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Editorial

Ascent from rock bottom: Brooklyn Lanford

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Brooklyn Lanford and Justin Allen (courtesy of Brooklyn Lanford)

I met Brooklyn Lanford when she was an 8-years-old third grader at Sherman Avenue. Her mother and her aunt are twins and between them, they had some of the prettiest, sweetest kids I ever had the pleasure of teaching. Those kids were the kind of kids that make teaching easy. 

Brooklyn was no different.

Brooklyn’s mother, Carol, and aunt, Cynthia, were both room mothers for my class. In the way their children were ideal students, they were ideal parents. 

Carol and Cynthia were the ones I could count on to show up for class parties, to chaperone field trips, or to volunteer as guest readers. 

Most teachers will tell you that through the course of our careers we have some students we just can’t ever forget. For me, it was usually the needy ones. The ones who acted out because they were starved for any kind of attention or the ones who were timid and too quiet because they were used to getting the wrong kind of attention. The pitiful ones. The dirty ones. The neglected ones.

The ones we dread reading about in crime reports or tragic newspaper headlines one day. 

That wasn’t the case for Carol and Cynthia’s crew. Their kids were the ones I didn’t forget because I couldn’t wait to see how successful they’d surely become. 

So when I began seeing my sweet Brooklyn’s name in the headlines and crime reports, my heart was broken. I was disappointed. 

And I was so very confused. 

How does a “good” kid end up so very “bad”? And even more importantly to me, could this happen to my own little boy? 

So I reached out to Brooklyn and her mother hoping to learn what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening to my own child. 

This is Brooklyn Lanford’s story. 

Growing up, I was your average happy kid. I lived at home with both of my parents and my two older sisters. 

When I was 12, my parents had a very chaotic divorce and it took a huge toll on me. In the middle of their divorce we found out my dad had stage 4 cancer and was given 6 months to live. Although I loved both of my parents dearly my dad was my best friend, so this brought even more anger, frustration and confusion to me at only 12-years-old.

Brooklyn as a young girl (photo courtesy of Brooklyn Lanford)

 

Six weeks after being diagnosed my dad passed away and my life took a turn for the worst. 

It was the very beginning of my 7th grade year, and I started getting in a lot of trouble at school. I also started smoking weed around this time. 

I got away with everything with little to no punishment because my mom felt sorry for me. She knew how much I was grieving my dad. 

By the middle of my 7th grade year I was expelled from Warren Central Junior High for distributing narcotics on school property. I had a prescription for the painkiller Lortab, and to me they were just a really strong Advil. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t realize the extent. 

I was supposed to be doing homeschool for the rest of the year, but I was already mixed up with the wrong crowd. 

I continued smoking weed and doing things no 12 or 13 year-year-old should be doing. 

On my 14th birthday (June 19th, 2014) I tried cocaine for the first time and instantly loved it. I only did it on the weekends so I thought it wasn’t too out of hand. 

I started going to Porter’s Chapel the following August to start my 8th grade year. I quit doing all drugs because they did random drug tests, so I was drug free for my 8th and 9th grade years. But I continued hanging out with the wrong crowd on the weekends and replaced my drug use with alcohol. 

One of the people I met was a 13-year-old girl who was hooked on meth. She wanted to get off of it, but she didn’t really have anybody to help her or anywhere to go so I told her I’d help her. And I really did want to. 

Through her I met a 21-year-old guy named Justin Allen and it was love at first sight.

Justin Allen as a young boy (courtesy of B. Lanford)

 

I had quit PCA after my freshman year and  was doing online classes by that point, so the threat of a random drug test was no longer an issue.

It was six days after my 16th birthday and about a week into me trying to “help” the girl get off meth that I tried crystal meth for the first time. 

Just like meeting Justin, “meeting” meth was love at first sight. 

I begged my mom to let me move in with Justin. I didn’t get along with my stepfather at all and I wasn’t going to let it go, so she finally let me. I think she gave in because she knew that there were some mistakes I had to make myself in order to learn from them.

