by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent
COLUMN: Ice, Sweat, and Tears Continue on Huntington's Four-and-a-Half Alley

"Angel" walks out of her apartment and onto Four-and-a-Half Alley.  She is one of the lucky addicts who have a home.  Right now she does not feel lucky.  The heat is working on her, amplifying her sickness.


The magic of the ice has worn off.  She slept for a few minutes but now she is up...almost in tears....with the never ending task of finding money to stop the sickness.  First, find the money and then find the, heroin, crack....whatever will stop the sickness.

  She is in her late twenties.  She has been addicted for a few years but the drugs have not chewed her up yet.  She does not look like the average meth addict that has been ravaged by drugs. Although she has lost some weight,  she is still fairly attractive.  The looks help as it keeps the option to make money through prostitution open.  Married she doesn't call it prostitution.  She does not walk the streets; she  trades a service to a drug dealer for a drug.

Her husband, "Brian", is addicted as well.  They search the many dumpsters of the alleys for something to sell for drug money or to trade to a drug dealer.  Sometimes they steal  usually  lifting a cell phone or speaker from unsuspecting acquaintances.

This is daily survival for the addicts of four-and-a-half alley.  It is not unlike the daily struggle fought by addicts all over the city or country.

"James" has been staying at an abandoned house on Fifth Avenue.  The back of the house is off of four-and-a-half Alley.  Like Angel, Jason is in his late twenties and has good looks.  He does know Angel as their paths cross throughout the day.  

James' story is different though.  James was sentenced through alternative sentencing in Boone County, West Virginia.  He used a stolen credit card, but instead of a one to ten year sentence, he was sent to a drug rehabilitation house in Huntington.

There were several things wrong with the rehab house.  One, it did not have a business license.  The police came in and shut it down.  James and other were sent out into the streets without their possessions or anywhere to go. 

The house was ran by a lady who was on home confinement herself.  Since there  were not any male employees, the residents were allowed to take drug tests alone.

As James recounted, " We would do drugs and then get clean people to piss into bottles for us.  As we were allowed to take the tests in a bathroom by ourselves it was easy to pour the clean pee into the cup and pass the tests."

James met a girl and began staying in the abandoned house on Fifth Avenue.  The girl knew me and that I had connections in the recovery field.  They asked me if I could find him placement in another recovery house.  Within five minutes I had found him a room at my friend Justin Ponton's recovery house Newness of Life.  

With the door wide open to recovery, James balked.  He and his new girlfriend wanted time together.  James began using heroin and ice (meth) and even got his girlfriend started on it.  "James" has a car.  They drive other addicts and dealers around in it for money.  Sometimes, they rent the car out to dealers for drugs.

I talk to both of them about recovery options when I see them.  They say they will think about it, but they are not ready.

Recovery is strong in Huntington.  There are many in Huntington like Justin Ponton who work hard for Recovery everyday.  Justin works with children in Ohio.  But before and after work. he is dedicated to his recovery house Newness of Life.  More than that, he is dedicated to saving those that are battling addictions.  He tried to save James, but he knows that drug users have to make the choice to get clean.

Justin has been in prison and in recovery.  He is saving lives in Huntington, giving back to the city that helped him.  He is  honest and hardworking .  He has the looks, personality and experience to make an impact.  He cares and people can tell that.  He is helping make Recovery in Huntington.  But Justin is street smart and he knows that not everybody wants help.  Many will use recovery opportunities to manipulate those willing to help.  The most needed skill in recovery is the ability to "read" who wants to get off drugs and who doesn't.

"Boston Steve" works the alleys of Huntington.  His thick accent leaves no doubt of his origins.  He drifted to Huntington from Boston.  According to him, "Being homeless in Huntington is easier than anywhere else.  The weather is never too extreme.  There are plenty of abandoned houses.  The people of Huntington are caring.  They give you food or money.  People say it is dangerous here, but it is nothing like living on the streets of New York or Boston. People will cut you for five dollars there.  Huntington is safe as long as you aren't in the drug business."

Boston Steve gets a check of around $700 every month.  He chooses to not get housing and spends it on drugs.  It is usually gone in two days.  Then he survives by petty theft, selling items found in dumpsters, being the go between in drug deals, or getting things from friends he has met.  He lives in the abandoned house on Fifth Avenue.  He  overdosed in the backyard in May but was narcanned by EMS.

Boston Steve met a girl named "Brandy".  Brandy lived at the abandoned house.  Her health got so bad from meth and heroin, she had to be taken by ambulance to St.  Mary's.  She never overdosed.  She was just so dehydrated and weak from not eating and not sleeping due to being on ice that she almost died.  It is believed she is now in rehab in Morgantown.  She has been gone from the alley for about a month.

"Mary" is another regular to the alley.  She has a son "Jake" who just got out of prison.  Jake was out of prison a week before getting caught tampering with a car and did a week in jail.  Jake had been stealing car batteries but did not get caught with one on him.

Mary has finally rented a room and will get her and Jake off of the streets.  She had been homeless for several months.  She was getting money from a local agency for rent but had been spending it on drugs.  She was detained a few months ago at a house being raided for drugs.  She was seen on the newscast crying.  She was happy afterwards though.  She was not arrested.  She had drugs but stuck them up inside of her and the police did not find them.

Mary was hospitalized a few months ago.  She was put on suboxone.  She takes some of her strips so she will not get sick.  But, she sells some of them and purchases ice so she can get a buzz that she does not get from suboxone.

There are many in Huntington who want help from drugs.  There are good honest people willing to help.  There are some who do not want help.  All of the people mentioned are real .  Their names have been changed.  All been in jail.  Jail did not help their addictions.

  If the residents of Huntington are to be protected from the "petty" crimes of buying drugs and the irrational and irresponsible actions of those on drugs, something will have to be done with the repeat offenders who manipulate the system.   Let Recovery help the willing....let jail  protect the innocent from the repeat offenders who are unwilling to be helped by Recovery. EDITOR'S NOTE: Sandwiched down a corridor about a half block from the Marshall University campus, four-and-a-half alley has an earlier history of vice --- specifically, houses of prostitution.