Feature: Wednesday,May 29, 2003
Meth Madness Part 1

Speed dashes a Montague County man’s dreams.

By Jeff Prince

Morning is a tease, a windowless, sunless tease, offering counterfeit hope to a man condemned to pacing a cage until 2016. Terry Hodges opens his eyes and drifts for fleeting moments in that other world, the place between sleep and wakefulness, where he is uncertain whether his life has really taken this terrible detour. “Sometimes it seems like it really didn’t happen,” he said. “I thought it was a dream whenever I got put in here. I’d wake up and think it was just a big dream — I’d never do something like that.”

Hodges did do that. All of that. Now he’s in a federal penitentiary in Beaumont, amazed at the mess he’s made of his life.

Good was the word that once described this young man from North Texas — good kid, good-looking, good grades, good athlete. In his teens he began challenging the system but didn’t stray too far. Skipped school to go fishing, smoked grass, drank beer — nothing that thousands of other kids didn’t do. Besides, he straightened up after he was married in 1999. Nabbed a decent job. And there wasn’t a man in the world more thrilled to become a father.

The good life didn’t last. The job, the pretty wife, the precious baby, and rational mind were all sucked away by a chemical tornado called methamphetamine, with everything tossed and scrambled until he found himself standing in First American Bank in Bowie, blasting a shotgun into the ceiling. Nobody robs banks in Bowie. But then again, time was, nobody did meth in Bowie either.

He robbed a bank, for chrissakes. The terrified clerk who filled the bag with money was his friend’s mother. Hodges marched in with his daddy’s shotgun and some chemical courage, a kid so blinded by speed that it took prison to slow him down enough to realize that, in his early 20s, he’d accomplished most of his dreams — family, job, house, car — and thrown them all away.

Hodges managed to get out of the bank, get out of Bowie. Then he took off with friends on a wild spending spree that included buying a motorcycle, a limo ride in Fort Worth, a boat trip, jet skis, and more meth, always more meth, a euphoric high that lasts days on end. But bank robbers seldom avoid arrest for long, especially when they’re fried on speed and leave shotguns behind for federal agents to find, or when they carry money that still has bank wrappers around it, or when they run out of money and drugs and come crashing back to reality, desperate, afraid, and shocked by the stupidity of their own actions.

He’d had 10 days. And when it was over, his dreams were few.

The prison garb, close-cropped hair, Fu Manchu mustache, and 6 feet 2 inches of strapping youth give Terry Hodges an intimidating presence, which evaporates as soon as he speaks. He shuffles into an interview room wearing bright blue sneakers and an orange jumpsuit over a white t-shirt. “Hi,” he says simply, with a slight grin. Over the next two hours, he reveals himself to be affable, intelligent, and well-spoken. His tale unfolds like a Quentin Tarantino screenplay made into a straight-to-video movie starring Charlie Sheen.

Hodges looks like a man in his 30s, but his personality and manner are those of a small-town fellow of 23 which is what he is. He smiles often, revealing braces on his teeth. His large size and personality are his trademarks, and they served him well until his fall, said Linda Fitzner, theater arts teacher at Bowie High School. “I always thought he looked like he could go into television soap operas because of his looks and build,” she said.

Bowie is a city of about 5,000 people in Montague County, northwest of Fort Worth and not far from the Oklahoma border. The city began in the 1880s as a market and financial center for farmers and ranchers between Fort Worth and Wichita Falls and hasn’t changed much except to evolve in the 1990s as a favored hangout for methamphetamine producers, who like the area’s rural layout for the drug-cooking process and its proximity to Fort Worth-Dallas customers.

“It’s such a shame,” Fitzner said, her eyes growing moist. “Terry was always very polite in class, manners all the time, very respectful. Everybody liked him. He reminds you of an Elvis type.”

The description also fit Hodges a few years earlier, when he was growing up in the Fort Worth area, where he was a gifted athlete and successful student, gushed over by girls, admired by boys, and appreciated by teachers. Still, his beginnings weren’t storybook perfect.

Drugs were there from the get-go. His mother, Naomi Meitl, was a pretty 15-year-old, unmarried, unprepared for motherhood, and with a penchant for partying. When baby Terry arrived on Jan. 7, 1980, at Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, Naomi asked her older sister, Tammy Hodges, to care for the child, and later allowed Tammy to legally adopt. Naomi rarely saw her only child and later moved to Kansas.

