875 Miles in, Thoughts on Justice and Breaking a Cycle

875 Miles in, Thoughts on Justice and Breaking a Cycle
June 17, 2018 Heather Starbuck

This past week forgiveness has been on my mind. We faced the hardest terrain of VA, arguably the hardest within a short span I’ve experienced on trail yet. Climbing over 19,000 feet and back down in a matter of four humid days. The section culminates at a shelter known as the Priest before dropping down across the valley aptly named Devil’s backbone as it shoots you right back up the 3000 feet you just scrambled down.

Thru-hikers have a tradition of confessing a hiker sin they’ve committed so far in their trek into the Priest shelter’s log book. The notebook is full of typical hiker transgressions, surface poops, leave no trace fails, blue blazing and even some hot trail gossip. I made a confession for Theo and I… he has obliterated not one but two 100 mile signs for his love of the sticks making up the marker. The two times, I didn’t notice the stick in his mouth til we were past it… and not wanting to turn around I let it lie. Not the worst confession surely.

In the time leading up to the priest deeper confessions and forgiveness weighed heavily on my mind. The trail has consistently provided me a light reprieve from the dark reality that I left behind. Everything relating back to my Colorado life is heavier, more painful and difficult to swallow – the concept of forgiveness no different.

I’ve been trying to forgive a lot these days. Forgive myself for not catching the red flags and signs, for not being there the night Matt decided to use again, for my naivety or complacency, both of which hindering my ability to, at least in my opinion, save Matt from this. Forgiveness of Matt for making this horrible, awful mistake. I even thought deeply and extensively, trying to muster up some sort of forgiveness or understanding for the person who both introduced Matt to heroin and got him using again after years of relentless harassment and pressure, ultimately dealing him the final lethal dose.

I had made progress, and while I didn’t forgive Shane I started working to let go of some of my deeply harbored anger towards him. Then I got a phone call. A phone call from one of Matt’s friends saying that Shane had put another person in the ICU. Not only that, he was planning on bringing this person heroin into the hospital before they had their scheduled open heart surgery.

At the time, I of course was hiking in the middle of the mountains. Still it rolled in a tidal wave of manic emotions. Dropping me back to the scene where I first discovered through Matt’s phone it was Shane who pressured him into using “one last time buddy, for me”, knowing full well Matt was in recovery. When I saw the message nine months ago, I blacked out in rage, shattering a glass across the floor. I was enraged because I knew it was him the moment I got the call Matt was in the ICU. I had tried to fight off this person for two full years, chasing him from our property, threatening the cops on him, having endless conversations with Matt to help keep him away. Like a parasite he kept coming back…he’d even followed Matt across state lines after Matt tried to leave him and that world behind. Nothing Matt and I said or did would keep him distanced for long. This is the type of person who wasn’t going to stop until he killed Matt, and here he is, less than a year later, doing it again to someone else.

And oh it made me angry, I’m still boiling over it. There was a detective on Matt’s case. There was text message evidence of Shane dealing the lethal dose. There are witnesses to him showing up uninvited to Matt’s work, just hanging around waiting to pounce on him. He even has multiple standing warrants in other states! They did nothing. Nada, zilch. He continued to walk the streets of Boulder without a slap on his wrist. And look where we are, less than a year later, he’s done it again, with zero remorse and clearly still no regard for human life. It should not have happened. He should have been behind bars. Another person should not be in ICU.

After screaming, crying, throwing my poles to the ground and having a full meltdown triggered by this news I talked with my Dad about what to do. I couldn’t in good conscious just let this go unreported. This is someone who I know is dangerous, planning to bring drugs to a cardiac intensive care patient. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this, it’s to always, always speak up. And so I paused my hike, found a small spot of service and started prowling the web to find this person’s parent’s contact information.

I reached out directly, starting the conversation saying that, well, it was going to be a weird conversation. I let them know all I’ve learned about Shane, what I’d heard about the drugs being snuck into ICU, what he did to Matt. They told me that he had indeed already brought drugs into the hospital… I was a few days late out here… and the surgery had to be delayed because of it. They’d had their own struggles with him, but never seemed to get the truth and living in another state, hadn’t until then heard the full honest situation. Per their request, I sent them pictures of him, as they didn’t have any, for reference to keep him barred from the hospital and this person. I told them if they need anything else from me to not hesitate. It sounds like this person is distancing themselves from drugs and Shane, taking a fresh start while leaning on family for support…I’ve been praying each night that they continue to do so.

What this story highlights for me though is a deep flaw in our justice system. This was preventable. He’d already done this to someone, how could we as a community idly sit by and allow it to happen again. Is it because of the stigma? Because we don’t know what to do or how to prosecute? How can a motor vehicle accident be manslaughter and dealing lethal doses be nothing? How many body bags does one person get to rack up before we take a stand? These lives matter. They need protection and justice just like anyone else. This is a story of systematic failure, the very failure making it that much harder for this epidemic to end and dealers to take their destruction seriously. Let’s raise the stakes, make someone think twice before potentially killing someone. Otherwise, as exemplified, I just can’t see how it’s going to stop.

Hopefully my next post is less firey but I think this is important to get out there so people see how this cycle just continues round and round like it does. It was eye opening for me even, somehow it feels beyond belief. I hope we can change this, and I truly think the first order of business is breaking through the stigma, without the stigma I know something like this would never stand.



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