Postcard from Texas Meth Country

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

He pulls up to what's left of the Durham home. A charred square on the ground next to a scorched tree marks the site of what used to be Ruth Durham's home, but behind where it once stood, James Durham built himself a shack resembling less a residence than a clubhouse for a precocious delinquent. An apparently well-fed and friendly dog still lives in the yard. The shack's walls are decorated with collages made up of cut-out photos of hotties and his favorite band, Metallica, alongside hand-drawn pictures of dragons and a Rebel flag. Plastic bottles are strewn about the floors, a musty, bare mattress squats in one corner and there's a 40-year-old TV in what passes for a den. Even after Hill has carted off lots of evidence from the scene, the yard is still littered with empty Sudafed blister packs, stripped lithium batteries and other meth-related detritus.


Durham says he got hooked on meth when he was 11 years old and working full-time as an off-the-books catfish skinner for $20 a day. He says he maintained like that for years, just another hardworking dropout stiff with a monkey on his back. He didn't cause anyone any trouble until his brother Brad stuck him in the guts twice with a butcher knife in the early 1990s. He says that sent him spiraling into crack. He says Iodine Mike weaned him off crack by turning him on to red phosphorus meth, and it's been Katy-bar-the-door ever since.

According to Durham, his dad was a "real bad alcoholic" who stood six-foot-four and weighed 390 pounds. Henson, who along with Hill disputes many details of Durham's version of his life in meth, doesn't exactly scoff at that estimate. "He probably was 400 pounds there towards the end," he says.

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.

"Mama taught us goodness and the Bible, but Daddy was mean," Durham says. Asked if his dad was a mean drunk or a mean sober, Durham says: "He was mean period. He was just a mean tush hog. You take Highway 94 out towards Groveton and there's a strip of bars across the [Neches] river — there used to be Slim's, the Jug and about four others. Nobody across that river could whoop my daddy. He taught us to take no shit and that's probably part of my problem right now. I just don't care what nobody thinks about me no more."

As the boys got older, they started fighting back against their tush hog of a daddy. "It's like Hank Williams sang, 'Family Tradition,'" chuckles Sheriff Henson. "They've stabbed each other, beat each other, you name it. Lotta times when James'd come in beat up, his brother or his daddy done it to 'im. They fought like cats and dogs. There's been a few times I've had all three of 'em in the back of my car."

Once Durham started going to jail, he couldn't stop. (Neither could Brad: He's now about a year into a 30-year stretch for robbery.) Since that first arrest, James has been busted for engaging in organized criminal activity, theft, public intoxication, DWI, burglary, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, manufacture/delivery of meth, evading arrest, tampering with evidence, fraud, forgery and arson.

And yet by 2004, between stints in county jail, the state jail and state prison, where he says he witnessed horrors "that could make a billy goat puke," Durham managed to find the time to claw his way to what he claims was almost the very pinnacle of the Lufkin meth trade, just two notches below the kingpin: the now federally incarcerated Mike Keene.

"When I was a kid growin' up, Mike Keene was just a name," he says. "I never thought I could be that big some day. I was just a dope fiend chasin' dope. Then I started meetin' people who knew them and then I became one of them because I listened, I minded 'em, I wasn't doin' all my dope, I was slangin' it and maintainin' and doin' what I'se s'posed to do. Bringin' in all the money."

Durham says Keene ran his operation out of a bunker-like Lufkin scrap yard. "All that man did was give orders," Durham says. "He had cameras set up all around his wrecking yard, armed guards, Rottweiler dogs, pit bulls, thousands of fucking cars and a huge fence. All that wasn't there to stop break-ins."

For Durham, these were the salad days. He kept four cell phones, all of which he ditched and replaced weekly. He claims he had two bodyguards and never walked around with anything less than $20,000 in cash. He also says Keene bought him a flashy Lincoln Continental. (Sergeant Hill scoffs at that tale: He says Durham's Lincoln was a rattletrap old junker that once belonged to his dad. Basically, Hill scoffs at anything Durham says about his life in the drug trade beyond him admitting to being a meth freak and low-level cook and peddler.)

Back then, Durham had more meth than he could handle. "It would just start gettin' good on me at 15 days," he says. "When I'd start gettin' to 20, 21, 22 days, that was when it was time to chill out." Unlike many meth heads, he paid attention to his health and appearance. "They say meth rots people's teeth out. Well, it does. You know why? Lack o' brushin'!" He barks up a laugh. "I've been doin' dope since I was 11 and I have some big teeth, but they're healthy and strong. And I kept eatin' and drinkin' Gatorade. Lotsa Gatorade. That's how you kept your body refreshed, nourished."

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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.

NatWu
NatWu

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

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.

 
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