YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Many Mahoning County Jail inmates are locked up because of problems with heroin and other drugs. Inmate Kevin Smith wrote to the WKBN newsroom.
He didn’t say he was innocent; instead, he said he wanted to talk about how much of a problem heroin is in the Valley.
“If I can help other people to get help, instead of going down the same path that I’ve gone, I really want to do that,” Smith said. “I want to make the people that I’ve hurt see that I’m a good person, and that I’d do anything to change back time if I could.”
He grew up in Niles and got addicted to heroin after high school, abusing drugs for over five years. Smith was sucked into a world of petty crime and IV drug use.
“I was basically on the streets. I was sleeping on the ground. I had nothing and I was doing some really dumb stuff to support my habit.”
In 2013, Smith was arrested and charged with burglary for breaking into homes in Austintown. Last year, he was arrested and charged with the same crime. He says he committed them to support his drug habit.
Heroin took everything from him; dreams, jobs, relationships and even his teeth. He says his parents had nothing to do with his addiction.
“I have to make clear to them all the time, ‘This was not your fault. I made these decisions, these choices. You did the best you could for me.'”
His father, Mike Smith, says he was a promising art student at Niles McKinley.
“He was a kid that everybody looked up to. He was a musician, a phenomenal musician. Kevin loved art. He loved music, he loved writing. When you do heroin, it basically replaces all those things you like with the heroin.”
The family sent him to art school in Los Angeles, where he found hard drugs. He came home early, his bright future starting to dim.
“By then he was heavy into the pills and from there, he went to heroin,” Mike said.
“Once I got to the point of shooting heroin, it’s a whole different animal. There’s no fun when I’m doing that,” Smith said.
“We always worried about, ‘What if he doesn’t finish school and he decides to become a street musician out there?'” Mike said. “At this point in time, wow. I really wish if something crazy was going to happen, that would have happened. But not this.”
His family watched him spiral into a cycle of theft, prison time and destruction.
“I laid in bed many a night, worrying about if you’re going to get that phone call. ‘Hey, your son has been picked up. Can you come down to the morgue?’ Listened to his mother sob many a night.”
“As an addict, I feel you hurt the people you care about the most when you’re in that state,” Smith said.
He says he’s tried to be sober before with the help of a community service.
“They actually helped me go through a detox but right after that, I was dropped off in a homeless shelter. There was no long-term care provided.”
Mike says that long-term care is necessary to get addicts past detox and on to sober living.
“People want to label them as bad people. It’s a disease, and people need to be aware of how bad it’s an epidemic in this area,” Mike said.
He says his son will be best off serving his prison sentence and finding a new life. Mike loves his son and blames heroin for his fall.
“He stole, and I apologize to the people out there for that. He wasn’t raised that way. Everything he loved, he replaced with [heroin]. It’s the devil, it changes people.”
WKBN contacted several of Smith’s victims, but none of them returned calls.
His family is trying to come to grips with the fact that he is going to prison, probably for years. Mike still hopes for a bright future for his son.
“I’d like to see, before I leave this earth, him to be clean and successful. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Will that happen? I don’t know. That’s up to him.”
Smith has been clean for eight months, since he was picked up on burglary charges. He says he hopes he can continue that streak for the rest of his life, but knows that won’t be easy.
“Every time I’ve relapsed, it’s gotten a thousand times worse. Eventually, it’s going to end up in my death.”
Right now, Smith is waiting to find out how much time he’ll have to serve in state prison. In speaking out, he says he wants to keep other people from going down his path and to let people know he’s more than a mug shot.
“I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Guys I’d graduated with, but hadn’t been doing anything since they graduated but drug use.”
He says that bright boy who graduated from Niles so many years ago is still inside somewhere.
“I hate the fact that I hurt this community or anybody, doing the things that I’ve done. I lay in bed and think about it every night, because that’s not the person I am.”
On March 23rd, Smith will learn what his prison sentence will be.