When Annie Burchard opens her door this morning, there will be no fence and no bars.
For the past six weeks, she has been free! The word is sweet chocolate on the tongue. But freedom is also something she has cause to fear. It has not been her friend.
Annie is a meth addict who was in jail for two years. That’s who she is. But she swears she will make that read, “who she was.”
She calls herself “recovered,” which acknowledges her sobriety of many months. But she also knows that the “R” word is a trap that lulls many into thinking addiction is a thing in their past.
It’s always there, biding its time.
Annie sits on a bench in Balboa Park, surrounded by strolling weekenders, laughing children and a breeze playing in the trees. She absorbs it as she does the filtered shimmer of the sun.
There is also a sun above Las Colinas women’s jail in Santee, but it isn’t the same one.
Annie is a slim, 37-year-old woman who dresses modestly and with colors that work together. Her conversation is thoughtful and spoken in educated English. You might guess her to be a schoolteacher, and you would be right if you added “ex.” She is matter-of-fact and does not laugh a lot. She’s a little wary, but that’s common sense when writers are around.
You could see her living in a Poway four-bedroom, but her temporary home is a halfway house close to the park.
Annie (Bur-CHARD) says she grew up in Tierrasanta with loving parents who taught her solid values. There was no reason for her to become anything other than a happy, achieving woman with a career and family.
Then something in Annie’s mind-character-soul tried to take a hairpin turn too fast and crashed. At age 12, she first sampled crystal meth. Why that instead of a Girl Scout project? It’s as mysterious as a voodoo chant, and in this case, it became a curse that returned four years later when she was a high school junior.
“At 12, it was a one-time thing. But it was a strong enough introduction that when it came back when I was 16, I knew exactly what the feeling was.”
She describes what meth did for her throughout two decades of using — leaving it for a while, but always coming back.
“It’s just a feeling of superiority, thinking that you can handle anything. It’s just the numbness of what’s really going on. It’s like an ego boost. I thought it helped me stay skinny. It helped me get things accomplished. It helped me feel good about myself. It helped me ignore everything else around me. It was just self-centered delusion.”
After a partying, flunk-out time at UC Santa Barbara, she started fresh at San Diego State University and graduated with a teaching certificate. From 2000 until 2007, she taught lower grades in the San Diego Unified School District. She also got married to a stable guy and gave birth to a son in 2003.
For most of those teaching years, she stayed relatively clean — and completely clean during her pregnancy. “I was social drinking, mainly on weekends. I had my son. Everything was good. But when everything just got too much, I just went back to what I knew, which was back to using.”
What became “too much”? School? Home life? Neither of those, she says, but she doesn’t actually know.
“When I came across feelings or situations that made me uneasy, I felt anxiety. Then, not knowing how to cope, I would go right back to using.”
Returning to meth, of course, led to a divorce and the effective custody-loss of her son, which also increased the meth use, which sabotaged her teaching.
Why did she throw away all she had worked for? As usual, it was the belief she could handle it.
“I liked to think I was a functional user, someone who could use and then go to work and function in everyday society.”
Can anyone really do that with meth?
“No, absolutely not.”
In 2007, she was placed on administrative leave, mainly for constant tardiness, though she believes school administrators sensed something more was in play. She was eventually fired, along with the loss of her credential.
“I wasn’t willing to ask for help. Of course, my intentions were to go back to teaching. But, in the meantime, I got arrested.”
She took on the meth persona: loss of weight, defiant coloring of hair to bright red.
“My lifestyle was getting up in the morning and using. That would be pretty much my day. I got involved in criminal activity. Everything I did was a lie. I lived this double life. It was really, really exhausting.
“How much was I using? I don’t know, I couldn’t actually tell you, probably a lot. I was using all day. If I didn’t have it, I had to do things throughout the day to make sure that I would get it.”
Did you ever deal as well as use?
What’s a dealer like?
“A full-blown addict, that’s what a dealer is like. Addiction doesn’t stand for moral beliefs.”
Would you ever wake up in the morning and say, “I need some meth. I don’t have any. I’m desperate”?
“Yeah, I did. My whole life was living in desperation.”
She denies involvement in any way in the sex end of the drug business. She is believably emphatic on that.
She fell in with a ring of “pretty sophisticated” identity thieves. Her job was to do computer searches for personal information that would support opening a credit card or getting into an existing account. She would glean information on victims from the Internet, credit reports, stolen employment or car-loan applications. Plenty of meth users had access to those documents and were willing to trade them for drugs.
Annie would then use the cards and phony I.D.s to make purchases. She not only was the “front” person, she became accomplished at the entire process.
In 2008, she was arrested for white-collar crimes. She pleaded guilty and served five months in jail, then was released to a recovery home in Ramona. She was there for nine months. She then moved back home with her parents and went to work at a Mexican restaurant for another year — and used meth occasionally.
The memory of one embarrassing day still lingers. “When I was waiting tables, a teacher I used to work with came in. She said, ‘We’ve all been wondering where you were at.’ She was the last person I wanted to see. All they knew was that I was teaching one day and the next day I wasn’t there.”
That humiliation hurt like a hammered thumb, because “I was an excellent teacher. It breaks my heart at times that I let that opportunity go.”
She quit the restaurant and moved in with a tattoo artist and fellow meth user who gave her a couple of tattoos and bad memories.
Gradually, she drifted back to the old drug associates, and soon she was back to being a full-time meth-head and financial criminal.
The end came when she was stopped for a routine traffic violation in February 2012. As a parolee, she was subject to on-the-spot searches.
As she watched the cops find the stash of stolen checks and identities in her car, Annie knew she was caught. She whispered, “Oh, no.”
Tuesday: Annie faces her son, more jail and the rest of her life.
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net
His email is [email protected]