Readers who turned to my column on Sundays in the Port Arthur News looking to be entertained with a collection of odds and ends from the sports world recently had to forgive a devastated dad for deviating from the norm. Sports moved to the back burner after I spent a week in a courtroom and saw my son sentenced to 65 years in prison.
I spent days wrestling over whether to address Damon’s sad situation in a column and finally decided it was something I needed to do. Among the many reasons leading to my decision was an outpouring of love, prayers and compassion from family and friends, and from some folks my wife, Genie, and I don’t even know.
These words on a card from Betty and Gene Scott sum it all up. “If you could listen to all the thoughts going out to you now, you’d hear a symphony of warmth and caring.”
So where do you start to explain how the high school quarterback, the All-American boy, the kid most everybody from his hometown really liked could end up breaking our hearts? In this case, the answer is as simple as two words – methamphetamine addiction.
That’s another reason I wanted to write this column. If I can reach one kid, one parent with the human tragedy crystal meth made of Damon West, it will be my greatest achievement as a writer. Hopefully, I can connect with more than one because this insidious drug is all too available.
Anybody with concerns should go to the Web site www.meth911.net. Jumping off the top of the lead page in bold letters is the quote, “The first thing people on methamphetamines lose is their common sense.” It gets more eye-opening from there.
Damon lost his common sense, his grasp of reality and eventually his freedom. He wasn’t the same person who left home 15 years ago with a football scholarship to North Texas, the same guy who as recently as 2004 was impressing heavyweights in the Democratic Party as a fund-raiser for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.
The downfall began after he moved to Dallas in 2005. Our alarm bells started going off a year or so later. He began dating a stripper who was bad news and told us he was working for a limousine service and on the side buying things to resell from storage facilities. At times he would get belligerent with us over the phone.
We began to suspect drug use. On the rare occasions he came home, we pleaded with him to get out of Dallas and move back in with us. I sent a dear friend from Houston, Barry Warner, to try and deliver the same message.
Our words fell on deaf ears. Somehow we should have done more. But what? You can’t grab a 30-year-old and forcibly move him. Not when he’s sold his soul to meth.
So now Damon sits in a jail cell, awaiting assignment to the prison system. There is no question he was guilty of being involved in a massive string of burglaries. The evidence was overwhelming. I can’t even begin to describe how much it hurt to listen to the testimony of victim after victim put on the stand by the prosecution.
Equally painful was watching some of the losers trotted out to testify against him. Two of them had to be brought from their own jail cells. These were people the Damon we used to know would never have associated with. But his common sense was long gone.
Nothing we saw or heard, however, prepared us to hear a sentence of 65 years. Murderers, rapists and child molesters don’t get that kind of time.
Actually, since he was a first offender and there was compelling testimony from a state-paid psychologist and psychiatrist who did extensive testing on him, we hoped for probation.
Our desire was to get him in a drug treatment facility, then bring him back home under a strong probation and community service requirement, and have him speak about what meth had done to him at any school that was receptive.
Included in the testimony presented by the doctors who interviewed him and put him through batteries of tests was that he’d been sexually molested by a baby-sitter at age 9 (we knew about it and he received counseling), that he suffers from attention deficit disorder (we didn’t know), that he was not a sociopath and that what he needed most was drug rehab.
The investigator working with Damon’s legal team said we assembled the strongest lineup of character witnesses he’d ever seen. Included was former Texas land commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro, and Arthur Schechter, a Houston attorney and a former ambassador to Bermuda under Bill Clinton.
Both had worked closely with Damon during the 2004 campaign. Schechter even gave him the keys to his River Oaks mansion to come and go as he pleased when in Houston.
Also testifying on his behalf was his priest where he attended church in Port Arthur, Father Don Donahugh, his high school football coach, Mike Owens, and his godfather and former editor of the Port Arthur News, Bill Maddox. His mother and I were also put on the stand.
Ultimately, it didn’t make any difference. Even though no guns were used and none of the victims was ever physically confronted, no mercy was shown.
Using a fairly new law that holds when three or more persons are involved in burglaries it can be treated as organized crime, they buried him. He’s not eligible for parole for 15 years. It’s doubtful he’ll ever get the drug treatment he needs.
Meanwhile, Genie and I are struggling and shedding a lot of tears, but we’ll be OK. Ditto for Damon’s brothers, Brandon and Grayson.
Although our love is unconditional, we’re alternately furious with Damon for destroying what could have been such a productive life and consumed with grief over the loss of that caring, charismatic kid who left home 15 years ago with such big dreams.
Above all, we hope and pray meth doesn’t bring down someone else’s child or loved one. Since this sordid chapter in our lives began, we have learned Grayson’s wife had two brothers driven to suicide by meth addiction.
In closing, we want to thank everyone who has reached out to us, and those who have wanted to but just didn’t know what to say. Your thoughts and prayers have been a blessing.
Bob West is sports editor at the Port Arthur News in Texas, where this column originally appeared. Used by permission.