A former Ottawa County law enforcement detective shares his story of addiction to meth and other drugs and his climb back to redemption and sobriety.
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a month-long series of articles regarding Oklahoma, Ottawa County, and Miami’s drug issues. Click here to read part one, “Oklahoma addictions - OBN numbers tell the shocking story” and part two, “State Question 788: Is Medical marijuana good for Oklahoma?”
MIAMI – His story of drug addiction isn't unique, but as a former law enforcement officer, Troy Wilmoth's vantage point from both sides of the badge is truly insightful.
Once a respected Ottawa County law enforcement detective, Wilmoth, 50, fell from grace as he spiraled into addiction to meth and other drugs. Wilmoth was arrested and prosecuted in Ottawa County from 2011 to 2014 for charges of threats of violence, domestic violence, burglary, assault and battery, and manufacture and delivery of marijuana and methamphetamine.
The detective, who once busted drug users and dealers, found himself in prison beside them.
“It's a unique perspective, from where I've come from and what I've done,” Wilmoth said. “At the very bottom of it though, and this is my thing about recovery for people who don't really know how to go about fixing what the problem is, is that it has to come from a spiritual perspective.”
Wilmoth said his own recovery was like many others, it came one piece, one day at a time.
“If I keep on the right track, it's not difficult at all,” he said. “What a lot of people didn't realize about my situation was I've struggled with addiction my whole life, since childhood. It wasn't because Mom and Dad weren't doing their job, it was because I was rebellious.”
Wilmoth's family owned a vending machine company that serviced the Ottawa County Jail. There he met Sheriff Jack Harkins who hired Wilmoth on as a reserve deputy. Wilmoth’s decision to enter a career in law enforcement was driven by another man’s abuse of Wilmoth’s daughter, and his frustration with the way the legal system handled the abuser.
“My thought was to vindicate my child by advocating for other children,” he said. “It's kind of strange because I wanted to become somebody who put people like that in jail and hold people like that accountable. After Jack was killed Dennis (King) came in and said he wanted me full time and sent me to the academy.”
Wilmoth was assigned to a multi-disciplinary task force as a detective investigating child abuse, work he did for almost four years with a high success rate of criminal prosecution on the cases he was involved in.
“At this point in my life, I had been clean from drugs for about nineteen years. In the late 80s I had a bad situation with some drugs and I ended up going to treatment and I stayed clean,” he said. “I was clean my entire law enforcement tenure, my entire tenure out at Buffalo Run as Director of Security. The reason I stayed clean was I was doing all the right things – I was going to recovery meetings, I had an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) sponsor, I was working the 12 steps, I was doing everything that was crucial and imperative to my recovery. After a while I laid out of meetings, I quit talking to my sponsor, I quit doing the things that were necessary.”
During treatment for a serious back injury, Wilmoth was given pain medications, which he believes may have triggered his addiction once more.
Wilmoth said he began hanging out with the wrong people and partying and was unable to handle the depression he felt from a break up with a girlfriend of 17 years and the pressure built. He turned back to drugs.
“It's a hopeless situation especially when you've been through the recovery process and you've been there and you understand. I always tell people there's nothing like a head full of recovery and a hand full of dope. It is a powerful obsession,” Wilmoth said.
Three days later after his head cleared from that first high, he said, “I was ridden with guilt, with remorse, you know, what have I done? The best way to remedy that whole situation was just to numb myself and that’s what I did.”
Wilmoth’s growing addiction took the place of the people he cared for most in his life.
“I didn't intentionally push my kids, my grandchildren, my family and job to the side. But I did push them away, just so I didn’t have to feel. What happened after nineteen years clean I found myself in a situation I don't feel like I was mentally or spiritually capable of handling all by myself, I just couldn't. I just caved, and once I had the first one on board I had zero defense against the second one. It was a horrible reintroduction to that life. The next five years was pure hell.”
Wilmoth said he was trying to numb his pain instead of seeking the help he desperately needed.
“I remember even as I was doing it wondering, ‘What the hell am I doing?' And hours and hours later I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I wasn't getting high because it was fun or because it would make me feel good because nothing would make me feel good. I tell people that the dope is just a symptom,” Wilmoth said. “The drugs are the solution, but the problem is, the problem is way deeper.”
Wilmoth said he was a “functional a drug addict” for a time, “Every time I would presume control of my life that’s when things would go awry.”
His addiction eventually drew the attention of other law enforcement officers and agencies.
“I was a huge disappointment to a lot of people, but the thing is, they don’t understand,” Wilmoth said. “Whether it’s pot, whether it’s opioids, whether it’s meth, if you cave to that obsession it’s a wrap, especially with drugs. There’s an old saying in recovery, one’s too many and a thousand is never enough. That’s true for me; I understand that once I start that it’s like lighting a fuse. There’s no way to put it out. It is a choice.”
Once Wilmoth’s addiction was full blown he says he was using drugs constantly.
“I couldn’t make this deal stop and I needed help. It’s amazing that I’m alive,” Wilmoth said.
Wilmoth’s father took him to a rehab center to detox for 15 days, then he went straight to the House of Hope in Grove. In rehab, another patient would talk about him behind his back, and Wilmoth wasn’t aware of who the man was until the director said his name.
“I had arrested him about 12 years before and he went to prison for almost killing his mom with a pipe wrench,” he said.
This caused Wilmoth to leave the rehab after being clean for 45 days in February of 2011, and once out he started using again. Other subsequent rehab attempts failed and Wilmoth wound up alone and homeless on the streets he once had patrolled.
Just nine days later, Wilmoth ended up arrested, prosecuted and in prison after an Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics undercover sting. He remembers the night and the following morning vividly.
“It was a horrible experience,” Wilmoth said, “That was absolutely the end of the road for me when they put the handcuffs on me that morning.”
Wilmoth said County Jail wasn’t as bad as prison because he was sequestered alone in the jail.
“In prison, the guards and all of that, it’s all corrupt,” he said. “I saw lots in prison. Mostly, people didn’t want anything to do with me. I had a couple guys there toward the end that didn’t care that I was a cop or judge me. In a prison yard, there’s so much prison gang politics, and the best thing to do is stay away from all of them, and that’s what I did. I got jumped in the shower by 15 of the Indian Brotherhood. I was standing there naked in a pair of shower shoes trying to negotiate with six guys, and I knew I was going to get it.”
The largest man grabbed him, and Wilmoth fought back, and that’s the last thing he remembers.
“The next thing I remember was getting loaded into a helicopter, and they life-flighted me to Norman,” he said.
When he returned to prison he was thrown in isolation, in the segregated housing unit, SHU or "shoe" in prison slang, for 60 days because he wouldn’t identify the prisoner who had beaten him.
Wilmoth was transferred to William S. Key Correctional Center in Ft. Supply, but inmates there also soon discovered Wilmoth was a former law enforcement officer.
“One of the prisoners asked me, ‘Are you a cop?’ and I said, ‘No,’ and I sat up on my rack and asked why he asked me that, and about that time somebody said, ‘Tell me you haven’t ever been a cop.’ I turned around and the whole house was there staring bolts at me, and I sat up and looked at them and said, ‘Yeah, I used to be a cop.’ A big Irish guy said, ‘I’m sorry you’re going to have to go, we don’t have no police on this yard.’”
Wilmoth hopped off his rack and went to the glassed-in guard area called a “bubble.”
“I wasn’t in there two seconds and they were all swarming that bubble, and I told the guard I used to be a sheriff’s detective. He hit that red button and sirens went off and they locked the whole yard down and they cuffed me and stuck me in the SHU,” Wilmoth said.
For Wilmoth his jailhouse road to redemption was necessary.
“This whole experience was about discipline for me. Changing my heart and my head, and thinking about this world and everything that’s in it, hence the internal check. If that’s all good and in order, there’s no need to numb, there’s no need for that. Because left to my own resources I was doing a horrible job and I couldn’t put my finger on where exactly that happened because it went way beyond the first time I got high after being clean 19 years,” he said. “ Somewhere I lost perspective. I believed I was unforgivable, I had committed such irreprehensible things.”
During his 20-month sentence in prison, Wilmoth sought answers to fight his addictions and change his life.
“My intention was never to lie cheat, steal, but that’s what I did. There aren’t honest drug addicts. They have no loyalty, they have no moral core, all they are thinking about is getting high,” Wilmoth said. “While I was in prison I met a guy at a church service who was a volunteer from Pauls Valley, Bob Chandler, who came every Tuesday night to do a Bible study. God directed me there I feel like because, for me, I was looking for any way to get away from the general population any chance I had. I was hungry for whatever was coming.”
Studying the Bible, with Chandler’s guidance, Wilmoth began to fill the hole he once had tried to fill with drugs.
“Looking back I can see what I lacked was discipline, whether it was physical, emotional or spiritual discipline, because that’s what addiction corrupts, all of those, and it does it all at the same time,” he said. “Methamphetamine will kill, steal, it will destroy everything - nothing survives it!”
As he read and studied the Bible, Wilmoth says he learned about forgiveness, hope, and grace.
“I was baptized in prison. I wanted to show the population on that prison yard that I was changed,” he said. “ As my walk with Jesus has progressed, and I do stumble, but I know that I’m forgiven. Sometime in there, I changed. I felt like I had a higher calling even better than before – a chance to stand as a testimony to other people that it’s never too late. Anybody can recover from that seemingly hopeless state.”
After serving his time, Wilmoth returned to Miami, back where his addiction once raged and was fed, and back where he once served as a law enforcement officer.
“People are going to pass judgment,” Wilmoth said. “They’re going to believe what they want to believe. When it came time for me to discharge from prison, my case managers were asking me if I was sure I wanted to move back to Miami, and I said, ‘Where the hell else am I going to go?’”
Wilmoth knew he must return to his family and if he could overcome his addiction, it must be here where the addiction lurks.
“I just wanted to get my life back to normal as much as possible, it pretty much has,” Wilmoth said. “In the back of my mind, it still looms how easy it would be to go back to all that. That obsession is where it all started. Normal people who don’t understand addiction don’t understand that, and in retrospect, I didn’t either. I have my head wrapped around that now. I spend a lot of time on the road and I do nothing but think.”
Wilmoth feels he owes a debt of gratitude to his colleagues in law enforcement for saving his life and he has even shook the hands of some of those he has encountered.
“That felt good,” he said. “For a while, I felt like I couldn’t apologize enough, I let people down…Jesus died for my sins, it changes everything, so I don’t feel that condemnation anymore.”
Now when he feels that dangerous obsession creeping up, he says, “I ride my motorcycle. Wind therapy. I work, spend time with my girlfriend.”
Wilmoth started a blog called, "My Two Cents" on his Facebook page to share with others what he has learned the hard way, he said, “This whole journey has me holding myself in check, because it’s real easy to criticize and judge other people, I really can’t do that.”
These days, Wilmoth is working for the family business and rebuilding relationships by spending time with his kids and grandkids.
“I focus on being Papa to my grandkids, and Dad to my kids who want me to be in their life, and the others will come around, I hope,” he said.
Wilmoth says today he knows his addiction, and something he cautions others struggling with addiction about is his path is always just one decision away from good or evil.
“To me, it’s all about an obscure view of this world,” he said. “I came to this epiphany that I have a desire to help other people. The best way I can make a statement about who Troy Wilmoth is today is by doing what I’m doing. Our worst mistake is not what defines our character and who we are; it’s how we deal with a situation after we’ve fallen. There are people who feel hopeless in their addiction and my message to those people is you can accept that if it’s the way you want to live your life, but you’ve got to understand that there’s always hope. There are three words that will turn their life around, and that is, “God help me.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.