Coming Clean: Rangely man chronicles lifetime of drug abuse

RANGELY — John Durfee was 10 the first time he smoked pot. He was 12 the first — and only — time he smoked, or freebased, cocaine. At 17, he entered treatment for alcohol addiction.
For 30 years, his life has been a blur of heavy drinking, barroom fights and doing drugs, including methamphetamine.
phrgmethNow, at 41, he has been clean for five weeks. And counting.
More than anything, he said, he was addicted to a lifestyle. With each step of the downward spiral, he graduated to something else, from drinking to smoking pot, from snorting coke to taking meth.
“I was addicted to the sex, the drugs, the fighting, the fast cars, the rock ’n’ roll,” Durfee said. “It all plays into your ego. It’s who you are … when you learn to party and it all feels good.”
Durfee has been to prison twice. He doesn’t want to go back.
So, he’s trying to get his life together. He’s trying to be accountable. He’s building a support group. He’s talking about his addictive past. He’s working again.
Durfee recently attended a public presentation by Lynn Riemer of Act on Drugs, which offers awareness and drug prevention training for communities.
“I would say it’s a pretty significant problem (locally), at least in my eyes,” Durfee said. “It’s a huge problem for me.”
Like when Durfee was doing meth.
“I was using it every day,” Durfee said. “I was using about four grams a day, an ounce a week, for a year, easily. It got quite expensive, about $1,200 a week.”
But holding a job was sometimes a problem.
“With the day after day of no sleep and partying, it takes an effect on the body,” Durfee said. “It beat me down … and it definitely had an effect on my work. The thing is, most people are afraid to say anything to a guy like me, because I might get violent with them.”
Durfee’s father died when he was 5, and his mom worked nights at a local restaurant, leaving the seven kids to fend for themselves.
“I was raised to do what I wanted, no matter who I hurt,” Durfee said. “I did want I wanted to.”
Durfee and a twin sister were the youngest of the seven kids growing up in Naturita, in southwest Colorado.
“I was raised with an older crowd,” Durfee said. “I was in and out of trouble. A couple of other kids around town were in the same boat. We formed a gang called the alley gang. We skipped school and hung out in the 3.2 bar. We smoked pot. We stole everything we could. We vandalized everything we could.”
When he was 13, Durfee was sent to Lookout Mountain Youth Services in Colorado Springs, a juvenile detention center. He moved to Rangely when he was 14 to live with an older sister and brother-in-law.
“My mom thought they could control me and keep me in school,” Durfee said. “It worked out well for a few years.”
But Durfee started hanging out with roughnecks from the oilfield.
“There was plenty of marijuana and booze,” Durfee said. “Back when I was a kid, it was OK (for adults) to give us teenagers booze. Even at 18, you could purchase beer at the convenience stores. The late nights and partying … I thought I was pretty mature. I raised hell. I did what I wanted. This went on and on.”
After receiving treatment for alcohol — Durfee said was he was a full-blown alcoholic at the time — he did OK until his senior year in high school.
“Now I was 18, and I didn’t have to answer to anybody,” Durfee said. “All of the kids at that time were just like me. Partying in the early ’80s was crazy. In ’87, I dropped out of school. I never graduated.”
So Durfee went to work.
“I went to work in a restaurant as a fry cook making $400 a week (at what used to be the Cowboy Corral),” Durfee said. “I made plenty of partying money. It was pretty easy to survive back then.”
Durfee came across a brochure for a truck-driving school in Colorado Springs and thought that sounded interesting. So he applied and was accepted.
“The best thing I ever did,” he said.
He came back to Rangely and went to work in the oilfield.
“I made a lot of money for a young man,” Durfee said. “I had never had that kind of money. I was still smoking pot real heavy and drinking real heavy. I got my first driving while impaired when I was 18.
“The big thing when I got back to Rangely was the keg parties,” he said. “This went on for years. I was old enough to get into the 21 bars. I was in a fight every night. I can remember drinking three bottles of whiskey one night. I was never so sick in my life. Then the cocaine came on the scene. We were snorting cocaine, and there was mushrooms. There was a big crowd of us, probably 30 or 40 of us, partying every weekend real heavy.”
Not a big guy, and hanging out in bars, Durfee learned how to defend himself.
“I was pretty small, so growing up I took a lot of sh**,” Durfee said. “I got picked on. So I learned to fight. The meth made me strong enough to stand up to all of the bullying.”
Durfee worked for Wally Kuck, who had an oilfield services business.
“He was my best friend, but he died (in an accident),” Durfee said. “Then his stepson died of lupus six months after that. They were my best friends. I went a little crazy there, so I moved out of Rangely.”
And he went to Springdale, Ark., where his twin sister lived. He went to work erecting steel buildings. He stayed there for two years.
But he was still partying.
“Oh, yeah, I was still doing drugs,” he said.
When he was 27, he went to California with a fabrication company out of Grand Junction, which had a government contract at Camp Pendleton Marine Base.
