together in an operation called "smurfing."

They circumvent sales restrictions of pseudoephedrine-containing drugs such 
as Sudafed by making several small purchases from multiple stores.

A few years ago, Langford was in the northeast Mississippi town of 
Columbus, accompanying one of these buyers, who got caught.

At the time, Langford was already on probation after police had stopped her 
car; inside, they discovered a plastic tube with a trace of meth.

This time, they also found a trace of cocaine in her system.

She was sentenced to alcohol and drug treatment - in prison - for 10 months.

"When I go out, I didn't think that was enough," she said. "I came here to 
get more treatment."

She came, in December, to the Friendship Connection in Jackson, a nonprofit 
treatment facility for female ex-offenders.

"After being in prison, I realized that's not where I wanted to spend my 
life," Langford said.

"I didn't want to run around another six years like a crazy person.

"This program here has made me look at things I didn't want to look at, the 
excuses I used to get high.

"And I have a son. When he looks at me, I can see the hurt in him."

After prison, Chalmers came to the Friendship Connection and completed the 
three-month program.

She checked into the center on her own, and by doing so, earned an early 
prison release.

For a month now, she has been living in a transitional home in the Jackson 

She has been clean for more than a year, she said, and is working 
temporarily for a catering service.

"It's because of my higher power - God - and having the support of all the 
girls around me."

She hopes to move to Atlanta to be near her children, she said.

"But I'm not sure if my sobriety is stable enough yet."

In the meantime, she has been able to talk to them - mostly about "how I 
lost them."

She's not sure that they're listening.

Langford is scheduled to graduate from the Friendship Connection this week.

Like Chalmers, she's working for a catering service, for the time being.

Once she's back home with her dad and stepmother, she'll try to "rebuild 
what I've lost," she said.

Most important to her, she's lost custody of her son.

"He's 9. He's with his dad now," she said.

"My mom has been to prison, too. So I know how that feels. I don't want him 
to feel like I did.

"I want him to have some reason to look at me and say, 'That's my mom.' "
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