Pubdate: Wed, 27 Oct 2010
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus,GA)
Copyright: 2010 Ledger-Enquirer
Author: Chuck Williams


Beulah, Ala., Residents Say Newspaper Article Five Years Ago Gave Rural 
Community With High Meth Use 'A Bad Rap' While 'Opening Some Eyes'

BEULAH, Ala. - The front page of the Oct. 24, 2005, Ledger-Enquirer 
delivered more of a thump than the newspaper hitting the front porch.

"Cranktown," the headline read in large, bold letters.

Beulah, Ala., a rural community along the backroads of northeast Lee County 
and the sloughs of Lake Harding, earned the nickname because of the harsh 
toll methamphetamine use had taken on many who live here.

Some were direct victims of meth abuse. Others were collateral damage.

The newspaper's story outlined how meth had touched 8 out of every 10 
people in the community. It told of grandparents raising grandchildren 
because meth abuse had taken one - or in some cases both - parents out of 
the picture.

"Perhaps Beulah got a bad rap," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said recently.

Jacob Geiger, 21, was a sophomore at Beulah High School when the story was 
published. Today, he is the assistant chief of the Beulah Fire Department.

"I remember that article," Geiger said. "I thought at the time it was 
unfair. There are a lot of good people in this community. Like anywhere, 
there are a few bad eggs. To that extent, it was unfair and some felt gave 
us a bad rap."

But it also did something else, Geiger said

"It woke some people up in this community," he said.

The problem still exists in Beulah, but it is more under control, Geiger 
and Jones said.

"Better in regard to the circumstances compared to five years ago," Jones 
said. "There is not any one particular reason. We continued law enforcement 
in the area. We have more agencies coming on board to the fact that meth 
was going to be one of major issues. Unless we dealt with it in a 
coordinated and unified effort, we were going to have some major problems."

That has happened, Geiger said.

"It is nowhere near the problem it used to be," he said. "I think a lot of 
people started to wake up and see what meth could do to you."

Geiger credits enforcement as one of the reasons.

"The Lee County Sheriff's Department has done a great job," he said.

Jones tells a story to illustrate why he thinks some of the finger pointing 
at Beulah was not "entirely fair" when other parts of the county, state, 
region and nation were dealing what seemed to be an explosion of meth use.

The Lee County Sheriff's Department made a major meth bust in 1999 in 
Opelika. It was one of the first large busts in the region and put the 
department on notice, Jones said.

Authorities seized more than 70 pounds of meth.

"When we were able to take that lab down, we stepped back and said, 'This 
will be a huge issue,'" Jones said.

The Lee County Sheriff's Department made meth enforcement one of its missions.

"We dedicated resources, got in contact with other agencies," Jones said. 
"If we don't get aggressive, then it is going to really take over. ... It 
stands to reason we started making a lot of cases - a lot in the northeast 
part of county near the river. It appeared Beulah was where all meth was 
made, but it wasn't just Beulah. It was other areas as well."

Jones puts it this way:

"Was Beulah the Cranktown, USA of the region?" he asks. "There were other 
areas... that were not getting the attention Beulah was getting. It could 
have been as prolific in other counties in Alabama and Georgia."

One of those aware of the meth issue long before the newspaper put a 
spotlight on the meth labs along the river and in the remote areas of Lee 
County was the Rev. Bill Bryan of The Bridge, an Assembly of God church on 
Lee Road 263 near the heart of Beulah.

Bryan, who has been at the church nearly 20 years, was working with a 
congregation experiencing the havoc that meth use can bring to individuals 
and families.

"It has economically ruined families," Bryan said five years ago. "It has 
created distrust within families. They don't know who they can trust within 
their own families."

Today, Bryan says the situation has gotten better and that the "Cranktown" 
article "opened some eyes."

"It made some people start asking some hard questions," he said.

The pastor said he has watched the toll meth takes.

"It robs people of their careers, marriages, all of the financial gain they 
have worked for," he said.

Though the extent of what Bryan calls "a storm" has eased in the Beulah 
area, the clouds have not cleared.

"The storm has calmed some, but I have some concern the storm may be coming 
back," he said.

A few weeks ago, Bryan addressed the issue from the pulpit.

During a sermon based on the story of Jonah and the whale, Bryan warned of 
the dangers of meth.

"Depressed, lonely, no hope - and a free ship shows up called Meth, which 
offers some relief," Bryan said. "You get on this ship but find out you are 
headed into a hurricane."

Bryan then showed a video from The Georgia Meth Project to illustrate the 
hopelessness. A young man walks into a laundry mat and starts robbing people.

At the end of the commercial, the young man grabs a younger version of 
himself and screams, "This wasn't supposed to be your life."

Jones, while pleased that the meth problem in his area seems to be 
decreasing, says he isn't fooled.

"It hasn't gone away," he said. "It is not at the proportion or dimension 
it was five years ago. Has it gone away? No."
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