GRAMMER, Ind. — Six years after kicking a long addiction to methamphetamine, Jason Paul Newman remains a man trapped by his past.
The 38-year-old, who lives in the small unincorporated town of Grammer in southeastern Bartholomew County, knows his strengths.
He’s a seasoned construction worker, a trained computer technician, an experienced landscaper and a meticulous wood craftsman.
But he’s also a man willing to address his weaknesses: an addictive personality, a 16-year meth addiction, a lifetime of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and, as he puts it, “someone who grew up with a real smart-mouth.”
While expressing a strong desire to improve himself, Newman said he has no idea how to earn trust and forgiveness from a society that brands him with two haunting labels from his past: Thief and meth addict.
“When I see what I did, I’m not proud of it,” Newman told The Republic (http://bit.ly/17UiEfb ). “I lost all of my teeth and quite a few brain cells due to meth. But I’m not a bad guy. I’m just a man who has made some mistakes.”
So far, Newman has not been able to find an employer willing to give him a stable job and a second chance.
“He’s been down a lot,” said Ellen Newman, his wife of 16 years and the mother of three of his four children. “He gets really down on the job situation.”
But Jason Newman said he refuses to regress to his former lifestyle as he strives to make money as a freelance worker doing odd jobs in construction, landscaping and wood crafting.
His message to those who still hold the old labels against him is simple:
“I’m done completely with meth.
“Give me a chance to show you it ain’t happening again.”
Tragedy first struck Jason Newman at the age of nine months when his father was struck and killed in a car-pedestrian accident.
His mother, Sue, married Keith Gilbert when Jason was 7. After finding himself in a strict home environment, Jason said he began to rebel.
“When you are outraged, sometimes you do things you don’t mean to do,” he said.
While he had promised himself he would never take stimulants as his friends did, that conviction changed during his junior year of high school.
“While I wasn’t looking, a couple of buddies put meth in my coffee,” Newman said. “Once I learned what they did, I liked the effect. Meth gives you infinite energy. You are just continuously go-go-go.”
Newman said the drug began to alter his already-hyperactive brain, deceiving him into believing that he had extraordinary abilities.
“It made me feel like I was Superman,” Newman said. “I didn’t feel that there was anything wrong with me. In fact, I felt like I could conquer the world.”
After learning he was going to become a teenage father, Newman took a minimum-wage job at a fast-food restaurant that required him to walk almost six miles a day round-trip and put in eight-hour shifts. While his parents promised to buy him a car if he kept the job for a year, the wait seemed like forever to the 16-year-old.
The job of taking orders for burgers lasted one week before Newman purchased a cellphone and began taking orders of a different kind.
“People would call up and say: ‘Here’s where a car stereo is at. Can you get it for me? I’ll give you 50 bucks.’ And I was thinking: ‘Hey, that’s a free 50 bucks. Food, party-time, easy money.’”
He became a thief. For a while, Newman thought he could both party hearty and have money, he said. But as most of his family slept one night, his mother answered a knock on the door. What happened next led to his discovery that quick, easy money brings long, hard consequences.
“Four cops came through the front and back door, walked into my room and arrested me while I was asleep,” Newman said. “They handcuffed and shackled me in front of my family before hauling me away. That’s when I was first charged with theft and attempted theft.”
Newman was first sent to a juvenile detention center in Johnson County, where a search turned up some LSD. After refusing to take a mandatory drug test, Newman spent two months in solitary confinement before being waived into adult court, where he was ordered to spend a year in the Bartholomew County Jail.
He was behind bars when his oldest daughter was born to a former girlfriend in 1993. While he saw the baby briefly when she was 2 weeks old, Newman didn’t see much of her for the next three years. He spent the first year of her life in and out of the county jail for parole violations, followed by a two-year prison stint.
As part of his restitution, Newman performed 500 hours of janitorial work at Columbus City Hall when he was 19.
Believing the teen had committed only a misdemeanor, a supervisor offered Newman a full-time job. But the offer was rescinded when the supervisor learned Newman was an ex-felon.
Newman was optimistic the Army might provide him a way to start a normal life.
“But they said, ‘Nope,’” Newman said. “‘You have a felony, and you have tattoos.’”
Visible tattoos on the face, neck and head of recruits are prohibited, according to the U.S. Army’s website.
With the military option gone, Newman enrolled in a state-funded, two-year program for certification in computer maintenance and information technology. It was during this period of his life that he met Ellen, his wife-to-be.
Although he completed the course work, Newman was informed by school officials that his criminal record would prevent him from using his computer skills to get a good job.