Brooklyn Lanford and Justin Allen in the midst of their addiction (courtesy Brooklyn Lanford)

 

I slowly gave up on doing my school work because I was always high and didn’t care about it anymore. 

When I met Justin he was 21 and had a good job. He was renting a house and his vehicle was paid off so I thought we were doing good. Soon after Justin was asked to do a random drug test at work and, of course, he couldn’t pass a drug test so he lost his job.

 

I was getting a social security check from my dad dying so we didn’t think it was that big of a deal until we slowly began losing everything. We got evicted for not paying rent, and he ended up selling his vehicle so we could pay down payments on another place to live. 

I found out I was pregnant after six months of us being together. I instantly got sober but Justin continued to use. He got arrested for trespassing while I was pregnant but got bonded out soon after.  

We had our first son in August of 2017 and shortly after having him, I started using meth again. I made myself feel better about it by saying taking care of a newborn was exhausting and I needed it to help me have more energy. 

Justin bounced around from job to job and we bounced around from house to house. My mom continued to help us anytime we needed it so we didn’t think we were doing that bad. 

I found out I was pregnant again and once again Justin got arrested for possession of meth and ended up taking a plea deal of pti (pretrial intervention) and unsupervised probation for 2 years. 

I had my second son in December of 2018 and after that my life spiraled even more out of control. My mom caught on to the drug use and drug tested me.  Of course I failed so she took my kids from me and completely cut me off. 

No matter how messed up my life was, my kids were MY WORLD so this completely broke me. But instead of getting my life together like I should have, the addict in me made me do the exact opposite. 

Justin and I began staying with a “friend” that was also a meth user. We were in a house with no electricity or hot water. They somehow figured out how to run one light from my car battery through a window of the house and that was the only light in the whole house. Things were horrible, but it didn’t matter as long as we could continue getting high. 

Eventually Justin got a pretty good job that didn’t give random drug tests and I got a job as well, so we began living in a hotel. Then I got arrested for embezzlement from work so I lost my job. Justin continued working and we continued living in a hotel for months. 

We found out I was pregnant for a third time while living in the hotel, but between paying for a hotel weekly and our drug habit we couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. Our third son was born in October of 2019 and my mom instantly got him after leaving the hospital. 

Once again it broke us. But instead of doing the right thing we got deeper into our addiction. We were still living in a hotel and doing more meth than ever before. 

This was most definitely our rock bottom. 

Or so I thought. 

My family had tried their hardest to help us in every way possible and we messed it all up every single time. They had given up on us because you can’t help someone that doesn’t wanna be helped.

Justin got arrested again for possession of meth and we finally realized that if we didn’t get away from meth our lives would never be anything more than living in a hotel and trying to decide if we wanted to spend our last $20 on meth, gas or food. 

In October 2020 Justin and I both went to rehab. He got out of rehab before me and was living with his dad. He was working and making plans for when I came home. Things were so great it was almost unreal. 

I graduated rehab on January 6th, 2021. We instantly moved to Tunica, MS where we both had family for support and we were far away from all of our friends that were still stuck in addiction. 

We both started working while up there and things were going amazingly well. We were finally about to have our little family back. 

On February 13th, 2021 around 8 p.m. Justin gets a call from one of my relatives. He told Justin he had a great job opportunity for him, told him how much he would be making, how much per diem would be, and even the name of the “company”. All Justin had to do was meet him in Vicksburg the next day to catch a ride with him to Texas. Justin and I talked about it and decided that it was a good idea. All he had to do was go work in Texas for a few months. We could save money to help get our lives on track and things would be great. 

What could possibly go wrong? I wish I’d only known.

On February 14, 2021 we drove to Vicksburg so Justin could go work in Texas. The snow storm had begun and by the time we made it to Vicksburg the roads in Tunica were too icy for me to travel back by myself. It wasn’t as bad headed towards Texas so he went ahead and left with my relative. 