“That’s when we got a hold of meth,” Durfee said. “The strip clubs and the partying out there, was 10 times what I had ever seen. It was nonstop. We worked, but we partied just as hard as we worked, if not harder. I was making $28 an hour and I was walking in tall cotton. That went on for four months, pretty heavy every day.”
Of the first experience with methamphetamine, Durfee said it gave him tremendous strength.
“I could do twice the work, three times the work,” he said. “It turned you into superman. That’s what made us so dangerous, the strength, the confidence … we could knock the livin’ sh** out of everybody. We were as tough as tough got. It didn’t matter if you were a Marine, we’d whip your ass.
“We would snort (the meth), and maybe eat a little bit of it,” Durfee said. “I never used a needle in my life. I’ve never touched a needle.”
After the job in California, Durfee returned to Colorado and went to work in Telluride, driving a lumber truck.
“The drugs in Telluride was bad,” Durfee said. “I got back into the cocaine real bad. The Mexican mafia, they flooded the place with pot and cocaine. I quit my job because of cocaine use. I had to get rid of the cocaine.”
Durfee ended up back in Naturita, where he ran a cement mixer.
“That worked out for a few years,” he said. “Then meth came on the scene. I got into some trouble with domestic violence, and I went to prison. I was 28 years old when I went to prison. I thought, that’ll never be me. I’l never go to prison. I spent two years in prison, which was a good thing.”
Durfee made the most of the time away.
“I got my GED, it straightened me out,” he said. “I got off the drugs. It was just like being in the military. I had some discipline.”
After he was released from prison, Durfee returned to Rangely and went to work for Stephen and Elaine Urie, driving a truck.
“It worked out real well (at first), while I was on parole,” Durfee said. “I had a schedule and I had responsibility. For the first time in my life, I was clean.”
But a part of him missed the old lifestyle.
“I got tired of not having me back,” Durfee said. “I wanted to raise hell, the girls, the partying. I wanted a little of my life back.”
Durfee ended up quitting his job.
“I ran off with some girl and got mixed up with meth real bad, and the bikers and the Mexicans,” Durfee said. “It wasn’t two years later and I was on my way to prison for a meth offense. I got caught with an ounce an a half of meth.
“I went into treatment and got sober before my court date,” he said. “But they kicked me out of treatment when I provided a urine sample for another client, and they found out about it.
“They were going to give me two years in prison, but I had some people stand up in the courtroom who said they didn’t believe this was right and I was a decent human being, and they dropped the sentence from 18 months to a year. I got out and started going to counseling. I went back to work driving a truck, and I was sober for almost three years.”
Durfee went through a good stretch, but then he wanted the old life back again.
“I’ve realized I can’t have that lifestyle anymore,” he said. “And that piece of me wasn’t any good in the first place. I started moving from job to job, and the whole lifestyle came back on me. It’s hard to break. You have a deception that’s OK, that it’s not harming anybody, when you’re using. That if you want to get high, you should be able to get high.”
But Durfee has people who have stuck beside him, through the ups and downs of addiction and trying to get clean.
“I had never really been in love,” he said. “That’s where it’s at. That’s what’s going to keep me focused — loved ones and friends and family who don’t use. I do have some very special people in my life. One would be my sister, Betti Putney, and Elaine Urie, and Dee Dee Rouse, my girlfriend. I have a lot of positives going now in my life.”
Act on Drugs trainer Riemer said it is difficult to leave the drug lifestyle.
“Usually, it takes multiple times, three, four times, locked down, very structured, away from the sick sordid subculture,” Riemer said. “It’s very difficult to get away from. As a community you need to really support people going through it. But more important, they (drug users and addicts) really have to have the drive to recover.
“The overall desire … has to come from the individual addict, no matter what they are addicted to,” Riemer said. “If they don’t want to, it’s really a waste of everybody’s time. My theory is a person has to hit bottom and then they change, and that bottom is different for everybody. It can be a whole bunch of things for different people. But when the only choice is to get clean or die, then that’s their bottom.”
Riemer talks about the law of threes.
“Thirty-three percent will never get clean, 33 percent do get clean, and 33 percent are kind of in-between, where they get clean and then go back,” Riemer said. “They have to get to the place where they are just done with this, and then do everything possible to stay away from it.”
Recently, a new group called the Trinity Project initiated a stepped-up effort to try and rid the community of drugs and help those struggling with addiction.
“It has to start with law enforcement for guys like me to have a chance,” Durfee said. “They have to get the sh** off the street. And people have to be able to know that’s OK to admit that they have a problem.”
Riemer is pulling for Durfee and others like him.
“When I talked to him he had been clean four days,” Riemer said. “He told me he wants to be able to stand up in the community and say you can do this, and the community will help you. I hope he stays clean, I really do.”
Durfee knows how hard it can be to leave the drug lifestyle, and he doesn’t want to make that mistake again. Because he knows where it can lead.
“It’s sad, but it’s true, if I ever go back to prison, it will be for life,” Durfee said. “And that’s the last thing I want to do.”