Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 24, 2014

Inmates make best of detention center program Route 1-80

CATLETTSBURG — While sharing their stories, a few of the men in the Route 1-80 program at the Boyd County Detention Center explain they are now starting to understand why they did the terrible things that landed them behind bars. None try to hide behind their histories, and all say they are learning to understand circumstances were not an excuse for the things they did.

“Don’t judge us on how we failed, rather, how we’re getting back up,” said Eric Maddix, 27, whose life spiraled out of control after his sister was murdered and his mother committed suicide by overdose.

Others in the room — Blake Laudahl, Joshua Gundy and Nathan Ward — nodded in agreement as they prepared for their Route 1-80 graduation last week.

Laudahl, 25, once had his fastball clocked at 92 m.p.h. as a baseball player for Raceland High School, and was later signed to a minor league team. Athletic talent “came easy to me,” he said, explaining he was cursed by his own bad decisions.

“I got a bunch of money. I was young and got addicted to partying. Eventually, I started stealing. I really just threw playing ball down the drain,” he said.

His partying began with “speedballs,” a mixture of heroin and cocaine, and the opiate side of the formula “became something I had to have after a while,” he said. His addiction soon compelled him to break into houses, stealing Xbox and Playstation game consoles to sell or trade for drugs. Eventually, however, he got caught and was charged with second-degree burglary, earning him an eight-year sentence.

Maddix said his story is similar, noting he was also charged with second-degree burglary after breaking into a home, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

“I took ahold of addiction and ran with it,” he said, shaking his head slightly as he tells of his dependence on opiates such as prescription painkillers. “I just let them absolutely take control of my life. They ruled my every day living.”

Maddix said the decision to start robbing others was an oddly simple choice.

“I didn’t have any conscience about it at the time,” he said. “I look back now and ask, ‘How did I get so low?’ It’s something you don’t want to live with ... just the guilt.”

Maddix admits he enrolled in the Boyd County Detention Center’s Route 1-80 program — a program for inmates who show a dedicated commitment to bettering themselves —  purely for the “good” time it would apply to his sentence, even though he did not believe it would do him any good in real life.

“I didn’t think it was for me and I didn’t take it seriously,” he said, noting he was pulled aside several times before he began embracing the lessons before him. “Once I started really thinking about it, I really started seeing changes in my behavior and my thinking. And, other people saw it too.”

Gundy, 28, cites his upbringing in a broken home with an “abusive” family, who got into trouble despite his mother’s efforts to ship him out of state to live with other family members. Gundy says his grandfather was his best role model, and recalls he began “smoking weed and doing 30s (oxcodone pills)” after his 16th birthday when his grandfather passed away.

Weed and pills were quickly replaced by heroin, he said, and before long he was “knocking in doors and hurting people” to meet the demands of his addiction.

“I can tell you I’m blessed for being here,” he said, tugging slightly at his orange jail-issue shirt, explaining he was caught and charged with first-degree robbery as well as several counts of burglary.

“It’s just the addiction. It takes everybody down the wrong path,” he added.

Ward, 31, marks the start of his criminal life with the day his pregnant wife died in a car wreck on Hwy. 9 in Dawson County, Georgia.

“We don’t know what happened. She may have looked back and tugged the wheel ... she went headlight to headlight with a school bus in the other lane. Since then, my life has been a mess. My family was already broken and I went pretty wild,” he said, noting methamphetamine, or “go juice” as he called it, became his poison of choice. Georgia has plenty of high-grade “crystal meth,” he said, chuckling slightly as he noted he somehow still has all of his teeth in spite of his drug abuse.

In response to the “bad decisions” made by the men in the room, Ward said he can’t even take that much credit.

“I wasn’t even making decisions. I went along with whatever I heard to get to the next hit,” he said. “I came in weighing 135 pounds. Now, I weigh 190 and I’m still skinny!”

Ward’s meth abuse came to an abrupt halt while visiting Kentucky with fellow methamphetamine fans who also made the drug themselves. Police found meth-making ingredients in the car he was riding in, he said, and he was ultimately charged with possession of precursors.

With the Route 1-80 program, Ward said he has his heart and mind back on the right track.

“At 19, I was called to preach — before my wife and child died,” he said, choking back an emotional tremble in his voice. “Since I got here, I’ve rededicated my life to God. I prayed and said, ‘Lord, if you can do anything with my life, do it.’”

With the help of an acoustic guitar provide by program director Tony Daniel’s daughter, Ward has written 20 contemporary gospel songs while inside the Boyd County Detention Center. In a strong voice his fellow inmates compare to Aaron Lewis of the band Stain’d, Ward gave a sample of what he’s been working as the Route 1-80 group prepared for Friday’s graduation ceremony. Laudahl, Maddix and Gundy instinctly bobbed their heads and sometimes sang along, obviously both fond and familiar with the compositions of the musician they’ve been sharing close quarters with. “We jam out at church on Sunday,” one noted, adding “We know all his songs,” as another interjected a well-polished and incarceration-inspired rap section into another of Ward’s tunes.

Of the four men dressed in orange in the room that day, Ward is likely to be the first released. He hopes to record the songs he’s written and cites a Bible story as his guidance for what comes next. Gundy says his ambition is to work with children, noting his own certainty that early lessons often guide a man’s destiny. Maddix says he also wants to work with youth, possibly as a counselor. Laudahl says he is already working toward a day when he can say he has truly earned a shot at something that was once given to him — a chance to play baseball.

“I’ve been clean for a year. I think I’m going to do great,” he said with a confident tone of voice, eyes forward and clear. “I am constantly working out in here so I can possibly go play ball again — get a try out. And, if I don’t make it, I’ll move on from there.”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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