Within two hours of heading to Texas Justin texted me telling me he had a bad feeling but wasn’t sure why. A few hours later he texted again and told me the people he was with wanted him to participate in very illegal drug activity. 

Since our lives were finally getting on the right track, he didn’t want to mess it all up. He said he didn’t want to go, but since it was too late by then we agreed that as soon as the snow storm was over I would go pick him up in Texas. 

On February 19th we thought the snow had melted enough for me to go to Texas, but first I had to go to Tunica and get some of our stuff. I was going to stay the night in Tunica then go pick him up the next day. 

When I made it to Tunica the snow was a lot worse than in Vicksburg and I got stuck in a parking lot. When I tried to get unstuck, I messed up my water pump and my car had to be put in the shop. 

Justin then decided he would get a bus ticket from Texas to Memphis which was only an hour from tunica and I could get one of our family members to go pick him up from the bus station. 

Neither of us ever made it to the bus station.

On February 22nd, 2021 Justin was shot in the back of the head and his body was abandoned on a street in Texas.

Justin Allen (courtesy Brooklyn Lanford)

My entire world, all of our hard work getting clean, and all of our plans to have our family reunited were over.

I knew that I had to continue our plans even if I had to do it alone. Not only for Justin but for our boys and myself.

Don’t get me wrong, staying sober through all of this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

And I’ve had to do it basically alone.

Naturally I want to be able to be comforted by my old friends and I want to be able to go home, but I know that if I do the chances of me falling back into addiction are astronomical.

The only way for an addict to stay sober is to change their people, places, and things. Once an addict becomes a recovering addict their whole life has to change in order to maintain their sobriety.

Anytime I have an urge to use I do something to take my mind off of it, even if it’s just calling someone I trust and talking. In rehab I learned that if you can hold off from using within the first 30 minutes the urge will more than likely go away and that has fortunately worked for me.

Being sober has been nothing shy of the greatest thing to happen to me other than birthing my boys.

I’m slowly but surely getting my life back, the only thing I’m lacking other than Justin is having my boys back full time. I am currently taking the necessary steps to make that happen. My mother has been amazing and I am so grateful for the love and care she has given them during my addiction. She is cautious but supportive, and she also just wants to see us reunited as a happy, healthy family.

My old teacher (Heather Williams) reached out to me out of concern for me, my boys, my mom and especially her own son. She asked me to tell my story and help other people understand just how dangerous and common the drug epidemic is nowadays.

I can say this: drugs are everywhere now, especially meth and opiates.

It’s easier for a kid to get them than it is to avoid them. 

If I could give parents any advice to help them keep their children safe, the number one thing I would say is to open your eyes and educate yourselves on it. Don’t try to shield your kids from the truth or ignore the fact that meth (and other drugs) exist. My mother didn’t know what signs to look for. She had no experience with dope and no way to know that her little girl would end up so very lost because of it.

When I fell into my addiction I had heard of meth before but I had no idea it was about to take everything I ever loved from me. I didn’t know how addictive it would be.

Show them documentaries from YouTube or whatever it takes to show them how serious it is and how quickly it will ruin your life.

And above all, please don’t assume that addiction only happens to “those other kids”.

I was a good kid with an incredible childhood and loving, supportive parents. I had goals for myself. My parents had dreams for me. There was no reason to expect that I’d end up homeless, with a criminal record and losing custody of my children.

Justin’s parents certainly never expected to have their son murdered in a sketchy town in Texas and left dead in the middle of the street.

My other relatives had no way of knowing the vicious toll meth would take on the rest of our family, either. They’re good people. Loving attentive parents.

It wasn’t all supposed to end this way. 

I hope telling my story can help someone else understand how prevalent and dangerous meth is. It doesn’t pick and choose whose lives it will destroy. It’s out to get anybody and everybody and the only way to fight back is to protect yourselves and your families with knowledge.

 

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