COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Behind the mug shots and crime scene tape that surround busted meth labs are the faces not seen. These young faces have seen things far beyond their years.
“I was pregnant when I was 15 and had (a baby) when I was 16, so we kind of grew up together. I started using crack cocaine when I was 17,” said a recovering meth addict who only wants to be identified by the name Michelle.
Michelle and her son went down a path that kept them going into and out of motels.
“We went from hotel to hotel,” she said. “I let him do drugs. He knew that I was doing drugs. He was pretty much on his own at 14 years old.”
Soon, Michelle found herself using meth and making it.
“All day, looking for ingredients and people to help with ingredients,” she said. “I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. It was very obvious that I was on something. He knew what I was doing.”
Michelle was stuck living with the consequences when something went terribly wrong.
“Um, basically the way meth is made now, you basically build a bomb,” she said. “The whole thing exploded. I spent my 31st birthday in a hospital in Augusta in the burn center. The whole left side of my body and my abdomen and both of my legs were burned pretty bad.”
But there’s more than one way meth can disrupt a childhood.
“When I saw it on the news, I laid down on the floor and started crying,” said Summer Reynolds, a daughter of a former meth addict.
Summer’s mother, Shannon Gleaton, said she did her best to shield her children from her meth addiction, which meant telling her children lies.
“I mean they know when they are not coming first,” Gleaton said. “And they know when their parents are sick.”
That leaves children with unanswered questions.
“Sometimes I would wonder where she was living,” said Vivian Sheppard, Gleaton’s daughter.
Eventually, the S.C. Department of Social Services stepped in and removed both Michelle and Gleaton’s children. Both mothers soon found themselves behind bars.
“They showed up at a hotel, and they took him that day,” Michelle said. “I remember that day. That was a really bad day. There was nothing that I could do. I knew that the situation that we were living in was not good.”
Gleaton remembers DSS’ involvement in her family as well.
“They said someone called DSS on me,” Gleaton said. “They gave me a hair follicle, and I didn’t pass it.”
Vivian remembers leaving her mother.
“It was hard,” she said. “They didn’t tell me anything, but my Dad put me in my Aunt Jessie’s place, and I just stayed there.”
Summer wondered when she would see her Mom again.
“I always hoped that she would come back,” she said. “I knew she would. I figured she wasn’t just going to abandon all her kids.”
Michelle and Gleaton had to fight to get their children back in their care. And the impact of what their children saw and the contaminants they were exposed to may have consequences far beyond what doctors or social workers can gauge.