Embedded in Austin

On the ground in one of Minnesota's meth hot spots

She educated herself in a hurry, and started rabble-rousing in town for greater vigilance on the part of parents, schools, and law enforcement. She began patrolling the town on her own, writing down license plate numbers outside meth houses. "And guess what I got for Christmas?" she said. "A police scanner." A number of the other meth mothers also log hours at their own scanners, listening for familiar names and keeping tabs on the local meth community.

When her daughter ran away for a second time, Mary had had enough, and packed her off to a group home in a neighboring community.

"Been there, done that," Anna said. Her daughter's problems also started in the summer before her freshman year in high school, when she started hanging out with a new group of friends and staying out past her curfew. "Whenever she was around we were just arguing all the time; whatever I said it was always, 'You don't understand.' She finally told me to go to hell and left for the weekend.

"I eventually just threw up my hands and told the people at the Sheriff's office that I wanted them to do everything within the law to scare the living hell out of her. I told them I wanted her picked up and tested, and they said they couldn't administer a urine test without the kid's permission. How bullshit is that? They're your kids, living under your roof, and they have to give you consent to give them a drug test."

Anna eventually sent her daughter to live with a family in another town. "I had to get a lawyer and sign away my parental rights," she recalls. "We transferred her school records over there. They got her a job, and I think during that time away it all finally sunk in for her. She knew she was nailed, and I wasn't going to give in. Since she's been back her grades are back up and she's been clean for a year and a half."

Mary's daughter is also now clean, and is attempting with some difficulty to settle back into her old life. Deb has not been as fortunate. Hers has been the longest, most discouraging battle. She keeps a scrapbook of every newspaper article from the last couple of years that have any bearing on the county's meth problem. It's a seriously fat, seriously appalling archive, six inches thick and overflowing with clippings. "I've run out of pages," she admits, and hands over another pile of Xeroxed articles from the last several months.

"I went through the same thing these guys did," she said. "Exactly the same routine. I've tried tough love; believe me, I've tried everything, but nothing has worked." Deb slides a school portrait across the table, a photo of a healthy, attractive girl who could have been a cheerleader.

"She moved out for good a year ago," she said. "It had gotten so bad that she was pushing and shoving me around and my husband and I were at each other's throats. She was destroying herself and destroying our family. I have a stressful job, and I felt like I was endangering other people's lives when I was staying up until three o'clock in the morning every day dealing with this."

Deb finally let her daughter go, and it's clear how much it still torments her. Her daughter is now hanging around with skinhead tweakers, she said, and dating a 28-year-old. She has acquired unattractive homemade tattoos.

"You don't want to think of your kid selling herself for money," Deb said. "But you have to be realistic. She has no job, as far as I know she's not stealing, and we've never had anything missing from our house. I can't imagine any other reason these guys would keep her around."

 

Mary's daughter, Tina, is now 15 years old. After the meth moms retreat to the living room, she sits down at the kitchen table to talk. She has the slightly guarded, flat-line demeanor of teenagers everywhere. She's clearly not shy, but she's also not effusive. She looks remarkably healthy, and looking at her in her T-shirt and gym shorts it's hard to imagine that a year ago she was just another of Mower County's growing meth statistics.

"The first time I ever heard about meth I was at my ex-boyfriend's house with him and a bunch of his friends," she recalls. "I didn't know anything about it, and had no idea what it was. They just asked if I wanted to do some shit. That's what it was called. I think I was hooked after that one time. It was this instant rush. My heart was racing and my hands started sweating. It was like nothing fazed you when you were on it. I felt like I was really powerful."

The first time Tina smoked meth she stayed up all night and all the next day, and then went out and did it again the next night. "I was the first one in my group of friends to try it," she said. "I'm an impulsive kind of person, and I like an adrenaline rush. I'm a daredevil, and I didn't care what it was or what was in it. I just liked it. Lots of other girls got into through the guys. The whole weight-loss thing, lots of girls like that part of it. I wouldn't say everybody is doing it, but probably half. Even the jocks are druggies now."

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