Jack Plumb Interview Excerpts
Jack Plumb is a multi-faceted restorer of automobiles by profession and one who by definition, likes to create change. Jack was born in Northern Indiana – one of four children, Jack has lived in SLC since the mid 60’s.
In 1996, Jack lost his oldest son, Andrew to addiction. As an active member of Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s Coalition on Alcohol, Tobacco and Drug Abuse, Jack chairs the committee on public awareness. His mission is to allow ourselves to understand that we do have a substance abuse problem in Utah. And, it is a problem that can’t be solved by words or thoughts alone. Jack is a self-educated man with a passion to effect some kind of hope for substance abusers, their families and friends.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to when you realized your son had a problem. What happened? You were saying that he dabbled in gateway drugs.
Jack: Yes, he started with marijuana, and in a way a little bit of the wrong crowd kind of thing. I guess you could say as a parent it’s easy to look and say, “Those aren’t the kids who really I want my son to hang around with. However, you try to be respectful and realize that we all have different tastes in people. But, as time went by his grades slipped. He was always a very energetic kid, a kid that everybody liked to be around, a very handsome kid. Signals were being sent and not being really aware of what those were until as time found out went by; things such as money missing, his inability to want to get out of bed, his inability or his lack of desire to go to school, and so certainly we knew something was amiss. We then started with the process of trying to determine what the problem was, and even though I think we kind of in our hearts knew. We would take him to the doctors and have a urine test done to try and identify the fact that in fact there was a problem, that he just wasn’t a teenager who was tired. Once we found out that there was in fact use, then you become, you start a whole a new challenge. That is, “What do we do about it, and what to we do to help him, and what to we do to get him to stop?” That is when we found we were totally ill prepared. As time went by it became more and more challenging and more and more difficult because he, when he was sober he was a delightful person to be around. When he was using he wasn’t. So there was this personality change all the time, and it was frustrating for the family. It also took a lot of energy from the rest of the family. My daughter, who graduated a master program had to go by herself because it was the day we were burying her brother. There is a lot of family dynamics that come about because of the effect of that one person. Certainly he requires a lot more energy through those types of challenges than the kids that are so called functioning normally.
When your son overdosed is it my understanding that his friends deserted him?
I think that is exactly what happened. When we had finally gotten to the point that we realized we weren’t helping him by having him in our house and we asked him to leave. He felt at that time that he could be strong enough and I think on one side wanted to prove that he could do that, and on the other hand he continued to make poor choices and surround himself with people that weren’t good friends and were users. As it turned out the day of his overdose there were three or four other people in the room and after he had overdosed they picked up all the paraphernalia, all the drugs, any remaining money and they left. They left him there to die. It’s hard to imagine that we have that ability in our personalities to allow that to happen to someone. We would probably stop to attend a stray dog on the side of the road, but it’s an example to me how overpowering these kinds of drugs can take over a person's personality and also the lack of compassion for one another. So, you know that’s a place we don’t like to go very often thinking of what could have, would have, should have. I think that we have to say that he made a choice and unfortunately the people around him made a choice. It didn’t work out for the best.
Let’s talk, let’s pick up on choice, about how every day we have choices. We have consequences or decisions. That is part of life.
Indeed. And I think throughout this journey that is one of the key words I’ve learned is the word choice. We, my family and I experienced three different treatment centers throughout this process and we found that, that is without a doubt the key word involving any portion of that treatment. That every moment we make a choice. Whether it’s not necessarily just to use. Are we going to drive our car? Are we going to go to the store here? Are we going to get up? What am I going to wear? What am I going to do to myself today, cosmetically or with what I am wearing? So, I found it to be one of the greatest words we have really is the word choice. So, I guess that’s it in the long and short of it is what do we choose to do? Which turn do we choose to take?
Let’s talk about the stigma of drug use and the Mayor’s counsel on substance abuse.
There is no one on the Mayor’s counselor anywhere else having to do with a drug policy that isn’t deeply concerned and involved. There is no doubt in my mind. I spent approximately a year. There was Jamie Brown from the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. A wealth of very good people and well-intended people, and many of which are deeply intrenched in the health part of it. However, it seems that a lot of the focus seems to be on the ability to generate money; be that through grants, be that for facilities to put more beds for these people that need help, and over and over each meeting as time went by on a monthly basis, the majority of the conversation in my opinion seemed to be focused on where do we get the resources to do this. It is not a priority and they almost laugh when talked about what a low priority it was in the government to go before the Senate each year and try to get funding for their programs. It was always kind of a back burner thing then. You know it just was not a priority. I always thought to myself as people become more aware of how it is affecting all the families around, I think and perhaps unfortunately if it effects someone further up in the system then perhaps they will then be more involved and more compassionate to do something about funding.