“She was incapable of taking care of a child at that time,” Tammy Hodges said. “She’s still not capable.”

Terry grew up with five brothers and sisters and didn’t learn until years later that he was adopted. In elementary school, he played first base on a Euless baseball team that won state championships in 1991 and 1992. He excelled in most sports, but dropped out of football after hitting a teammate in practice with such force that it separated the boy’s shoulder. He didn’t want to hurt anybody, he told his mom.

“I played nothing but sports all the time, that’s all I basically did,” Terry said. His father seldom missed games and helped coach some of his teams.

The Hodges were close-knit. Bobby Hodges made his living as a mechanic, and Tammy Hodges provided loving care for the four girls and two boys. In 1994, worried about drugs and violence in big-city schools, the couple decided to move to the small town where they had once lived. They bought 35 acres and a modest frame just outside of Bowie. It was a decision that would later haunt them, even though it seemed wise at the time. As they came to understand, the idyllic setting didn’t match the reality. “I almost wish we had just stayed in Euless because, once we moved here, it just, you know...” Tammy Hodges said, her sentence trailing off to nothing. “This school has so much drugs in it.”

They had no idea that Montague County had become a haven for makers of methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant “cooked” in makeshift laboratories using mostly inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. Meth is similar to cocaine, but the stimulating effect is more intense and lasts longer, and the price is lower. The powder can be swallowed, smoked, snorted, or injected to create hours of alertness, elation, and a sense of well-being. The drug is addictive, however, and regular use can lead to slave-like dependency, agitation, and paranoia.

In the 1950s, methamphetamine was legally manufactured in tablet form in the United States and used by truck drivers to stay awake, athletes to enhance performance, and housewives to lose weight and escape mundane existences. Motorcycle gangs began making and distributing bootleg meth from secret labs in the 1960s, leading the U.S. government to restrict production in the 1970s. Regardless, meth manufacturing soared in the 1980s, mostly in California’s countless secret labs.

Labs eventually spread to the Midwest and southwest, including Texas. “We have a tremendous methamphetamine situation here,” said Tim Cole, district attorney of Archer, Clay, and Montague counties. “I would say we’ve got probably as much for a county our size as any place in the country. Our system is overwhelmed with such cases.”

With a population of about 18,000, Montague County generates the most meth cases of the three counties that Cole oversees. Drug cases there have increased from 12 in 1997 to 60 in 2000, a rise attributed to meth. The numbers continue to swell. “We’re seeing probably on the order of 15 to 20 a month,” he said. “We’ve had probably a 100 percent increase in this type of case in the last five years. Probably 60 to 70 percent of our entire caseload in this office deals with methamphetamine production or use. Just recently we’ve had to double the capacity of our jail due largely to this problem.”

In the 1980s, labs were large and bulky, and the foul odor emitted during the cooking process required setting up shop in the woods, away from people. Meth production became easier in the 1990s. Recipes were readily available on the internet, and improved cooking processes reduced the time it took to make meth from about 20 hours to just a few. Labs were smaller and could be put together cheaply in almost any space — a bathroom, kitchen, garage, motel, a tiny shack in the woods, or in the back of a van or pickup.

Meth production and use are up throughout the state, said David Israelson, director of the North Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which covers 21 counties, including Tarrant, Denton, Parker, and Dallas. “Methamphetamine is certainly increasing in this area,” he said. “We’re seeing each year an increase in the number of clandestine laboratories that are manufacturing it, as well as the groups that are distributing it.”

An investment of a few hundred dollars in over-the-counter cold and asthma medicines containing ephedrine, along with hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, antifreeze, and other ingredients, can yield several thousand dollars’ worth of meth. Labs generate toxic materials that often find their way to streams and other water sources. Cleanups of lab sites can be expensive to taxpayers. But it’s the slow poisoning and enslavement of humans that cause the most damage, Israelson said. “It’s certainly a serious drug as far as the consequences of using it, some of the worst consequences of any drug as far as the damage that it causes the individual,” he said.

Meth would clutch two members of the Hodges family, and would victimize them all.

