My brother, Sean, and his wife had a beautiful baby girl, Ruby Rose, on May 30th, 2013. A year had passed and we were celebrating her first birthday. Many of my brother’s friends now had children of their own so my family was surrounded by these new families and tons of sweet babies.
Sean has a really tight knit group of friends. The closest of them started their friendships in elementary school and junior high. There were actually two groups. They referred to themselves as the POC and the COC; Pozo Oakie Crew and Creston Oakie Crew, respectively, although the COC gave up its title when the two groups waged a playful turf war early in high school and POC was the successor. I literally watched these boys grow up. It almost seemed that they were all my little brothers.
After high school, the POC boys decided to display their talents at the local softball field. Most had played from T-Ball up until you actually had to try out to make a team, at which point, most bowed out. There were a few that went on to play high school sports, most notably, Tim Janowicz. Tim and his brothers were popular, gifted athletes and well known in the community. I went to school with his brother Nate and my sister went to school with his oldest brother Jasch. Tim suffered major injuries in a tragic hunting accident midway through high school. After months spent in the hospital recovering, it seemed his shot at sports scholarships were all but lost. But as any athlete knows, the itch to play the game never goes away. And when he played short stop for the POC at Barney Schwartz Park on Friday nights, folks stopped to watch.
Timmy would dive for balls hit seemingly out of reach. He’d come up with the ball and in a flurry of dust and with Jeter-esque leaps, he’d hurl the ball right on target to get an out. Rec softball hadn’t seen talent like his very often. He paid no attention to the on lookers. His POC teammates on the other hand, they were thrilled that Timmy was making them look good. And so the team carried on for several seasons over a few years, even a few championship T-Shirts were won for the POC.
There were times we’d see Timmy and he’d be clear and coherent and normal. Other times he’d be thin and vacant. It was evident that he wasn’t healthy and that drugs were controlling his life. Speculation was that he was taking pills. As the years went on, rumors of heroin circulated around Timmy. We’d lose track of him and mention of his name would often prompt comments of ‘Not good,’ or ‘I haven’t heard he’s any better.’
We heard he’d been arrested. Felony convictions of possession of a controlled substance, weapons charges and grand theft. Some of us breathed a sigh of relief because at least in jail, he’d be safe, right? Wrong. 5:40 am, Friday, May 30th, 2014, Timothy Richard Janowicz was found unresponsive in his cell bunk bed. Dead. Coroner’s report published on June 24th, 2014 said Timmy died of acute heroin toxicity.
Generally a gregarious and jovial group, we found ourselves standing on the patio at Ruby’s first birthday party, surrounded by most of the original members of the POC, grief stricken because yet another one taken way too early by drugs. Add Timmy’s name to the list buried too young: Trevor Alverez, Jacob Gearheart, Shawn Arthurs, Ricky Johansen are a few of them I recognize or kids that I knew.
Distraught, angry and completely frustrated, I took to Facebook later that night and posted the article from Cal Coast News that announced Timmy’s death. I commented “Here’s a campaign for #NotOneMore. A gun didn’t kill Timmy, years of addiction did .. ” This short rant caught the attention of Cindy Dallaire. She felt compelled to tell the story of her daughter and their fight to keep her alive. I felt compelled to write it for her .. And so this project began.
Timmy was the tipping point for me. Although no one close to me had died yet, I’d lost multiple friends to drugs and addiction. They knew drugs were a non-negotiable for me and until they were desperate for help, months would pass and I’d hear nothing from them. Truthfully, until Timmy died and Cindy contacted me, I admit I was completely naive to how profound the drug problem is in our area.
When this project started, I’d never heard of The Lighthouse Project, Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Kayla Peach Memorial Foundation were, and I had no idea what all the Assistant District Attorneys did all day. The ADAs are busy processing drug crimes. Those three organizations and countless others are fighting to save the lives of kids who thought popping pain killers isn’t the same as doing drugs and now they’re addicted to heroin.
My next installment will be Shawna’s story. This is a tough one for me and I know it’s going to be difficult for her. She’s so strong when we talk. I get to see her successes daily through posts on Facebook. A few nights ago, she sold at a charity auction. Shawna has come a long way, baby. I feel guilty dragging her back.