You said that there is not one of us who doesn’t have some kind of effect.
There isn’t anyone that I think that doesn’t have someone in their family, immediate family, even through a brother or a cousin, or a nephew, that doesn’t have a challenge with something having to do with drugs or alcohol. You would be dishonest to yourself to say that you didn’t know anyone.
Your family focus now is what?
My family focus, I mean this has been certainly an education for us. It makes me realize how important we are to one another and how short life can be? I mean we don’t know what is around the corner. We don’t know what challenges may be before us. You know people ask me on occasion when they have the nerve, what this means to me about this loss of my son and I say, you know the lose certainly is replaceable but what we really lost was that hope. We lost the hope that he would get, that he would come around. I think, if I might be as bold to say, that most people that are in the same situation, that is our main drive. Is that hope is that, that person will get it. As that person goes through and gets his 30-day chip, gets his 60-day chip, his 90-day chip, everything is rosy. They hope for the fact that there won’t be a relapse. They hope. They hope. They hope the phone will ring when the kid said it would ring. You know. It’s then rebuilding trust so that you learn hopefully to get to a point of that trust again because often times these people, family members, will victimize you to support their needs. If they are not victimizing you they are probably victimizing your neighbor or your neighbor’s cars or you neighbor’s personal property. So I think a simple solution, one thing we could do in the future would be looking towards places for example pawn shops, where there is no need to have any type of receipt to show where you got this, whatever it may be. I mean if we go to a store and want to take a shirt back, you are going to have to have a receipt. So on a day to day function, receipts are valuable. However in the world outside of receipts, that being the pawn shops and these use sports type of stores, used good, they don’t require any verification. I say we start making these people verify where they got the goods and that is going to slow down the victimizing of the people that have the stuff in their garages and homes.
What has them heavily into denial, that it’s not my kid, it’s not the East side, it’s not Skyline, it’s across the tracks. Can you address that?
Well, denial is probably another key word in this whole process. It’s that it isn’t my son. I’ve talked to an educator at one of the prominent schools in the county and he shared with me. He said that half of the time or more the children will admit to it before the parents will. The boy or girl will voluntarily say, “:Yes I was wrong, I’ll stop doing it. Those are pain killers I took from so and so.” And yet the parents will be in total denial that it wasn’t their boy or their girl. That is a difficult thing. I mean I don’t know how you tell a person to understand that they have a challenge or that the problem is theirs. It isn’t the school or it isn’t the educator. It isn’t the guy next door or the neighbor that was well intended. They have to look within their own households.
Junior high is a pivotal time. Can you elaborate?
Junior High certainly is a key point. From my observation I think kids realize that they have reached another level, that they are kind of feeling a little more bold perhaps, a little more willing if you will, to be more influenced by peer pressures and being in the right crowd and what they perceive to be the right clique, and being acceptable. Now they are out being able to stay out a little later and there is more opportunity for somebody to make suggestions. I definitely think that seventh grade is a key thing. In fact from a educational standpoint, I would like to see something started around the sixth grade. I think it would be an ideal time to try to get ahead of that junior high feeling of a little more openness, if you will.
So true. Do you want to say, what have you learned from this whole experience? You talked about it’s a big problem, it’s in every household, we need a reality check. You kind of addressed that but bring it back to get at what you learned from this whole experience.
If you had asked me what I learned from this experience, I would say it certainly has been a challenge of a lifetime, and the thing that I have also learned is that I do not have the capability to change anyone. People have to look within themselves and make those decisions within themselves. I go back to the word choice. So, I learned that sending a person to the best treatment center or the least expensive treatment center isn’t the answer. What I learned were people have to make the decision within themselves. That I think in a nut shell is the long and short of treatment. If you can get someone that is willing to want to look within themselves and make that change, and not for mom and not for dad, but for themselves. Then you’ve got hope. You are going to have hope regardless as a parent because you want the best for your child, but I think the idea that a better program, more money again, is certainly not the answer. The answer is how we get a person to willingly affect change. There, if you can find that solution, you have the answer to treatment.
Your son, was he resistant or was he happy about it?