The move to Bowie became troublesome almost immediately. Bobby Hodges worked in Plano, and the near four-hour commute left little time for family. Tammy Hodges had her hands full with housekeeping and six kids. Terry’s younger brother, Chase, quickly became a problem, experimenting with drugs, skipping school, running away from home, and stealing. Tammy Hodges focused on his delinquency and paid little attention to Terry, who appeared to be a golden child. He was 14, doing well in school, making good grades, playing sports, hanging out with the popular crowd, and dating a cheerleader.

“There was no time,” Tammy Hodges said. “I’m basically just dropping Terry off at school his freshman year, when I should have been watching his games. I had other kids here, and then Chase had ADD (attention deficit disorder) growing up.”

She didn’t worry about Terry. “All of his teachers loved him,” she said. “He was sweet.”

Terry was big for his age, reaching 6 feet before he was 15. His freshman year, he had no trouble attracting girls, and he was welcomed into a fold of older boys who liked to skip school, drink beer, and smoke cigarettes and marijuana at a nearby lake. “He just ended up kind of being led,” Tammy said. “The bigger kids wanted to be around him. All the girls wanted to be around him. Kids would look up to him and think he was cool, and he kind of had a little persona about himself that he was cool.”

In reality, he was a teddy bear and bit of a doofus, said his oldest sister, Crissy Allen. “He was always the soft one; he was real gullible,” she said. “He was sensitive. I could say two wrong words to Terry, and he would bust out crying.”

Crissy disapproved of one of his friends in high school and told Terry to stay away from the guy. After that, she saw her brother riding around with the guy, and she yanked Terry out of the car. He defended the friend. “Terry told me that [the friend] wanted to change and do better,” she said. “It’s stuff like that that got him into trouble. He always saw the best in everybody.”

Before long, something was obviously amiss — Terry flunked the tenth grade. He skipped school so often he could no longer keep up his grades or play sports. His parents were worried but still distracted by Chase. Finally, though, they confronted Terry about skipping school and smoking weed. He didn’t tell them he was also dabbling in cocaine. “They sat me down and we had a big lecture about it,” Terry said. “I just took it the wrong way and got into an argument with him [his dad] and told him I didn’t want to live there anymore under their rules and all that. I just packed up my bags and took off walking. They tried to reason with me, but I wouldn’t listen. They wanted what was best for me, but that’s not what I wanted. They’re pretty reasonable, but I was hardheaded.”

Terry moved to Kansas and began working with a friend whose parents managed a fiber optic cable company. He earned his general equivalency diploma and supported himself. “I quit smoking weed and doing the drugs,” he said. “I was just trying to show my parents I could do it on my own.”

The job paid well, but work dried up after about six months. Terry moved to Fort Worth and found similar work, earning even more money. He bought a Pontiac Firebird Formula, rented an upscale house, and became reacquainted with a girl from his high school, Cindy White. They fell in love.

Before long, fiber optic work dwindled in Fort Worth, and his salary dropped. He sold his car, bought a small truck, and returned to Bowie in 1998. Cindy was pregnant, and the couple moved into a trailer house. Terry took a job at a printing shop, and Cindy worked as a typesetter at the local newspaper.

Terry reunited with his friends and Chase and was introduced to the newest rage — snorting and smoking meth. “I’d never done the speed before and I wanted to see what it was like,” Terry said. “I never thought I’d get hooked on it like I did. I figured I’d just try it once. From that day on, I was hooked. All day long, it made me feel like I was full of energy. Working at the print shop we would work late hours some nights and have to get up and work early the next day, so I started feeling like I needed the meth to get me through every day.”

Cindy had no idea. They became engaged and set a wedding date in 1999. At his bachelor party, Terry injected meth into his vein for the first time. He was dancing with the devil but his personality had yet to change. His sister Crissy recalled how love-struck and innocent he appeared at the wedding, held at his parents’ ranch.

“He got down on one knee and went to bawling,” Crissy said. “A lot of men aren’t like that. He’s as softhearted as any man you’ll ever meet. He had a pillow and he got down on one knee on that pillow and held her hand and had the DJ play the song, ‘You Are So Beautiful.’ He hadn’t told anyone he was doing it.”

But love was no match for meth. The injection at the bachelor party had sealed his fate. He would soon be spending $200 a week on the drug. He tried to quit after Cindy gave birth to Cally, their daughter. He adored his wife and was captivated by his daughter, but the craving for meth wouldn’t go away. After six months, he quit fighting.

