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Saturday, Aug 16 2014 08:00 PM

Fight for sobriety a constant battle for meth addicts

  1. 1 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Misti Rininger is still sober after last using meth in November 2013. She volunteers, attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and has taken a parenting class in the hope of gaining custody of two of her grandchildren.

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  2. 2 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Misti Rininger is a recovering meth addict. Her son, Gary Forbes, 21, is also trying to stay away from meth. He started using the drug at age 17 on Mother's Day as a way of getting back at her. He and his mother later used together. Now, Forbes is living at his mother's home waiting until there's an opening for him in a treatment program.

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  3. 3 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Misti Rininger volunteers at Golden Empire Gleaners two days a week fixing meals for staff and volunteers with her friend Lori Reyes, right.

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  4. 4 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Misti Rininger, left, tells a story about a recent trip to San Diego to her friend, Lori Reyes, right. Both women volunteer at Golden Empire Gleaners. There have been numerous positive changes in Rininger's life since she last used meth Nov. 12, 2013.

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  5. 5 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Although she is no longer is required to do community service, Misti Rininger continues volunteering at the Golden Empire Gleaners food bank where she helps make meals for the staff and volunteers.

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  6. 6 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    In mid-March Misti Rininger, right, and Vanessa Sanchez were in Jason's Retreat in Bakersfield trying to beat their meth addiction.

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  7. 7 of 7

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Gary Forbes says he dreamed of playing football at Texas A&M. But once he started using meth at age 17 his life spiraled out of control. Drugs and violence became common and at 21 he is a three-time felon. He holds a picture of himself as a high school football player.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

Without a doubt, some of the worst things 40-year-old Misti Rininger has ever done happened while high.

She stole, she lied, she forgot how to love.

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Meth and a broken family

Today it is hard to imagine Gary Forbes, a tattooed, 6-foot-3-inch, 209-pound man, carrying 50 fewer pounds on his ample frame. That is, until one regards his crooked, stained teeth, telltale signs of the methamphetamine use that has gripped him for years.

He came by his addiction honestly, in a manner of speaking: Although she didn’t introduce him to the drug, his mother, Misti Rininger, admits she used meth with all three of her sons.

Two of them — Filiberto Lopez, 24, and Christopher Forbes, 18 — are in prison.

Gary Forbes, the third of Rininger’s sons, is regularly in and out of jail and rehab. In an April interview, Forbes said he was still in rehab and still trying to stay sober.

“I was tired of living that life,” said Forbes, who has since turned 21. “ ... I was tired of slammin’ dope ... gang bangin’ and all that.”

He seemed convinced of the need to change, but less than two weeks later he walked away from rehab. Then, in early June, he visited his mother and assaulted her during an argument over a cigarette lighter.

On June 20, Rininger bet he would be back in jail within a month. She was right. On July 2 Forbes was booked into Kern County Jail for a probation violation.

His mother said it’s all part of a pattern, pointing out he has attacked her multiple times when high, once menacing her with a tire iron.

“I’m afraid of him when he’s using,” she said with teary eyes. “... I’ve been there for him and yet he treats me the worst.”

In April, when Forbes was sober, Rininger said he was protective of her because he’d watched her suffer abuse at the hands of others. But when he started using again she was forced to file a restraining order against him.

She later changed her mind and never had the restraining order served, despite her vow to keep him away.

“Gary better show up two years clean before I have anything to do with him,” she said earlier this summer. “I’m afraid he’ll try to finish me off. I’m afraid of him.”

Forbes wrote her a letter from jail, apologizing, calling her a good mother and saying he was proud of her for staying sober.

After 67 days in custody, Forbes was ordered by his probation officer to go to drug treatment. He is on a waiting list for a bed in a Kern County rehab facility. Until then, he’s staying with Rininger and her fiance, Robert Horton. Forbes told his mother he wants to stay sober this time around.

Rininger has established rules for her son in order to remain in the house: He can’t leave the house, no friends are allowed over and no drugs.

Her other two sons have told her they also want to maintain sobriety once released from prison.

— Ruth Brown

Meth arrests grow in Bakersfield, Kern

Kern County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Sanchez, a member of the county’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force, was not surprised to hear that Misti Rininger had easy access to drugs when she lived in Boron.

It’s a countywide issue, but poorer communities are more likely to have high concentrations of drug use, he said. And areas with higher crime rates likely have more drug use, too.

“Meth is cheap. It’s cheap to buy. It’s easy to get and it makes people feel good initially,” Sanchez said. “But once it becomes an addiction (users are) going to get meth by any means necessary to sustain their habit.”

The rate of methamphetamine use in Kern County has increased consistently over the past four years. According to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, a total of 4,486 meth cases came through the county’s court system in 2013. In 2010, 3,145 meth cases were prosecuted.

The Bakersfield Police Department has been well represented, Sgt. Joe Grubbs said. In 2013, Bakersfield police arrested 915 people for possession of a controlled substance that met the definition of meth, a more than 30 percent increase since 2011, when there were 646 arrests. Some of those cases may have involved PCP, a hallucinogenic anesthetic, but “the vast majority” are meth, Grubbs said. Users of both drugs would be arrested on the same charge, so it’s difficult to differentiate how many were PCP arrests. And not all of those arrested may have been charged.

