Ice, Ice, Baby

Page 5 of 7

When the cop ran Maggie's name through the system, it came back that she had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear.

Well, of course she didn't get to court that day. Her previous boyfriend had locked her up in a bedroom of his house. He boarded the door and told Maggie that if she and her daughter tried to leave, he would kill them.

But she did leave. And the guy did stalk her. And then she found this new guy. And he was pretty nice to her, and he did not lock her up for days on end and did not beat her and threaten to kill her every day.

"You know, he didn't pulverize me," Voss says. "So I was hooked."

Unbeknown to her, in her belly that morning was her fourth child by the third different guy.

Her other three kids were with her parents and sister.

She had taken them to her sister's years before. Voss told her sister she was hard up for money and needed a few weeks to get back on her feet.

The weeks turned to months, the months to years, and pretty soon, her sister and other family members stopped bringing the kids by for visits.

Her family wasn't exactly sure what was happening -- they did not know about meth. Voss had been raised in a healthy, happy home -- "no cycle perpetuating itself there," she says. "But that meant they weren't exactly sure what I was up to. They just knew it was bad."

Throughout the late 1990s, she bounced from meth house to meth house. Back then, it was pretty much only a white-trash drug, lots of biker dudes, lots of tattoos, a few Aryan Brotherhood members.

In time, Voss was dealing. At first she was bad at it. Her volume was not only too low to support her habit, but she lost her house and everything else.

So she took her kids to her sister's and moved in with a new guy. She started dealing more and getting ripped off less. She always carried a pistol and was known around town as a ferocious bitch to cross.

"If you met me then," she says in the cafeteria of the hospital where she now works as an administrator, "you would not have seen hope. You would have wanted to put me away for life."

But the judge in her case, with the help of her family, did see hope. He gave her a choice -- long-term residential treatment that she had to complete successfully, or prison. If she succeeded at treatment, she could be reunited with her children. If not, they were gone.

A giant stick. A giant carrot.

She went into the Harbor Light program of the Salvation Army, a yearlong inpatient drug treatment program that most closely modeled what national meth-abuse experts say is the most effective treatment protocol for meth-addicted parents.

Voss was one of the last to graduate from the program, which -- as is common with treatment programs in Arizona -- was shut down in 2000 because of lack of funding.

Also, when her baby was born, she was allowed to keep the infant with her at Harbor Light. The center had its own child-care facility.

It takes months for meth to clear the system and for brain chemicals to begin flowing normally again. During the first stages of withdrawal, addicts are alternately lethargic and jittery, their brains craving the drug that, as addiction set in, provided equilibrium.

After a few months, Voss began learning how to function in the real world again. The whole time, too, she was learning to mother again.

Any time she considered getting high, she had to consider losing the baby in her arms.

"You don't know how powerful a deterrent that is until you've been there," she says. "It's hell fighting this addiction. But it was worth it because I could see the rewards. These beautiful children. I had to be there for them."

Once the overwhelming mothering instinct could again be discerned, meth addiction was beatable.

After 12 months essentially locked up at the Salvation Army, Voss began her return to society. But again, as the top research shows, this foray into the real world needs to be supervised. Voss was in a halfway-house setting, with constant counseling at hand, for six more months.

The trick here, treatment experts say, is to help the recovering addict build new friendships and life patterns free of chemicals.

Voss began working again. In time, her older children returned to her. She cleaned up her credit. She bought a car, she bought a house.

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Robert Nelson