By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Steve was on meth for about four years, he says. He claims the longest he ever went without lying down to sleep was 90 days. He grabbed catnaps, and often fell asleep on his feet at work, but, mostly, he says, he was just up--smoking at least a half-gram a day.
"That sort of sleep deprivation is a nightmare I wouldn't wish on anyone," Steve says. "I was tearing the drywall out of my house, looking for little cameras. I was crawling around in my attic with a crossbow, because I thought someone was hiding up there."
Steve says he often drove a utility truck during that period, flying high and hallucinating.
"Sign posts turned into beautiful women, cars would disappear and reappear. This was a three-quarter-ton company truck, fully loaded with tools and parts."
Somehow, Steve says, he never had an accident, "Thank the Lord."
In 1990, Steve quit doing meth for three months. He says he stayed in bed for a month, in the worst mood of his life, and lost his job. After he got up and around, he met JoAnne, a meth user with two toddlers.
Soon, Steve was back on the stuff.
"I wanted to get my own [repair] business going," he explains. "I told myself I needed the energy and motivation."
It never got off the ground. Steve kept smoking meth, and before long was back up to half a gram a day. He worked various jobs--laying insulation, door-to-door sales--high all the while.
"When I was at work, I was focused on work. Once I got home, I'd kick on the computer, play games, kind of go into my own world. I liked tearing apart old equipment and rebuilding it--motors, drills, whatever. I'd invent things, build them from scratch. . . . I liked tearing things apart, putting them back together, and just watching them work."
Paranoia and hallucinations didn't trouble him much, Steve insists.
"You just have to learn to tell what's real and what isn't. It becomes a survival skill. Anytime you think the police are about to break in the door, you just go outside and look. Reassure yourself. It's when you start hiding and worrying that you get in trouble. You remind yourself that the shadow people are not real, and wipe them away with your mind."
Steve says he's trained himself to "maintain" as a meth addict.
"Most of the people I know who are crystal-meth addicts are functional. They all have jobs and families, and they take care of their jobs and families. They've attained that level where you can be high all the time, and no one can tell. You can pull it off on meth. You just have to concentrate, and regulate how much you do and when."
The quality of meth in the Valley, Steve says, has dipped badly in the last few years. "The stuff I used to get was really pure. I used to get a lot of stuff that really didn't have a downside. I used to really love lemon drop, but the guy who made it got busted, and that recipe must have died with him."
JoAnne breaks in for the first time in half an hour.
"For me, it doesn't matter how good it is, or how spun I am," she says. "It's never enough. It's never, ever enough."
Steve says he and JoAnne do meth for different reasons.
"I do it to take care of everything, to take care of the kids, and get rid of the dreary sleepiness every morning," says the surrogate father.
"She just zones out. I just smoke it in the morning and go to work, then smoke it again when I come home. But she just smokes and smokes and smokes, and never gets out of her room to do anything."
JoAnne nods her head in agreement.
"I just veg out. I don't move. I just stare at myself in the mirror and pick at my body. I pick whiteheads and blackheads apart. I never get anything done, because I always go back to the pipe. I'll sit there, and I'll pick, and then I'll say, 'Well, okay, in order to get something done, I need to do more meth,' and then I do more, and I just start picking again."
A few minutes later, JoAnne clutches her stomach, stands up and leaves the room. Steve excuses himself, then returns alone a few minutes later. He explains that JoAnne is having kidney problems, and he's got to take her to a doctor.
"I'm worried about her," he says.