This is dedicated to Travis Holappa who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered on July 25, 2004 in Northern Minnesota. This was all due to meth. I am Travis' mother and I wish to make this devastation turn into a better thing by educating and exposing the truth about meth, the dangers, and the deadly consequences it brings about to individuals and communities.

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Location: Colorado, United States

I want to do what I can to educate people about what is going on around the world with the meth problem. I want people to know about it BEFORE they even get the idea to want to try it. It is a dangerous drug and will ruin your life as well as all those who love you. I am on a mission on behalf of my only son, Travis.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Changing Lives: The stories as told by former drug abusers (Mississippi)


Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - Tupelo,MS,USA

Staff Writer

**Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the stories of two reformed drug abusers.**

“When I was 16 years old, I got introduced to crack cocaine,” said 24-year-old Jessica Howell. She leaned forward assertively, one hand striking out to punctuate the importance of her words, the other resting on the knee of the orange and white striped jumpsuit of the Itawamba County Jail.

Her best friend, 32-year-old Natasha Ellis, affectionately called Tasha, was more aloof than Howell, sitting with her arms folded across her chest. She shared a similarly shocking story of youth cut short:

“I started smoking cigarettes when I was 8, and that’s what started me on drugs I think,” she said. “When I was 13 I started sniffing gas, then smoking pot, drinking; I smoked crack; I snorted cocaine, and I shot up cocaine.”

The two close friends are frank and honest about their former addictions — their eyes doing little to hide their shame, yet bright with the pride of those who have overcome adversity. As they spoke, their voices were strengthened by the importance of their message:

“There are two promises you’re going to get when you’re on drugs,” Howell said, with Ellis nodding her head in agreement. “These two promises are guaranteed. No. 1 is you’re going to be in jail, that’s for sure. And No. 2 is death, and that’s for sure.”

Their stories are both different but equally nightmarish to hear. Howell’s cocaine abuse led her to betray her father, spending his money to fund her habit and passing off more than $160,000 worth of bad checks for crack cocaine.

“The drug just had a hold on me,” Howell said. “I would hurt anybody or do anything to get it. It’s a scary thought; it really is.”

Howell was initially arrested and charged for her fraudulent checks. After being released on probation, she lived a clean lifestyle until the drug gripped her again.

“I stayed clean for two-and-a-half years,” Howell said. “Two years later, I got introduced back to it. I went back to it because I missed the high. I stole two checks from my daddy and wrote them for $800 a piece, for myself, at Piggly Wiggly. I took that money and bought all crack.”

Howell was picked up again for these fraudulent checks and returned to incarceration, charged with two counts of forgery. She was sentenced for 20 years, with 15 years suspended and six months in rehab. She has been held in Itawamba County Jail since November and is awaiting transportation to Rankin County where she will serve three years.

Ellis was equally outspoken about her addictions and how they led her into the world of crystal methamphetamine, as both a user and a cook. Her former lifestyle cost her dearly.

“I lost everything I had,” she said. “I lost my husband, my kids, my home, my family and my freedom. When I got caught, I didn’t have no power or water to my house. I had a pocket full of money, two cell phones and was busy trying to get the ingredients up to make the stuff. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep — I stayed up 35 days one time. I lost 100 pounds in three months. I don’t even remember what I was doing during that time.”

According to Ellis, the dangerous practice of making crystal meth was an even bigger high than taking the drug.

“For me the biggest high was making it,” Ellis said. “Believe it or not, there’s a rush that you get every time you mix those ingredients; you get a high.”

Ellis talked about her good fortune in that the drug did not disfigure her greatly, as has been known to happen with meth abusers.

“I got lucky that I’ve got my teeth,” she said. “But I’ve got scars and sores that weren’t there that I put there myself. The lithium, people that use crystal meth have a grey color to their skin — that’s the lithium coming out of their bodies. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, and you lose your hair.”

Ellis gave a nightmarish account about the collapse of her mental sanity due to meth abuse: “I seen a woman climb into the back door of my trailer one time,” she said. “I could tell you what color hair she had and what kind of clothes she had on. I watched her crawl in my back door. She went and got in my bed. I went so far as to get up and ask her what she was doing in my bed, and there was nobody there. She was never there.”

After being released on probation from her initial incarceration, Ellis fell back into her habits immediately.

“I was drinking and stuff when I got out of jail; I went home and got high, as a matter of fact, because I had a gram of dope in my wallet that they didn’t find,” Ellis said. “For the first year of my probation, I was still cooking, and I was still using. It was crazy.”

Ellis got caught skipping her meeting with her probation officer, landing her back in jail. She was fortunate; she only received an additional sentence of six months in a rehabilitative boot camp.

The confines of imprisonment have given the women time to reflect on their pasts. Both are forward when discussing what they themselves admit to be low points in their lives. Ellis especially, who has children, is overt with her shame and how it has affected her family.

“I couldn’t even go outside with my kids,” she said. “I’d visit, and I’d have to stay in the house and hide out. I couldn’t go across the street. I couldn’t play ball outside with my little boy. I was scared to talk on the phone. I was scared to go to the mall — I couldn’t do nothing because I was scared of getting caught and going to jail.”

“Drugs are a total destruction,” Howell said, once again leaning forward to emphasize her point. “It destroys your home and your family — your life. It destroys everything you’ve got.”

Howell and Ellis have had time to dwell on their past sins and try to make amends for them. Howell has stayed clean for two months, and Ellis has remained sober for four years.

But although Howell and Ellis have traveled to Hell and back, they fear that others may test the fires and not escape with only minor burns. Ellis shared a story that is frighteningly close to home for her:

“My little girl’s 13, and she goes to Guntown Middle School, and they just had a big bust over there,” she said. “The kids are getting a hold of it. That’s the bad part about it. The dealer himself does not care; all they want is your money.”

This frightening image of a drug that once gripped her life suddenly coming within the reach of her daughter visibly frightens Ellis. The feeling of being trapped comes to both women not from the walls of the jail, but from the feeling of helplessness — the fear that they can do nothing to push people, especially children, off the dangerous path they themselves walked.

But recently, they may have found a way to help, and it begins, as most things do, with a change ...

Appeared originally in the Itawamba County Times, 2/1/2006, section A , page 1


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