Second chances: ‘Change can be scary’
Taylor Barth will celebrate two and a half years of sobriety in May after struggling with opiates and other drugs throughout his 20s.
BRAINERD — The last time Taylor Barth got arrested, he let out a sigh of relief.
“The cop put the handcuffs on me, and I was just like, ‘Thank you,’” Barth said during an interview Thursday, April 20, at Loco Espress in Brainerd.
That instance was the turning point in Barth’s life, when he realized he was sick of running, hiding and giving into his addiction.
“I got pulled over, and I knew — I just knew — somewhere deep down that that was an answer to prayer because I had no fight left in me,” he said.
Barth was pulled over near Minneapolis while driving a stolen truck after already having evaded police in the past.
Stolen vehicles and running from law enforcement had become a part of Barth’s life, a life that began to unravel when he started dipping into his dad’s pain pills at just 13.
“I knew what they were,” he said, recalling the various medications his dad received after a paralyzing accident.
Barth was no stranger to addiction at that time, as he described his dad as an alcoholic who was typically either working or drinking.
“When I took them for the first time, it’s not like I was some silly kid not knowing what he was doing,” he said. “I knew what I was doing, and then I liked it a lot.”
From that point on, all through high school, opiates were Barth’s drug of choice. His grades suffered as he continued using and started sharing the drugs with his friends.
Before long, he was selling pills and marijuana to his classmates, too.
“The money from it and the popularity from it was like a drug all on its own,” Barth said. “And that just enhanced my interest in moving forward with it and not ever thinking this isn’t going to end well.”
At 18, he stole prescription pads from a hospital, and by 19 he was running from his hometown of Howard Lake to a job in the oil fields of North Dakota.
That’s where he first discovered methamphetamine.
“That was like the monster under the bed that got awakened and unleashed,” Barth said. “... I feel like I really let a dark horse into my life by letting that happen to me.”
Meth and heroin became big parts of his life for the next few years, along with getting kicked out of his parents’ houses and finding legal trouble.
Getting arrested for stealing a car in his early 20s was a wake up call of sorts, but it wasn’t the ticket Barth needed to turn his life around. Not yet, anyway.
“I didn’t do anything to change my lifestyle,” he said.
Family members tried to help where they could, but there was only so much they could do.
Barth decided to travel the country for a little while and found his life had more structure, though he was still drinking and using marijuana, and again running away from his problems.
When he got homesick and returned to his hometown, he found himself back with friends who used drugs.
Around the age of 25 he started injecting heroin and meth and racking up felony after felony to support his habit. There were 10 felony convictions in total, dealing largely with breaking and entering and theft.
Not only had Barth fallen in with the “bad” crowd. “I was the bad crowd,” he said.
It wasn’t something he wanted to do, knowing his parents constantly wondered whether he was dead or alive.
About three or four years ago, his use escalated to an overdose on Thanksgiving Day, in the basement while his entire family was there.
He went into treatment after that but kept using after he got out.
Then came a night when Barth was driving a stolen vehicle while in possession of drugs as well. Upon seeing a police officer behind him, he jumped out of the car and ran.
“I’m running through the woods in a swamp and hiding in a ditch full of water from the cops,” he said.
It was November, so the weather wasn’t warm.
“I’m freezing cold. I think I’m gonna die of hypothermia, and I knew if I turned myself in, I’d have a warm place to stay. It would all be over,” he said. “But God forbid I do that because then I’d get caught. So I just kept running.”
Barth didn’t get arrested that night but instead hid out at a friend’s place in the Twin Cities.
At one point he overdosed and was brought back to life with Narcan.The same happened to his brother.
That’s when the wheels started turning.
“All of this is happening, and I’m just wondering, like, where do I fit into all of this as a person? And what purpose do I serve?” he said. “If all I am is a junkie and a thief and a criminal, then I deserve to be behind bars. That’s where people like me belong.”
The very next day was the life-saving arrest that answered his prayers.
Before going to prison and finally facing the music, Barth’s mom suggested a treatment facility like Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and prayed for him to let light into his heart to push away the darkness.
That’s when he started praying, himself, trying to figure out what to do with his life next.
Just hours before Barth’s release from Hennepin County Jail, as he made arrangements for his mom to drive down from Emily to pick him up, another strange blessing occurred.
“They knocked on my cell door, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you popped on a warrant in Crow Wing County.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s good! That’s where I need to go,’” Barth said.
After being held for 24 hours in Crow Wing County, Barth was released to his mom for a couple weeks before a bed opened up at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in Brainerd.
The 13 months spent in treatment at Teen Challenge allowed Barth to focus on his mental health and learn how to turn his life around.
“I got to spend the time just being honest,” he said. “The more honest I was with people, the more honest I was with myself. I built a lot of character, which inevitably drew people into my life that I needed. …I didn’t want to be a bad person anymore, and I got surrounded by good people who encouraged me and helped me be a better person each and every day.”
With that help, now at age 30, Barth is getting ready to celebrate 30 months of sobriety on May 9.
He didn’t expect to make Brainerd his home, but he now manages Teen Challenge’s transitional house and is working to build his credit up in hopes of securing a loan to buy a home next year.
While Barth knows there will always be obstacles in his life because of his history, the community in the Brainerd lakes area, he said, has been nothing but supportive.
That same support doesn’t yet exist in his hometown, where people from his past only know the addiction and legal troubles.
“I’m still the guy that was on the front page of the paper every other month for something,” he said, which he noted is understandable.
“I made my bed, and I have to sleep in it sometimes,” he said.
But life in Brainerd is good.
“Community, I believe, is the most important thing to being sober — having a solid community base,” Barth said. “... It’s so cool to see how the community helps us out. It’s really amazing.”
That community is available for others who want to get sober, too.
“Change can be scary,” he said. “Taking the first steps takes a lot of courage. And when someone’s reaching out a hand, don’t be afraid to grab onto it because it could change your life forever.”
That certainly happened for Barth.
“I don’t even recognize the person I was,” he said. “I learned a lot from it. I think back on it, and I think, ‘Well, how can I use this for the future?’... Because I think everything that has been broken and has been lost, can and will be used for good at some point in the future if you let it.”
April is Second Chance Month
April is known as Second Chance Month , both nationally and in Minnesota, reaffirming the importance of helping those with criminal backgrounds re-enter society and have a second chance at a better life after paying their debts.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.