Feeling there was no other option, Newman went to work for his brother’s construction company in 2003 and increasingly turned toward meth as a way to cope with the heavy physical demands of the job.
“By 2004, I was doing three-and-a-half grams a day,” Newman said. “I was playing a game with a friend concerning who could stay awake the longest. I had tried to stay up for 31 consecutive nights when my body shut down, and I wrecked a van. Flipped it nine times end-over-end.”
As a result of that accident, his wife first became aware of his drug addiction, Newman said. A decision was made to attempt a fresh start in another state, but the move south didn’t turn out as well as they had hoped.
The family had just returned from spending a year in Kentucky when Newman was arrested at a local department store in June 2007 on a warrant for failure to pay child support for his oldest child. When officers frisked him, they pulled drugs out of his wallet — in clear view of his other three children.
Ellen Newman said she reached the end of her rope when her husband criticized his court-ordered drug treatment while continuing to use drugs in the home they shared with their children.
“I told Jason you can have me or the drugs. You can’t have both,” she said.
Ellen Newman said she then packed her bags and left with the children with every intention to never return.
Jason Newman, who believed he had lost everything that made his life worth living, initially went on a rampage throughout his home.
But after the anger was replaced by two months of lonesome seclusion, something finally clicked in Jason Newman’s drug-addled brain.
“I was ruining my body, killing myself, playing Russian roulette with meth,” Newman said. “That’s when it finally set in that I wanted to quit — for myself.”
It took a lot of coaxing before Ellen Newman seriously considered her husband’s pleas to reunite. She finally agreed to come back only after Jason Newman consented not only to get off drugs but to give her complete control of his recovery.
“For over two years, she didn’t let me out of her sight,” Jason Newman said. “After that, she wouldn’t let me go anywhere alone unless she knew where I was going and liked what I would be doing. I think it was five years before she started to gradually let me go out on my own.”
While he first attempted to substitute prescribed medicines, and later, whiskey, for meth, Newman eventually had to give up both to avoid a new addiction.
Hurt and anger resurfaced when visiting friends accused Newman of being completely under his wife’s relentless thumb. But eventually, he realized it was those same type of taunting friends who helped turn him into a meth addict in the first place.
“I cannot, to this day, associate with anyone who uses meth,” Newman said. “If I do, I will use it. So I lost all of my friends.”
After the 2008 recession forced his brother’s construction company to close, Newman also lost his last steady job.
As he approaches 40, Newman is feeling the physical toll that years of abuse has taken on his mind and body. The desire for a meth fix still remains. And even though he’s led a drug-free life for six years, Newman remains frustrated by at least three prevailing conditions that he believes prevent him from having a stable future:
Indiana law allows employers to ask about criminal convictions and run background checks prior to hiring.
The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act prohibits anyone convicted of a federal or state drug-related felony from receiving food stamps and many other forms of assistance.
Unless pregnant or disabled, the vast majority of paroled felons have no health insurance, and many wait several years to become eligible for even limited life insurance coverage, according to research by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
During a recent evaluation by a family counselor at the United Way Center, Newman was told he was at an extremely high risk level for stress, which increases the odds he’ll eventually return to drugs.
“Every day that goes by that I’m looking for that next job; that’s stress I don’t want,” Newman said.
Nevertheless, Newman is vowing to stay crime-free and drug-free, largely to keep his mother, stepfather, wife and children in his life.
“If I were to do (meth) again, they’d all walk away and have nothing to do with me,” said Newman, who insists his wife and mother have provided the only long-term support and stability he’s known.
Another reason for staying out of trouble was that those closest to him can tell when he’s not telling the truth, Newman said. His greatest concern is the knowledge that his family may never fully trust him again, Newman said.
“It upsets me at times that they always know when I’m lying and constantly watch me,” Newman said. “But I’ve gotta admit: They keep me on the straight and narrow.”
The indelible memory of his children’s faces, as they witnessed his 2007 arrest, is perhaps their father’s strongest defense against returning to a life of addiction.
“The disappointment on the kids’ faces that day really made him think,” Ellen Newman said.
“When they pulled the drugs out of my wallet, my kids just gave me a look that let me know they were disgusted with me,” Jason Newman said. “It tore me apart. All I need is to remember their faces, and I know I will never use (meth) again.”
While Ellen Newman currently works more than 50 hours a week at a Columbus area manufacturer, she insists she will continue to stand by her husband — as long as he remains drug- and crime-free. She is convinced that her husband is worthy of her investment.
“He’s a loving, caring husband and father,” Ellen Newman said. “Jason will do anything to make us happy.”