Postcard from Texas Meth Country

In one East Texas town, a new brand of meth lab has business -- and the occasional house -- booming.

Postcard from Texas Meth Country
Jesse Lenz

The pride and shame of Lufkin, Texas, are located about a half mile from each other. Just west of the town's east loop, there's Abe Martin Stadium, site of many triumphs for the Lufkin Panthers, 5A state champions in 2001 and perennial contenders for the crown. About a quarter-mile up East Lufkin Avenue, there's the Angelina County Jail, the frequent home of the town's many meth heads, dealers and cooks, including James "Bull" Durham, one of the most frequently arrested men in East Texas history.

As jails go it's an almost cheery place. County Sheriff Kent Henson has long encouraged artistic inmates, and they've obliged with murals of rodeo scenes, portraits of cops and jailers and Texas history tableaus. Perhaps the most talented of these artists was "Iodine Mike" Russell, one of Lufkin's most notorious meth freaks and a mentor to Durham. Iodine Mike's work dominates the jail's small chapel, including his masterpiece: a colorful mural of three rugged old crosses in a Holy Land sunset setting. It will remain his finest achievement; he died last year at age 36 of liver failure.

Sheriff Henson, a Pentecostal Sunday school teacher in his spare time, is very proud of the work and its message, but if he intended for this dead meth head's vision of the Promised Land to serve as warning for those following in Iodine Mike's wake, too few have heeded it. One such scoffer is Durham, who is awaiting transfer to state prison and looking at 25 years' hard time. After a long visit with his new girlfriend, Durham is at last ready to talk. But first he has a few grievances to air with Henson.

Durham has visited the Angelina County Jail 48 times, by his
own count. And why wouldn't you trust this guy's counting?
Courtesy of Angelina County Sheriff's Office
Durham has visited the Angelina County Jail 48 times, by his own count. And why wouldn't you trust this guy's counting?
Lufkin's jail encourages artistic expression. Here, Durham expresses himself in front of a painting by a dead meth head named Iodine Mike.
Joel Andrews, Lufkin Daily News
Lufkin's jail encourages artistic expression. Here, Durham expresses himself in front of a painting by a dead meth head named Iodine Mike.

"Hey James, what're you doin'?" asks Henson good-naturedly as a guard leads Durham into the chapel. A ruddy-faced, sandy-haired 52-year-old with a perpetual twinkle in his eye, Henson's the type of man who hates the sin but loves the sinner. He greets even a wild-eyed, inked-up veteran criminal like 39-year-old Durham with a smile, and will tell you that Durham's a great guy when he's off the meth.

"Hell, what I do best," Durham sighs. By Durham's own count, this is his 48th trip to Angelina County Jail. This summer, Durham pleaded guilty to burning down his mother's home when a small, portable "shake-and-bake" meth lab erupted in his bedroom. Durham's mother lost both her home and car in the ensuing inferno, and Durham's torso was scalded by chemicals. That disaster was one of several in the worst of Durham's 39 years on the planet. He now claims to have been coerced into pleading guilty.

"I didn't burn that house down," Durham tells the sheriff with no more preamble. "I know you think I did and you think I'm a piece of shit, but I didn't burn that house down. I got burnt, I've been shot, I've been slandered, but I didn't burn that house down."

Durham also wants to know why nobody's in jail for what happened after the fire, when he was out on bond and two young men came by the shack where he was living, a little hovel he built behind what was once his mother's home. One allegedly clubbed him with a two-by-four, and the other allegedly shot him with each barrel of an old-timey over-under gun. (One barrel fires .22-caliber bullets, the other is a .410 shotgun.) Durham says they were acting on the orders of an ex-girlfriend whose bid to rekindle their romance he had spurned. The alleged shooter was charged with aggravated assault and is out on bond, but a local grand jury declined to charge the other. The woman has not been charged.

"I was laying on the ground for dead with a bullet in my guts and this man come up to me with that shotgun and shot me dead in my butt-hole," Durham cries to Henson, his voice rising. "You wanna see it?" The sheriff declines. "He shot me not in the ass but in my asshole," Durham continues. "And now I gotta wear a bag!" He parts the folds of his orange jumpsuit and shows us his colostomy bag.

"It's all 'cause I'm Bull Durham, Lufkin's most hated," Durham grouses.

"Naw, you're James Durham," the sheriff says.

Henson eventually gets an earful and reminds Durham of the time he caught him stealing his lawn mower. Durham says he had no idea how the lawman's mower wound up in his truck. He didn't even know that house belonged to the sheriff.

It ain't easy being Lufkin's Most Hated, and Lufkin's Most Wanted, but that's who Durham is, at least in his own mind. He's tattooed those descriptions across his elbows, where they compete for space amid the blue-black welter of jailhouse tats that cover his whole bullet-ridden, shotgun-blasted, hernia-addled, meth-burned, knife-poked, razor-slashed, colostomy-bagged body.


Truth be told, Durham's not as rare a bird as he likes to think. Henson's jail is full of guys like him. In the past year or two, Henson and his deputies have also played host to Donald Brooks, who was the cook at what is believed to be the largest lab in county history. There's also David Dunman, the man at the heart of a 66-count federal meth indictment, and 13 members, most in their early 20s, of an even bigger meth conspiracy also being prosecuted by the feds. One of those, Robert Wayne Dillahunty, the 41-year-old son of a respectable Lufkin family, is still in Henson's jail awaiting his federal sentencing. He's been arrested at least 10 times since 2004 for meth-related mayhem.

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15 comments
Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Sakara
Sakara

just kill all these junkies.

Texasdave60
Texasdave60

fourth photo down, left most column = Dave Grohl's stunt double. I cast no aspersions on Mr. Grohl, but, damn! if that isn't the spit n image!

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

FTFA on the industry response to making these medications available only by prescription:

"However, experts predict that lobbyists from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Merck, mindful of the collective $500 million a year these cold medicines bring to their coffers, would fight a similar national bill tooth and nail."

Yeah, these companies understand upon which side their bread is buttered. Thank the lord for the good intentions of our pharmaceutical lobbyists.

Jw2400
Jw2400

my next door dude does this shit for 5 days in a row and he takes everything apart in his unit including his computer and is a total freak. He thinks that it is curing his AIDS and he is crazy

Iceman
Iceman

Interesting piece--I like your style, Mr. Lomax. Additional props on getting through a 5000 word article about meth without referencing "Breaking Bad." Awesome show, by the way.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

What's really sad is, listen to how the guy describes hunting for certain chemicals and getting the perfect reaction. If he had applied that kind of diligence in school, where would he be now?

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

Look forward to reading the article but right now, all I want to say is "what a great image for your front page". Reminds me of the old '50's postcard colors.

NatWu
NatWu

There's never a time not to talk about Breaking Bad!

Phil
Phil

looks like dave grohl to me

 
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