Saturday, we looked at the push for legalization of some drugs, and the high cost of the “war on drugs” the U.S. has waged since 1971. But few of those who support legalization would argue that drug use is a good thing.
Today, we narrow the focus and look at the human cost – the price one man has paid and continues to pay for a lifetime of drug abuse.
Part 2 of 4Frank Flores of Bridgeport looks down at his brother, Tommy.
Although Tommy is younger, he looks much older than Frank. He’s bedridden. An oxygen machine next to him makes rhythmic gasps. A manicured green garden grows in the sunlight, visible from a window looking into the backyard.
Deep pale scars run over Tommy’s tan arms. They look like ancient dried up riverbeds on a red lifeless planet. The scars are the result of injecting methamphetamine – crank – into his arms.
Tommy, 50, started drinking and smoking cigarettes at only 11 years old and spent his early years using and abusing all kinds of drugs. But it wasn’t until he graduated to heavy use of crank and cocaine that his health and well-being spiraled completely out of control, leaving his body ravaged.
“It made Frank sick,” Tommy said. “He didn’t want to see my arms, how bad off it was. I had sores all over my arms. I didn’t even care. I didn’t even do it right. I’d just shoot it in anywhere – all over my arms, my legs.
“Once I had a friend named Jesse. I remember the first time I saw him shoot up. It made me sick. He used an old dull needle. He was having trouble making it stick. It looked like the dirty of dirty. I told my wife ‘If I ever shoot up, that will be the day I kill myself.’ I never knew one day I’d be shooting up like he would. If someone had told me I’d do it, I’d never believe you.”
Tommy has been on that wrong path for a long time.
“I started drinking at age 11 and started stealing cars,” Tommy said. “We stole a ’64 Ford Mustang one time and sold all the wheels and tires off it for $5, just enough to buy a carton of cigarettes and a case of beer. It wasn’t nothing to steal a car.
“The whole thing started with me smoking pot. I just wanted to try something. Then I graduated to coke and then crank.”
He only abused cocaine and crank for four years before they began to destroy his body. He didn’t start shooting up until the last year of that.
“By the time I quit, I was doing a sixteenth (half a gram) of crank in the morning and a whole sixteenth again in the evening. That much crank should last you a week. Yet I was barely feeling normal doing that. When I first started doing crank, the high lasted about 10 hours. By the time I stopped doing it, it was about 10 minutes. If I’d done that much to begin with, it would have killed me. But by that point my heart was going so slow, it would only bring my heart rate to normal. So really I was functioning at a normal level. Not at a super-high level like you’d think.
“It got so bad I started stealing again,” Tommy added. “It’s ironic. When you’re on drugs, I don’t know how you do it, but you can make $150 a day. When you’re sober and you aren’t on drugs you can’t make $150 in two or three days … I had no reservation stealing from somebody or writing a hot check. I didn’t care about the consequences.”
Tommy said there were different kinds of meth out there. But by the end he wanted the crystal form, also known as ice, because it was easy to melt down and inject.
“Then all my teeth started falling out,” Tommy said. “I couldn’t breathe. I got infections, and I was in the hospital for three-and-a-half months. I have bipolar disorder; my kidneys have shut down. I had about six or seven congestive heart failures in the past few years. I had a heart attack a few months ago. My lungs are shot.
“Now I’m paying the ultimate price for a few years of good times – what I thought was good times. I’m paying for it dearly. Not a day goes by I don’t wish I had it to do over.”
Despite the years of drug abuse, Tommy was never arrested on drug charges, only for activity caused by the drug abuse, such as stealing and assault.
“I’ve done some time but never for drugs,” he said. “And I did spend some time in mental facilities because I lost touch with reality. I attacked a sheriff and cut him up.
“They say the threat of being punished will keep you from doing something bad. But once you get punished and you know how it feels, it no longer intimidates you. It no longer discourages you … It gets to the point where you want to get caught so you can get locked up and get to dry out for a few days.”NATURE VERSUS NURTURE
It’s hard to know what made Tommy different. He has three sisters and a brother who never abused any type of drugs.
His older brother Frank, who now looks like a younger brother, runs his own window cleaning service out of Bridgeport.
“We had the same father,” said Frank Flores. “He has three sisters that are the salt of the Earth.”
Their parents were migrant workers. They traveled all over America, to Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, anywhere to pick fruits and vegetables, before they settled down in Fort Worth when the kids were still young.
“He was harder on Frank,” Tommy said of his father. “I had the leeway. Frank was older and got blamed for everything. I had the freedom to do what I wanted. By getting away with it, I went too far.
“My kids never do any drugs,” he added. “They don’t even take aspirin. They’ve never been in trouble with the law. They don’t even get tickets.”
Tommy had his own successful business at one time, too, and was a good carpenter.
“I started my own business,” Tommy said. “I had the ambition, but drinking got the better out of me. My father only gave me one compliment my whole life. I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have anybody pushing you and telling you what you’re doing is making them proud, then nobody appreciates it. What’s the point?”
But Frank believes people are responsibile for their own actions.
“I’m sick and tired of people blaming the environment,” Frank said. “We all make our choices, regardless of where we come from.”
And the actions of a drug abuser most hurt the ones they love the most.
“My wife never drank, never smoked, never did drugs,” Tommy said. “I stole and sold her jewelry before. I sold her hutch and dining table, just to give me a high.”
At one point a drug dealer put a gas bomb in his station wagon. He called the fire department. They found the bomb under the car and another 5 gallons of gasoline under the front seat.
“Drug addicts don’t just leave it out in the world,” Frank said. “They bring it home.”
“I used to think what you do is your own business,” Tommy said. “I’m not forcing it on you. It’s just me – it’s my own body. But it is other people’s business. You’re still my brother, you’re still my wife, you’re still my father, you’re still my sister. You make justifications. You think it can’t get no worse, but believe me, it does.
“I saw what it was doing to my wife. I saw what it was doing to me.”
NO LIFE AT ALL
Tommy lies in a bed almost all day now, his body connected to machines.
The garden still grows out back. Weeding the garden, watching things grow, one of the things besides getting high that once brought him joy, is now out of reach.
His only hope is to live long enough to see his grandchildren grow up, even though the ghost of drug abuse and the high that comes with it lingers.
“I still long for the good feeling it gives you,” Tommy said. “I thought about it today. I could call and get it delivered to me. But all I have to do is think about what it’s done to my health and my family already. And I have a 3-year-old granddaughter I want to see grow up.
“I might live another 10 or 15 years, God willing, but this is the worst life of all. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I’d rather shoot the man. One way dead off the bat, the other way he suffers the rest of his life.”