Postcard from Texas Meth Country

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

Thanks to relatively poor soil, Angelina County has long stood apart from the rest of East Texas. The first Anglo settlers were not slaveholding cotton farmers but Scotch-Irish backwoods folk. Culturally, the county was less moonlight-and-magnolias Dixie than a little pocket of Appalachia, where pioneers, often from similarly hardscrabble areas of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, wanted nothing more than to carve homesteads out of the Piney Woods and river thickets, farm a little, maybe raise a scraggly herd of tough cattle to drive to market in New Orleans. They also wanted to brew up a little whiskey and subsist on the bass, catfish and perch they hauled from the Neches and Angelina rivers and whatever they could trap and shoot on dry land. In 1861, alone in East Texas, Angelina County voted against secession. (Their electoral peculiarity continued through the 20th Century — Angelina County was the seat of power for swashbuckling politico "Good Time Charlie" Wilson, aka "the liberal from Lufkin.") They were, and are, a self-sufficient breed, good with their hands, bluntly honest and leery of all central authority.

Over time, the criminal underworld of Angelina has evolved. Virtually all of the moonshine stills are gone, and the 1970s pot farm craze has abated. Crystal meth is at the heart of just about every social ill in the white community. Which is why, for the past several years, Hill has made guys like Bull Durham his top priority. Where his boss Henson has a golly-gee demeanor and a twinkle in his eye, the brawny, bull-necked Hill cusses up a storm and loves tearing it up in his leisure time.

On a ride-around of east Lufkin's meth country, he explains how he and Tom Matthews are the entirety of the Angelina County Sheriff's Department's narcotics squad, and they subsist off what they can seize from drug dealers. No tax money funds them. Behind his office, he has a whole warehouse full of captured meth labs, video equipment, a flashy BMW and a late-model pickup, and bicycles that he's gotten from raids in the past couple of years. This is just the swag they are keeping for official use, destroying or donating to area children. The rest has been auctioned off to pay his salary and overhead.

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.

He drives past one scene of rural squalor after another: trailers falling apart at the seams but nevertheless occupied by meth heads, packs of dogs running free amid trash heaps and burned-out cars. Most of these pooches are East Texas curs, but in one predominantly Hispanic trailer park, there were also little packs of semi-feral Chihuahuas. Hill says Hispanic drug dealers, most of whom at least claim to be affiliated with gangs like MS-13 or Mexican cartels, are increasingly getting into selling cartel-made, Mexican-imported "ice"-style meth instead of cocaine or crack because there's much more money in it these days.

One day last year, Hill took down three labs in a single day. And there's still so much more work to do. Easing up to one intersection, Hill says that he knows of no fewer than five active cooks within a mile's radius. "Every one of 'em I've put in jail, and they're either out on probation or bond," he says, and adds that he plans to catch them all in the act again soon.

It's a timing thing, he says. You have to know when they are cooking and sweep in immediately. He's good at it: He's caught people with syringes in their arms and dope stashes in their laps. In one case, Hill burst into a room at Lufkin's Motel 6 in which he found a cook in the bathroom frantically trying to pinch closed a balloon containing deadly phosphine gas, a meth by-product. If that cook's fingers had slipped, everyone on the scene could have been killed. Another local was caught with a shake-and-bake lab in the trunk of his car in the parking lot of the local probation department.

Hill worries some about the long-term physical consequences of raiding all these labs. In some homes he's raided, the meth fumes have corroded metal doors and, in one example, the casings on some rounds of .50-caliber ammo. Hill wears a respirator, but he draws the line at a chemical suit, especially in the summer. "I could either die of cancer down the road, or a heat stroke today," he says.

The job takes an emotional toll, too. He tells of one bust in which he had hoped to arrest a young girl's parents before her school bus dropped her off at home. But he hit a snag and the raid was delayed, so when the bus dropped the girl off, her schoolmates saw her yard full of cops and her parents stuffed in the back of a squad car. "And it was right before Christmas," Hill says. "It can be pretty tough."

Henson says they've started enhancing the punishments of dealers and cooks caught with children in their midst. He's found kids' toys and baby shampoo in the same bathtub used to cook up a batch of meth. "We started getting CPS involved and testing the kids, and if they test positive, we turn around and file on the parents for endangering their children," he says.

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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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