The End of Silence (March 24, 2004)

We ended last week's article on the Valley's home-grown methamphetamine video by suggesting that Anderson Valley could very well have been the starting-out place for hundreds of notable Americans, whose greatness could be traced to similarly rural, similarly limited surroundings: Lincoln, for example, and Mark Twain. With all their dreams of social justice and literary greatness, Lincoln and Mark Twain in Anderson Valley, would have fit right in.

These geniuses, with such an unpromising background, were dissatisfied with what they saw — or read — or heard — or felt — or observed. For Mark Twain, it may have been wanting to write the truth about “Life on the Mississippi.” For Lincoln it may have started when he was 10 and saw black human beings being sold in New Orleans.

Drug addicts are adventuresome, too. They are dying to go — right now — someplace, anyplace other than where they are — right now. The vehicles (choice of drugs) may differ; destinations may differ. But the main thing is the trip.

You can stay stoned for quite awhile for twenty bucks. And in the beginning, if you're a girl, you don't even need the twenty bucks. At first it's free. Once hooked, it's sex for meth. . . . Good God, what a way for a 13-year-old to be introduced to an essence of her womanhood. That's why, at the beginning of this article, I flashed on how a justifiably outraged father might have reacted a half century ago.

Today, here, and all over, there's such an ambience of resignation. It's almost as if one were saying, “Well, yes, there's been a lot of flu going around. It's really bad, particularly with the kids.” Maybe it's a sign of the times. It's as if you were referring to toxic-laced Louisiana: “Oh, you live in Cancer Alley. It could be worse; you could be dead.”

Over lunch in Philo, Laura, of the video, agreed with a hearty laugh that marijuana, for all of its non-lethal benefits, is not necessarily a drug you'd smoke before doing that night's algebra homework.

Just how “benign” then is marijuana? For the first time, at ages 14, 15, 16, young people are seeing how exciting ideas can be, ideas of what makes the world tick and for whom. The mind is impressionable; the ideas are fresh. Between the two, between the ideas and the mind, shouldn't there be between them absolute clarity — with no distortion of any kind? When you go to the store for a sports coat you expect the mirror to give back just what's there, not a funhouse mirror that distorts.

Admittedly, marijuana at times can be a catalyst for insights that may have eluded one otherwise. But after the high's over, where have all those marvelous insights gone? Flying with the butterflies.

As meth addiction continues, the user feels trapped in a spider's web of humanity's most insidious stimulant — dangling from a web endlessly vibrating, twitching in the web, twitching with mindless energy, so consumed with moving, racing, talking, driving, talking, lying, moving, racing, accusing, lying, betraying, stealing, lying . . . eat? We ate yesterday — so consumed with the next fix, that for some, this twitching morphs into a literal, physical scratching, scratching until there's a real infection — all this scratching, this non-religious self-flagellation, all for a self-imposed itch.

When a throw-away element of society becomes diseased, it's more difficult for the middle-class to act. Moreover, since most of the wholesale dealers are Mexican, it's easier for this cultural indifference to be transformed into intimidation. I know of one outraged resident, a prominent member of the media, whose next-door neighbor is a Mexican wholesaler dealing in pounds. Between the two men there is a seething, unspoken hostility. That's it. Period. Unspoken hostility.

Most of the Valley's growing Mexican population make up the work force of the vintners. Look at our school yearbooks. More and more Hispanic names. Most Mexicans do not readily assimilate; that is, they do not assimilate with the same alacrity that was embraced by other immigrants, particularly the early Italians.

As non-racist as we want to to be, we feel the presence of these new immigrants, and know that among these visitors — predominantly hard-working and law-abiding — there is just handful o meth dealers, plus armed pot growers. Some of us do not like these suppressed-racist feelings within us, but we don't really know how to react.

Since most families with parents in their 30s have both mother and father working — which by default often leaves, for parenting, the mindless schlock of television — how in the world is a teenager going to get the kind of necessary parental nurturing, which our millenia-old genes tell us should go on until the son is old enough himself to hunt and gather for his own family. When boys are with their fathers hunting; when girls are with their mothers tanning hides or planting rice; when, between daughter and mother, between father and son, there is back-and-forth talk from sunup to sundown every day, just an average parent will know when something is out of balance with their child. Admittedly, we no longer have the luxury of being as civilized as our ancestors were. That's the reason parents should start demanding that their own institutions start taking up the slack. Let's ask some taking-up-the-slack questions:

Are the schools doing all they can? Should there be an open campus? What would the sheriff's office advise on trying to make Anderson Valley a meth-free zone? Are the churches doing all they can? Would Jesus do more?

We've seen the value of friendship and acceptance, particularly among young people. Under the right leadership, Big Sister and Big Brother programs can be lifesavers. Fort Bragg's Big Brothers and Big Sisters have been a Godsend. Where does Anderson Valley fit in this project? Our self-confident Laura, no longer a teenager, advises parents to see that their kids become involved in after-school activities.

During the Measure H campaign we heard a lot about Heirloom Seeds. Isn't this home-grown video sort of like an Heirloom seed? Presently, producers, Mitch Mendosa, Lee Serrie and Heidi Knott are planting “The End of Silence” around. Last week, Mitch and Heidi and four youthful video participants were slowly working toward national exposure when they showed “The End of Silence” at a Dominican College teacher-credentialing class, composed of 20-30 young people who were excited about seeing a “text” coming out of their own neck of the woods.

