About a thousand people have heard Mayor Sue Lesch deliver a "two-minute commercial" encouraging everyone to attend drug education sessions for adults this week.
The commercials are part of an unprecedented anti-drug campaign. But for the mayor, this campaign is not merely a public initiative, it is a private crusade.
Lesch has been to 30 meetings in town since she and the Community Prevention Partners (CPP) announced this week's sessions.
When and Where
Tonight, 7 p.m. - 7:59 p.m., St, Paul’s Convocation Center
Thursday, 7 p.m. - 7:59 p.m., Norwalk High School, Fisher-Titus Learning Center
The mayor is only one of the many members of the CPP, which include the city, both public and parochial school systems, the police department, Fisher-Titus Medical Center, the ADAMhs board, Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services, Huron County General Health District, Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, Huron County Juvenile Court, Huron County United Fund, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the Norwalk Reflector, and Kaiser Wells pharmacy.
As mayor, Lesch has seen the statistics and she is concerned about them, she said. However, it is experiences within her family that have made her come face to face with Norwalk's drug problem.
One nephew is dead and another is in rehab.
These were both boys from strong, loving families, she said. They were not people you'd expect to have drug problems.
In each case, the warning signs were there.
One nephew grew up in Florida, and for five or six years, she said, he took step after step toward his eventual demise. Trouble in school, trouble with the law, a DUI conviction, a car crash even stealing money from family members.
You think, "why would you steal money?" Especially from your sister with whom you are particularly close? It was an obvious warning sign, she said, but it mystified her at the time.
He got clean and he moved to Maine, to "get away from these friends." Two years later, he was dead in a car crash with Oxycontin and alcohol in his system. He was six weeks shy of his 21st birthday.
"I live with so much regret," Lesch said, "because you wonder what could I have done?" In your mind, this is still a 4-year-old boy, who's just been killed by drugs.
Lesch and her family did not want to let the same thing happen again to another nephew with similar problems. He got into trouble in school and his grades suddenly dropped. His appearance changed dramatically, and suddenly he wasn't hanging out with the same friends he'd been hanging out with since he was little. Suddenly he was quitting activities he'd been really into.
Now he's in his early 20s and living on his own. He'd been in rehab, but now his girlfriend was concerned. He was using again. The family got guidance from Firelands Counseling and researched detox facilities and together they went to his house to have an intervention.
"It was one of the toughest things I've ever done," Lesch said.
Her nephew was shocked they all came.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you go to jail," Lesch told him. "I was definitely bad cop that day."
It wasn't easy, she said, but the choice was between a "casket or jail."
It wasn't easy for anyone, but, she said, everyone was tough at that point. You're fighting your own heart, which is saying, "Oh, let's give him another chance." And, of course, you're up against an addict telling you just what you want to hear. "Addicts are masterful liars," she said.
Also, it's never easy to tell your own child "we want to see you in jail."
"Sometimes, as a family, you feel so paralyzed," Lesch explained. "Or you feel if you stand with the police or school, you're abandoning your child, instead of saying, 'here are my allies.'"
"You have a tendency to turn your back on all the people who can help you because you want to defend your child."
"Finally, we as a family said here's a path (to recovery) ... we're going to be tough about this." Their attitude, she said was, "we love you, but we're watching you die."
Her nephew was angry. She thought he could have hit her. He cried and said, "'I hear you, and I want to do this, but the only thing I can care about is the drug.'"
The family turned around and left. But they stalled in the front of the house. His mother wouldn't leave because she was afraid he would kill himself. He'd said the best thing to do when it got to this point would just be to commit suicide with heroin. They also knew he had a gun in the house.
Finally, her brother went back to talk to her nephew. It probably wasn't what he said, she thinks, so much as who it was saying it that brought her nephew around. He is an uncle her nephew respects, and he's probably someone who never spoke to him about his drug problem before.
That's why Lesch is adamant that everyone who even knows a young person should go to one of these meetings. You never know who's going to be the one who can make the difference. It's often not the parents. There comes a point in every child's life when he thinks he knows everything and his parents don't know anything.
She didn't want to look at the city's drug culture, but this experience forced her to see it. Thirteen- and 14-year-old kids were coming by her nephew's house during the intervention, looking for drugs.
Now her nephew is in rehab in Cleveland. Her other nephew had been in his share of programs and it's not this one's first time either. She's not sure if he'll make it. "My heart says yeah, he'll get through it, but my head says, probably not." The statistics are against him.
In the classes tonight and on Thursday, the emphasis is prevention first, and then it's if the worst happens.
She thinks of her 13-year-old granddaughter, she said. At thirteen, she holds all the promise in the world. She wants to be sure that the same fate does not befall her as befell her nephews. "We want to open our eyes," she said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Norwalk PD Detective Bureau drug investigations
Norwalk PD drug arrests