As far as Andew’s treatment, he was a very good treatment person. He was very likeable; often times was the chairperson of the house, if you will. He had a very great personality, people were drawn to him. He was a good looking kid. He had a lot of spirit. He had a great sense of humor. So, treatment was a very good place for him. He did very well at it. He was a person that worked his program as they say, went to all the meetings, spoke at the meetings, shared some of the mistakes he had made in his lifestyle, and so each time we went through the treatment process we were very heartened because we thought this is it. This is the time he finally got it. I recall standing before Judge Meadly, or not standing but sitting before Judge Meadly as he came in manacled. I thought, my goodness, this kid didn’t rob a store, and that is a challenge in and of itself to sit in that bench as a parent and watch your son come in manacled as a drug addict. I commend Judge Meadly. I thought he did a wonderful job trying to send a message and explain to Andrew that it was not acceptable what he was doing to not only himself but to us, and that if he would have come before him again the consequences would be grave. His speech was so moving to me that I didn’t want to come back. However, it wasn’t good enough for Andrew and in fact he came back again, and part of Judge Meadly’s treatment was to get him in the adult prison at the Point of the Mountain for 90 days. They call it a 90-day evaluation. That is a two-fold purpose. First off to have other people interview them and see what they think of his condition and the second I think to frighten them and say, “This is what you have in store for you in the future if you choose to go down this same path you are going.” So, that was an interesting process as well and frightening, and very emotional.
How about corrections? They are not treating addiction and substance abuse as a disease. It is a problem. How do we turn the thinking around that addiction is such an incredible disease?
I think the way you turn it around is again through people being touched, in a manner of speaking, more influential, people that are perhaps higher up in government, perhaps mayors or legislatures, someone that can see that it, when it hits them right in the face that it is part of their family, then they can say well it isn’t, then they can not understand that it isn’t about poor choice or this and that, that it is a chemical thing that people become dependent. You know the system just isn’t prepared to deal with that. Off the tape I will tell you that heroin was directed indirectly to our family by a senator’s recommendation of someone. So it certainly was innocent on his part and he had no idea, but that is an example of how things, and please don’t use this at all, how we all can do things through ignorance that, that recommendation was made, that this person would be great in your family kind of thing, and as it turned out he was a heroin addict and reeked havoc. So, you don’t know. You just don’t know. I mean that is the other thing.
Anymore, it’s not again the guy that looks like he lives in a tunnel. It’s not. It could be the guy driving the fanciest car there is. It can be whatever. It’s not about being a shameless, it’s about educating ourselves to find out what we can do to help our kids before they get to that point.
So, finally what can you say to parents when they find out that, maybe they find paraphernalia in the bedroom, maybe they were tipped off somehow about finding out their child is involved in substance abuse. What would be the first thing they should jump on?
Well after the detective process is over then I think that you have to realize that you have a problem for sure, and not take it as a shame issue and not pass the buck, but realize what do we need to do? What resources are out there for us? That is when you start your education. You then make those calls and you talk to friends and family that have had the problem and you don’t be shameful about it? You don’t be afraid to reach out and say, “I have this problem and I’m concerned.” Because the longer you hold it back or you think it is going to get better, the worse it is going to be. So what I think we have to look to one another, there’s certainly great programs out there that you can inquire about and find out about, but without taking the initiative and having the desire to do so, you are not going to affect change yourself. So that is very important that you reach and don’t be embarrassed or shamed and take it personally. It is not anything about you, it’s about that person you care about.
It does strike the brightest and the best, too. It’s not just society's rejects. It hits the best of them, too.
Yes. I’ve used this in the past and I am happy to use it again. If you had asked me who this if affecting, I’d say that it is affecting everyone and most prevalently the people that can actually afford it. It is not just about the person that lives in the poorest part of town or in the smallest house or makes the least amount of money, it is in fact more broadcast to the area where the affluency lies. This is my opinion and I hear and I get the phone calls from parents who know of my experience and ask me what I can do and what suggestion I can do for them. I am there to support them, but really the journey is so long and so arduous I don’t have the answer. But I do feel that we need to be aware that it is everywhere. It’s rampant. In fact one of the meetings in the Mayor’s counsel, they talked about targeting where the trouble may be. They had like two and a half million dollars to run this program, to ask the questions, where the trouble schools might be. At the end of it I said, “Well, you know, could we assume that we just have a problem everywhere and we could perhaps take that two and a half million dollars and use it better for treatment or public awareness?:” They just looked at me blankly like, “Well no, we couldn’t do that because we have to do a meeting.”