Aberdeen Police Officer Loren Neil has spent years working on putting a dent in Aberdeen’s drug problem. He’s awakened judges at 2 a.m. for search warrants, busted drug users and dealers, cleared drug houses, and everything else that goes along with the monumental task.
“You’d do all that work and there would just be another drug house,” said Neil. “It was almost depressing, like a Band-Aid for a problem that never went away.”
It got him thinking, “If I can’t affect the supply, maybe I can help to decrease the demand.”
Over the years he’s gotten to know some of the players in the local drug world. Some he’s had to physically subdue to make an arrest. But he noticed once they were in the back of the squad car, and he’d assure them he wasn’t there to judge them and told them there was hope, the arrested would often want to open up to him.
So he got the idea to take some of these individuals mired in the drug culture and ask if they would share their stories with others.
“I was surprised by how many agreed,” said Neil.
He approached Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate with an idea to film the stories of these people, find out what got them into the cycle of drug use, and use their stories to educate others as to the dangers inherent in a life of drugs. Shumate enthusiastically agreed. The Hoquiam Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office also got on board. Neil bought a video kit for his cell phone and got to work, all on his own time, outside of his usual responsibilities as a police officer.
The result is an hour-long video, featuring the stories of 11 people talking about their descent into addiction and what it’s done to their lives.
The interviews ranged from 10-25 minutes each. Fortunately, he has an experienced film editor in his home, his son, Aiden, a freshman at Aberdeen High School, who threw himself into the project and cut all the raw footage into the hour-long package.
The resulting film contains well over 200 edits; neither father or son even ventures a guess how many hours were put into editing the video down to just more than an hour. The short answer is, a lot.
The interview subjects, who are referred to only by first names, range in age from 23 to 41, and each speaks frankly about their experience with addiction. Each has a message: don’t start.
“Orange is not the new black,” said Andrew, 41, pointing to his Hoquiam jail-issued orange jumpsuit. He warns, “don’t cut yourself short, man. It might seem like it’s worth it for the instant gratification … just don’t. Once you squander that innocence there is no getting that back. The needle takes it away.”
Most of the users said they would do $100-$300 worth of drugs a day, primarily methamphetamine and heroin. They’d do anything to get it to avoid the sickness that quickly follows the high, including stealing from friends and family anyone or anywhere that may have money for the next fix. Many have spent much of their lives in jail for crimes committed chasing the next high. A man named Brett said from the Hoquiam Jail that he is 30 and has done a third of his years behind bars.
Interviews took place in the Grays Harbor County, Hoquiam and Aberdeen jails, and two were filmed at the old river camp homeless encampment. Tracy, 38, had spent years getting her Registered Nurse license. In a relationship with a drug user, she began to use, “to connect,” which led to an arrest, which led to loss of her hard-earned license, which led to a life of addiction and homelessness.
The last two interviews are with “Adam” and “Matt,” biological brothers, said Neil. The latter is facing his third strike, mandatory natural life in prison with no chance of getting out.
Addiction “takes everything. My children, my family, my friends, my life, it’s like a blink of the eye decades are gone,” said Matt. “Love life, cherish it, it’s precious.”
The Neil father and son team spent many a night putting together the footage. Loren Neil said he hopes the message is strong, due to the source.
“Kids expect someone in the school system, or a police officer, or a parent, to say ‘don’t do drugs,’” he said. Aiden Neil added, “You don’t expect to hear it coming from them,” the users.
Loren Neil hopes at some point to find the people he interviewed and do follow-up sessions. For now, he’s working with school districts to see how the video could be used in classrooms to show the real-life toll of drug addiction.
The video is posted on Aiden Neil’s own YouTube page, where it belongs since Aiden “did most of the work,” according to his dad. In less than a week the video has more than 3,700 views.
The Neils, including Loren’s wife, Jodi, are hoping the video gets as many shares as possible to spread its message of how anyone can fall into addiction, what addiction means to not only their lives but those around them, and the very real-world consequences of a drug lifestyle. Access the direct link at https://youtu.be/YygqUPuyFiM or on the Aberdeen Police Department’s Facebook page.