In recalling their visit, Mitch said, “Obviously, beginning teachers need to know about the drug culture with which their students might become associated, and that they themselves can become involved in solutions to the problem. But beyond the intrinsic value of the film, is its radical message for teachers: If you want to get your kids involved, get them out of the classroom, connecting to their own surroundings. It's called ‘Place-based education.' Rather than defining it, let's say your community is faced with a dying river. Kids can investigate, take notes, do research, conduct interviews, write reports, testify at hearings, and yes, do a home-made video.”

Look at what students are learning: how to write, how to speak, how to edit, how to do research that's immediately relevant to their own environment, and how to work as a team, which thus far has been the domain of coaches and athletes. And then there's the second-language angle. I think it's really fortunate, by the way, that we were also able to make a Spanish-language version of “The End of Silence” .

Mitch is also involved in place-based projects with the North Coast Rural Challenge Network, which at first was supported by an Annenberg grant (but now is funded mainly by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy). This environmental network involves Anderson Valley, Point Arena, Laytonville and Mendocino, comprising a four-district educational cooperative. Each district works on its own projects, sharing its ideas and strengths with the other three.

As for the video, “The End of Silence” — it's presently working like ripples on a stream. “They've already seen it,” Mitch says, “in Point Arena, Mendocino, Laytonville, Willlits, Potter Valley, and of course Anderson Valley. Fort Bragg and Ukiah are settling on a date. We sent it to Humboldt State University. The Dean there is using it in their teacher preparatory classes.”

Indeed, there has been a county-wide crucible of video work. Native Americans in Point Arena made one called “Life on the Rez.” Another ongoing Valley project is “Voices of the Valley.” Contacts are being made in Covelo, where — as with Anderson Valley — the drug of choice is methamphetamine. 

In discussing the present video, Mitch says, “Fortunately, our project was loaded with serendipity. How likely is it that a network camerawoman from New York, and a documentary maker out of Germany, are going to wind up in Anderson Valley living next door to each other? And just when we needed them.

“Here's more serendipity,” Mitch says. “In the first place, the project itself almost didn't get off the ground. We started with trying to videotape one boy in a classroom at the Rancheria school. Nothing happened; he clammed up. Lots of kids were apprehensive that our project would be amateurish. With more legitimacy, perhaps, others thought they would be stigmatized by their friends, neighbors and the community at large.

“Next we tried with a group of four or five kids. Still nothing. Silence. And then along comes Amber, a spontaneous, outgoing bundle of energy, who said, 'I might have a few things to say about that'.”

And she did. It's Amber who leads off the video, by claiming that meth “is all over the place.” It's Amber, who when gently prodded by participant Chance, her cousin, about girls and meth, said, “Dealers love girls like me; they give girls drugs for free.”

When prodded some more with the usual why, why, why, a slightly exasperated, Amber exclaimed on the video , “Because they're sick; they're sick perverts.”

If Amber was the catalyst for the video, JoAnne was it's wise den mother. She is the one who appears most clearly to be in a 12-step program. Looking to be in her early 40s, and, as with most, a former poly-drug user, JoAnne speaks most eloquently in the video's segment, called simply DUI. Jo Anne caused a multiple-car crash, in which her husband at the time, was paralyzed. She spoke with deep remorse. As with three other mothers on the video, JoAnne was frustrated she couldn't reach her own child. ŒWhen I was in prison in 1980 I didn't get it. Today I deal with a son who doesn't get it for some reason. Like most addicts, he think he's different.' How many of us at one time thought that we were immortal?

One of the video's “lessons” that could have been further developed was that of youthful abstinence. For Jordan, it was revulsion at seeing meth's results on his older brother. Frustrated in finding the right words, Jordan most memorably described his brother's behavior simply as “dumb”. As we've already heard, Chance abstains largely because of fear — fear of the addiction he says runs in his family. Marci seemed the most adamant in her refusal to use drugs. It's love of her family, a tight Italian family that's lived in the Valley for generations. There was a consensus from both users and non-users that one can get addicted “after only one hit.”

Clearly, committed non-users learn from a family's users. These non-users abstain on their own. For others, more alert parenting could have been salutary. Emblematic of mothers' inattention was Anne, mother of Forrest. Anne says she saw stuff “in the garage, on the road. There were test tubes, beakers, tin foil with brown stripes.” Her son Forrest was finally kicked out of the house, but has since returned as a non-user. Anne says, “I was disappointed in myself for not recognizing the signs and the symptoms ahead of time, because once I found out that this had been going on for two years I was appalled.…I've taught parenting classes; I'm an educated professional; I've lived here in the valley. [This] caused so much guilt in me, it was a very difficult choice to make to use tough love by saying you can't be here anymore — you're not going to school; you're not working; you're staying constantly high and its devastating to our family and you just need to go. And he just walked away and he said, 'Bye Mom'.” At that time in his life, Forrest clearly had no adult to confide in.

Recovering addict-alcoholic JoAnne has the last word: “You've got to find somebody you can trust to talk to. Somebody, anybody you can trust. A parent, counselor, another kid and no matter how embarrassed you are. Once you start to hide your feelings, that's when drugs start to play.”

For too long Anderson Valley has hidden its own feelings. For those who live in one of the garden spots of the world, there are many who are now speaking out.

Perhaps it is the end of silence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.