The exact number of crimes committed while suspects are high on meth would be virtually impossible to track, but officers see it regularly in Bakersfield and Oildale.

Cases such as Rininger’s prove it is possible to overcome a history of crime and drug use. Kern County Probation Officer Luis Gomez has supervised Rininger’s probation and said he has seen no signs of drug use. He should know. The terms of her probation allow law enforcement to randomly search her home for stolen property and Gomez said they’ve never found any. No stolen merchandise, no drugs.

“I know she has done some programs voluntarily,” he said. “Those were based on her own decisions.”

Local experts can help addicts identify the type of treatment they might need.

The Kern County Mental Health Gate Team is a screening center for substance abuse treatment to help addicts find the rehabilitation program most appropriate for their situation. Clients are referred to the Gate Team by the county’s court system, child protective services, the sheriff’s office or voluntary screenings.

The Gate Team determines the level of care needed for that client, such as outpatient or residential treatment, and offers youth mentorship.

Kern County Mental Health’s website lists more than 50 treatment options for meth addicts in the county. They include outpatient counseling, inpatient care, detoxification centers, sober living homes, and substance abuse education and prevention programs.

— Ruth Brown

 

“(Drugs) affect your mind and your thinking and they don’t let you love,” she said. “They make you hate and they get you to the point where you just want to die. All I wanted was dope, dope, dope.”

Rininger used methamphetamine every day for more than a year and a half.

And her story is all too common.

According to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, 4,486 meth cases were prosecuted in 2013, a 30 percent increase since 2010. And those are only the people who were caught.

Rininger has been arrested more than 30 times, usually for burglary, theft or trespassing, and almost always while high. She often sold prescription drugs in exchange for meth, although she never got caught.

Her drug use is a family affair. Growing up in Riverside, both her parents and her four younger siblings abused drugs or alcohol, and meth was easy to get when she later lived in California City and Boron. She used meth with her three children and was abused by her meth-addicted ex-husband. Her three sons became addicts; two are in prison and the third is regularly in and out of jail and rehab.

Rininger’s story is unusual, though, in that one day in March at Jason’s Retreat drug rehabilitation facility she shook her head and vowed to leave that life behind for good. And for the past nearly nine months, she has done exactly that.

She first checked herself into Jason’s Retreat in December for 20 days — and later, fearing a relapse, returned in March for a 16-day stay as the anniversary of her father’s death approached.

“I needed tools to help me get through that,” Rininger said.

The process helped Rininger take her first step toward sobriety.

“It can’t bring my dad back, but it can bring my life back,” she said.

She moved to Bakersfield to leave behind her drug-using friends in Boron and California City and deleted them from her cellphone’s contact list.

Occasionally an old friend texts her asking if she wants to party. Rininger always responds, “I don’t do that anymore.”

Attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings several times a week and staying busy with volunteering helps keep her mind off the drug that ran her life for years.

Rininger brushed back her blonde hair, grinned, and said she’s learning to have fun while sober. NA groups sometimes have Friday-night dances and inspirational speakers that she enjoys.

A CHALLENGING JOURNEY

Her drug use that began in 2011 wasn’t her first battle with addiction. After being caught with meth in 2002, she checked into a court-ordered rehab program for 45 days and stopped using for eight and a half years. But when her father died of cancer in March 2012, she decided to numb her pain.

Now sober for 278 days, the color has returned to her face and laughter comes easily.

She’s staying on track with her court-ordered obligations and completed her mandated 147 hours of community service at Golden Empire Gleaners food bank. She still volunteers to cook there Mondays and Tuesdays and will complete her probation in January for two crimes she committed while high. Her goal is to earn her GED diploma.

“It keeps me busy,” she said, “which helps with sobriety.”

Rininger’s biggest challenge now is keeping her family together. She recently graduated from a 48-hour parenting class through Jason’s Retreat rehab facility in an effort to gain custody of two of her three grandchildren.

“My grandkids need me right now,” she said.

They are her biggest motivation to stay sober. But Rininger knows she needs to improve her life in other ways as well.

She wants to finish her GED before finding a job. Once she’s sober for 11-and-a-half months, she is eligible to apply for work at a drug rehabilitation center as a house mom. A house mom’s role is to watch over and support the women at inpatient treatment centers.

“I want to give back what they gave me,” Rininger said.

Her fiance, Robert Horton, is one of her biggest supporters. She met him after she was sober. The couple plan to marry Jan. 4.

Horton, 41 and also a former meth addict, is 272 days clean. He completed a two-month drug rehabilitation program at Freedom House and is working in the oilfields as a pipefitter.

“I checked myself into Freedom House because I was tired of living the way that I was living,” Horton said. “I was homeless for two months and that was when I was really addicted to methamphetamine.”

After her abusive relationships of the past, Rininger said Horton is one of many reasons for her to stay sober. He doesn’t name call, yell or hurt her and most importantly, doesn’t use drugs, she said.

“When I’m with Robert I’m not scared anymore,” she said. “He made me feel safe. I’ve never felt any safer than I am now.

 

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