Cindy would leave the house each morning to take the baby to daycare before heading to work. Terry shot up meth once she left. “Every day I did it,” he said. “We had a relationship that was very open about everything else, but I kept that to myself because I knew I’d lose her if she ever found out.” He injected meth at lunch and after work. The speed curbed his appetite, and he lost weight. For the first time in his life, he also began to become agitated and aggressive.

Cindy was confused, but Terry’s parents were more savvy by now, having watched Chase’s battle. “My parents, whenever they wouldn’t see me for four or five weeks, they’d tell me I was looking pretty bad,” Terry said. “Then they started catching on to what I was doing. My wife just thought it was the stress from the work because I worked so many hours, but my dad had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. He asked me one day if I was doing drugs and I told him no, but I could tell in his eyes that he knew I was lying. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him yeah, so I lied to him.”

Terry was also stealing for meth money. James Scruggs owns a furniture store on the town square and hired Terry to make deliveries. “I had known his mother and daddy for quite some time,” Scruggs said. “His dad’s as good a guy as you’ll ever meet.”

At first, Scruggs felt the same about Terry. “The kid was always polite and clean cut,” he said. Soon, however, items were missing, including an air compressor and cash. After a few months, Terry quit showing up for work. Not long afterward, the store was broken into and robbed of money and blank checks. A trail of hot checks led to Terry, who was charged with burglary.

Scruggs’ daughter, Julie Gunter, still has difficulty in accepting Terry as a thief and meth addict. “He was a cute kid with a cute wife and had a great little kid and could have had a great life,” she said.

Terry received deferred adjudication and was spared a jail sentence, but didn’t learn the lesson. Within months he had stolen a checkbook from his parents, unaware that the account was closed. Terry quickly passed a dozen hot checks around town. “It just devastated me,” Tammy Hodges said. The Hodges faced a decision — cover Terry’s screw-up or send him to jail.

In time, they would face the same decision with Chase, and allow him to be sent to jail. After a two-year stint in a state jail facility, Chase was released in 2002. He is currently working with Bobby Hodges as a mechanic and doing well. He did not wish to be interviewed for this story, nor did Bobby.

Tammy and Bobby Hodges took a different tack with Terry. They covered the hot checks rather than file forgery charges. “I couldn’t do it,” Tammy Hodges said. “I should have. He would have been locked up for three years because he was on deferred adjudication. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown that day. My husband just went and paid them.”

Money problems forced Terry and Cindy out of the trailer house and into a smaller and cheaper rent house. “I started getting really, really bad on drugs, and me and her would get into fights and yelling matches and I was losing my head real bad,” he said. “I finally broke down one day and told her I was doing the drugs and she moved in with her mom. From that day on I lost my mind.”

Terry searched for himself at the tip of a needle. “I started getting real bad into drugs, and my whole family knew it,” he said.

Unable to hold a job, Terry focused on making and selling meth. Tammy Hodges tried to get her son away from Bowie and his meth-head friends, and suggested he go live in Kansas with his biological mother, who had married, settled down, and, as far as Tammy knew, stopped doing drugs.

“I called my biological mom in Kansas and asked her if I could move up there with her and get away from drugs and everything,” Terry said. “She came down and got me right after Christmas (2001) and took me up there to live with her.”

Naomi was thrilled, and her husband was also gracious. “They were really good to me and made me feel at home,” Terry said.

He found a job and, for a short time, things went well. Kansas, though, rivals Texas as a meth hotbed. “I was good for three or four months and then jumped right back into it,” Terry said.

One night, he confessed to his mother. Rather than chastise him, Naomi joined him. “Me and her got drunk one night and she got right back on it with me,” he said. He quit his job and, once again, became a meth cook and dealer. Keri Olson caught his eye about that time. She was a senior in high school and worked at a convenience store with Naomi. Keri wasn’t an angel — she was an under-aged habitual drinker — but she had a good heart. She earned high grades in high school, played sports, attended church, volunteered in the community, and had been offered a scholarship at a local college. She was considering a career in office computer systems. After dating a couple of weeks, Terry told Keri about his meth habit. She wasn’t shocked; she was curious, and she quickly became as addicted as Terry.

“She’d just take little capsules, I never let her shoot up or anything like that,” Terry said. “I knew the effect it had on me, and I didn’t want it to ruin anybody else.”

Ruination awaited them both.(Click here to continue...)

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