ELKO — Who became a drug addict — the kid with an alcoholic father and no mother, the golf star with a full scholarship or the prison guard who grew up with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom?
If you chose the first one you’d be wrong.
The last two are the correct answers — at least when talking with Elko Police Capt. Aaron Hughes about recovering drug addicts Jason Wenner and Sal Miguez.
These three men joined together to tell the truth about the dangers of drugs, especially methamphetamine, to area schoolchildren.
They talk to elementary students and junior high and high school students in health classes, but it is not approached like a lecture. Each of these men tell their own story on how they stayed away from drugs or fell neck deep into the world of addiction.
None of them sugarcoat their stories — although they do make them age appropriate — and the impact can be seen in the faces of students.
Sitting through six Elko Junior High classes, each class offered the same reaction. Class begins, the boys — girls were taught last semester — are rowdy and make jokes. By the time the bell rings all of them are quiet and have looks of contemplation or shock on their faces. A few look embarrassed or sad.
Their teacher, Marva Santina, said she thinks the talk “has had an impact.” She said one student told her, “‘No offense to you, but this is the best health class I’ve had in two years.”’
This drug awareness class begins with Hughes’ story.
He grew up in Elko with his alcoholic father. Hughes had to fend for himself since he was 11 years old, stealing clothes and taking money from his passed out dad to buy food. As a teen, he left Elko and found his mother in Seattle. He later joined the Army and became a Ranger before moving back to Elko to join the city’s police department.
As a cop, he found his father again — but it wasn’t a happy ending. His father drank himself to death, and Hughes was the officer who had to respond to the call for a dead body. Years of drinking caused his father’s liver to swell and forced the stomach to tear away from the esophagus, and he bled to death, Hughes said.
Hughes said he doesn’t tell this story to make the class feel sorry for him, but to explain what his life was like and how he stayed away from drugs.
Wenner’s and Miguez’s stories are very different.
Wenner also grew up in Elko with his parents. He was an honor student and had a golf scholarship and endorsements.
“Because I felt the need to fit in and be part of the crowd, I lost all that,” Wenner said.
He started using drugs in high school and quickly became a meth addict. At least three years of his life were spent in prison and he was a two-time felon by the age of 22. Since he is a felon, he can’t vote or own a gun. He told the kids he can’t even borrow a gun to go hunt.
He told the class he has almost died seven times from drugs. Wenner said during one overdose on pills, it took his “so-called friends” two hours to call an ambulance.
Wenner showed his first police booking photo to the class and told them he weighed 108 pounds.
“I was a walking dead man,” said Wenner. “I was a bad person. I sold death to our community. I believe I’m not a bad person any more because I’m trying to give back to the community I took from.”
Miquez’s story is similar to Wenner’s, but his addiction started a little later in life.
He came from a good home and attended college, but this didn’t stop his descent into the world of drugs.
He was a prison guard in New York and had a chance to play for the Detroit Tigers in 1975, but lost it “because he wanted to smoke pot,” Miguez said. He was 23-years-old.
Now he’s 50 and has been to prison twice and an addict for 27 years.
“These drugs do not discriminate,” Miguez told the class. “They will take the poorest people and the richest people. … I’ve done crack for 16 years of my life and three years I did meth. Those three years doing meth were worse than the 16 years of crack.”
He said crystal meth is the worst drug he’s seen in his life.
After their individual stories, Hughes told the class drugs can be found anywhere, including schools.
He showed the class a pill box filled with pain killers and Valium, which police officers seized in the junior high last year. A student sold more than 300 pills to his classmates.
“That tells me there are 300 people here who aren’t strong enough to say, ‘No, I don’t need that crap,’” said Hughes.
The pills sold were prescription drugs, but the fact they were “medicine” didn’t stop two students from overdosing and dying last year, Hughes told the class. Prescription drugs are not the only controlled substances on campus.
Hughes said officers have found students as young as sixth grade with meth.
“The high school kids I talk to say it’s easier to get meth than alcohol or marijuana,” Hughes said.
Hughes, Wenner and Miguez will visit Spring Creek High School Thursday and Friday.
Free Press writer Marianne Kobak can be reached at 748-2719 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.