Tag Archives: Marion

Many Thanks

I’m a reporter with an earring, from L.A., a Berkeley grad who doesn’t go to church. In the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time in small American towns, meeting people from fairly traditional, church-going places in the Midwest.

On paper, on social media, or on 24-hour cable news, we would seem to have little to share.IMG_0638

Yet in these places, meeting these people, I’m struck by how much we have in common. This may sound trite, but it is true. The commonality is there if you want to look for it. Not that hard to find when you look someone in the eye.

At each place, I’ve had the great privilege of talking with folks about their lives, their jobs. I’ve been struck by the intensity of feeling of the people with whom I’ve spoken, hugging folks I didn’t know. I remember a paramedic telling me of saving overdosing addicts, and of a chamber of commerce president telling me how many people couldn’t pass drug screens. I remember a grandfather in Portsmouth who wouldn’t let my hand go as he told me how he was raising his granddaughter, that his daughter was in prison. Many had lost children, and many others were cautious yet happy that their children were doing well now.

It is a humbling and powerful thing to be brought so quickly into the intimate lives of strangers, and I hope more than anything that I’ve been up to the responsibility.

Today, I want to say how thankful I am to the people I’ve met in those places – Peoria, Van Wert, Scottsburg, Logan, South Shore, Marysville, Portsmouth, Marion, Huntington, Albuquerque, Medford, Zanesville, Knoxville, Covington, Chillicothe – for their warmth and hospitality and, above all, their willingness to share a bit of their stories with a guy from out of town.

These are not towns typically on most authors’ book tour itinerary, and I feel so lucky that I was able to get there.

I’ve met folks at conferences of associations I didn’t know existed two years ago: Kentucky Association of Counties, National Association of Community Health Centers, Indiana Hospital Association, Ohio Association of School Nurses, Illinois Rural Hospital Association, Oregon Narcotics Officers Association, West Virginia Medical Association, National Association of Medicaid Directors, and the Iowa Association of County Medical Examiners, among them.

Meeting people at these conferences has been a real light of the last year as well. The Kentucky Association of Counties a couple weeks ago was an amazing event, as the state has 120 counties for four million people. So it was really like a small-town convention. Folks with strong Kentucky accents and me with my earring – yet I felt so welcome, and their reception to what I had to say was overwhelming.

I’m thankful for my family, who has been so important in all that’s happened. They were able to accompany me on a trip to Chillicothe, Ohio, which we’ll never forget.

I’m thankful that my wife and I are in good health, happy with our lives. My daughter is a cheerful, intelligent girl, healthy and polite to others. My wife and I are thankful for that.

It’s been a good, full year and I hope it was for you, too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Filed under Dreamland, The Heroin Heartland

Heroin is Marion’s Economy

IMG_4034 Well, I’m not gonna lie — I like this guy’s style.

Brad Belcher was upset that people in his hometown of Marion, Ohio (north of Columbus) weren’t talking about the rampant heroin/opiate addiction in their midst.

Home to President Warren G. Harding, the rural town of Marion, like much of Ohio, has been hammered by departing jobs and a general malaise of defeatism and inertia, Belcher told me.

Heroin (in the form of courts, jail, the underground economy, etc) has taken the place in the economy of a lot of manufacturing and other businesses that for decades kept the town tight and townspeople concerned for each other. (Marion was once home to Marion Power Shovel, which once employed 3200 people making earth moving and mining equipment. It closed in the late 1990s.)

Now people were dying. Dope was everywhere.

IMG_4060 (1)So to ignite discussion about all this, Belcher printed 800 signs and late one night put them up all over town: in front of Walgreens, outside cornfields, in the wealthy neighborhoods, along the retails strips.

He was caught in the act by three officers of the law just as he was about to put them around city hall and downtown.

They took down most of the signs, but his little bit of guerrilla political theater — a la Abbie Hoffman — was taken up online and in social media.

Belcher, a former addict himself, became a cause celebre.

The signs made the topic okay to talk about, he says. Before people were mortified to admit they had addicts in their families.

The town, he says, is now at least attending to the problem it avoided. Churches are involved. Local folks recently organized a heroin march. The cops arrest more heroin dealers than ever before. People talk openly about what they once kept silent. But the town doesn’t have any drug treatment facilities — besides its jail, that is, which serves as de facto center for detoxifying from heroin.

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Filed under Books, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland