With five children, Samuel Argueta’s father was left to assume the role of two parents – trying to navigate his children through the tough realities of life in Chelsea.
Regrettably, Argueta slipped away into a life on the streets, and though he has turned his life around now, he shared his darkest days at a public discussion in ROCA headquarters on Monday with U.S. Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske – as well as a plethora of law enforcement and elected officials from Chelsea and surrounding cities.
“There were five siblings and one parent and my father assumed the role of both parents,” Argueta told the large crowd. “We didn’t have the big brother and big sister togetherness in our family, so I turned to the streets and got into gangs, got into doing drugs and got into selling drugs. I ended up in federal prison in 2006. There I learned to become a better man and to live in society the right way. When I got out, I went to ROCA. They helped me and I felt I had to give back. When they want me to go out and encourage someone to get their GED and keep on track, I am right there. Without the support group here that I have and that I had, I don’t think I would have made it on my own.”
Following that moving speech, he told the senator and the top drug enforcement officer in the country that he has a great job in downtown Boston and is looking forward to the birth of a new baby with his girlfriend.
ROCA was the perfect backdrop for the important visit of Kerlikowske, who has been touring the U.S. for the past year in order to get extensive pubic input on what will be the country’s newest blueprint for the war on drugs.
“The president specifically told me that he wanted the voice of the American people in this blueprint,” Kerlikowske told the audience. “So, we’ve gone across the country and heard from everyone, whether it was talking with reintegration program directors, rehabilitation center workers, attending an early morning police roll call in Nashville or speaking with detectives in Providence. We heard from everyone.”
Kerlikowske – who is a former Chief of Police in Seattle – also said that he wanted to remove the stigma of drug abuse and recovery. He said he wanted to enlist greater support and acceptance for those working hard to get back on track at places like ROCA.
“We put way too much of a stigma on people who are in recovery and doing a good job in it,” he said. “We need to take away the barriers. We need to get them living in the community; get them back in the job market…There are no stronger advocates for you and for this than the chiefs, detectives and State Troopers that are here with us today.”
Also involved in the discussion with Sen. Kerry and Kerlikowske was former Boston Celtic Chris Herron – who has been going around the state lately sharing his tragic tale of drug abuse and recovery.
“From my point of view, it’s getting kids at a younger age,” he said. “This really starts at the middle schools. By the time they’re older, it’s too late. There’s already a pattern.”
Sen. Kerry facilitated most of the discussion and asked several questions of the participants – particularly about their family structure and tendency to drop out of school. He was particularly interested in what could have been done to altar their decisions.
He also made several comments about solutions to the drug problem.
“We have been successful in the past, putting things in place like the drug task forces and the ‘Just Say No,'” he said. “We did that all the way up into the 1990s and it was effective. Then we always end up pulling back a bit and then the problem comes back and we’re left scratching our heads. It’s not that complicated. The problem is that we’re often not doing what we know we ought to be doing…We need to get back to reminding people about the drug culture and what it really does to you…We need to get back to reminding people what’s at stake here.”
ROCA Director Molly Baldwin shared briefly that they have concentrated in the last few years – based upon statistical research – on two groups: young men between the ages of 18-24 who are in and out of prison and young single mothers.
She was aided by the comments of ROCA’s Dana Betts, the director of programming, who said vigilance with those in the program is key.
“It really takes relentless outreach,” she said. “Our group does not show up on time and they need to be reminded every single day at their front door that they can change and there is hope for them.”
City Manager Jay Ash said that the meeting came about when he happened to mention to Sen. Kerry that about 75 percent of of Chelsea’s local crime problem could be attributed to drug activity.
That prompted Kerry to organize a meeting with Kerlikowske and a number of other city leaders in the area.
Joining Ash was Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, as well as chiefs from Revere, Winthrop, Everett and Malden.
Other city leaders in attendance with Ash included Winthrop Town Manager Jim McKenna, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Malden Mayor Gary Christenson and Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree.
“We just aren’t doing enough in our communities to prevent drug abuse and provide treatment and recovery services for those who are addicted,” said Ash. “The days of thinking we can arrest our way out of the drug problems our communities are facing are over. Our prisons are full of drug convicts and yet the situation in our neighborhoods and in our homes isn’t getting any better. We need a more holistic approach to local addiction issues and need our federal government to treat this national crisis as the epidemic it is.”
NOT TOO UNCOMMON
Over the last two years, the Revere and Chelsea areas have taken particular notice that large quantities of drugs directly from the U.S./Mexico border have shown up in the community.
Just over a year ago, the largest cache of drugs ever recovered in Massachusetts was uncovered in Revere near the Chelsea line. The cocaine contained in that tractor trailer was neatly wrapped and still bore the stamp of a prominent Mexican drug smuggling cartel.
The same holds true for a tractor trailer found in the Chelsea Produce market this year, with massive amounts of bundled and stamped cocaine inside.
All indications are that the chaotic border is coming a little too close for comfort, and U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske indicated that is exactly the case.
Kerlikowske told the Record that he has travelled all over the country seeking input for the new nationwide blueprint on the drug war.
He indicated that many cities like Revere and Chelsea have found the “fingerprints” of dangerous cartels in their own backyards.
“I’ve travelled all over and this is not unique,” he said. “The drug cartels have a presence in about 200-plus cities in the country. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the border or not. We’ve doubled the number of border patrol agents and seizures are higher than ever. Still, Atlanta, Chicago and New York – they’re fingerprints are all over these places. It doesn’t even have to be a big city either, as you can attest to here.”