KERN VALLEY, CA - The Kern Valley Sheriff's Department Substation covers an area of about 8-hundred square miles. A lot of land for such a small outpost battling a meth problem considered to be one of the worst in Kern County.
Enrique Bravo is the Sergeant for the Kern Valley substation and has seen first hand how methamphetamine has affected this small community. "This drug is the devil's drug, I just don't understand how people can inject this into their bodies but they do," said Bravo. Sergeant Bravo often talks about the past and his Mayberry version of the Kern Valley. "The unfortunate thing about drugs is it's changing it for the worst," said Bravo.
The substation has the task of checking up on parolees, many of them have a history of meth use. One of the regular stops is the home of Theresa Albert. They deputies enter the home and search for anything that violates Albert's parole. She has a history of drug use. "I got arrested a bunch of times for meth, crystal meth," said Albert. She said she started at a young age."I got a hold of it when I was fourteen, it was just around and stuff so I did it," said Albert.
Don Richey, 57, happened to be at Albert's home at the time of the probation sweep. He said meth ruined his life. "I guess you always wonder what you would be if you never did dope, you know...but I guess you will never know that," said Richey. He has lived in the Kern Valley for 24-years. "The original reason I moved up here was to get away from it, boy was that a mistake," said Richey.
A mistake so many in the Kern Valley area make. According to the Kern Stop Meth Now Coalition, Kern Valley has higher per capita prevalence rates for methamphetamine related offenses than Bakersfield, Sergeant Bravo wants change. "For years I used to feel good about taking these people to jail, but over time my efforts were not making a dent in our community," said Bravo.
After every probation stop Sergeant Bravo checks on the welfare of the parolee, asking them questions and offering them any help they need. "It's up to me to try and help these people, the time is now, it's not tomorrow because the stats are going higher and higher, it's proven that jail and incarceration doesn't help there has to be someway else." said Bravo.
In 2006, Kern Valley Sheriff's Deputy, William Joe Hudnall was run off of the road by an attorney under the influence of methamphetamine. That attorneys choice to use meth before getting behind the wheel left Hudnall's wife a widow, his kids fatherless, and his body 100-feet down a rocky slope.
Hudnall's partner Daures Stephens has now retired from the Kern County Sheriff's Department. "I couldn't be any closer to a patrol partner as I was with Joe," said Stephens. Since Hudnall's death Stephens still thinks about all the good times they had together. "I believe when somebody dies in that manner, too early on the job, it needs to have some type of meaning," said Stephens. He felt like a sign on the side of the freeway didn't give Hudnall's legacy the honor it deserves Sergeant Bravo agrees. "Every time I would pass by Joe Hudnall's picture at the station it's like he was talking to me, do something about this problem, do something about this problem, and I finally realized, it's Joe's house that were going to name it," said Bravo.
Joe's House, a place for addicts to go and be set free. Hudnall's wife Carrie Hudnall says her husband Joe wanted to see an end to the Kern Valley meth epidemic. "When Daures called me and told me, I had no words and I am not usually a speechless person. For one that they wanted to attach my husband's name to something so amazing as this, to help people get off of drugs without them going to rehab they can't afford, or go to court, or something they don't want, this is something if they want to turn their they can," said Hudnall.
Joe's House is not a part of the Kern County Sheriff's Department it is upstairs at Faith Community Church in Wofford Heights. Pastor Neil Preston leads the meetings, working the steps and letting anyone walking in the door share their story. Many who attend say the meetings can get emotional but its all a part of breaking the chains of addiction and mending old relationships. "There are people there that I or Joe and I have arrested. I held there hands to place handcuffs on them and now I hold their hands while they say a prayer before we leave, if that's not full circle I do not know what is," said Stephens.
Jeff Plante said before he got clean from meth he was Stephens and Bravo's worst enemy. "He was a cop and I was the bad guy," said Plante. Now he can pose in a picture with them, smiling, proud of his new life. "It's just awesome, I had to get a picture of that, I never thought that I would be sitting in the same room as Stephens and Bravo, you know, and with no drama, it's just the love of God," said Plante. His faith, his love for Jesus Christ is what he says keeps him clean. I mean I tried other programs and stuff, it's Jesus, Jesus works, the blood of Christ can break any addiction and it's like I said it was like that," said Plante.
Joe's House gives addicts a sense of accountability and with the faith base it has an extra element former addicts say is the only thing that works. Christy Leuton is an adviser for Joe's House. She said she has stayed clean from meth because of her faith based recovery. "I believe God supernaturally delivered me from the addiction, because I don't think about, I don't want to use I don't have feelings of wanting to relapse, it's gone," said Leuton. "It's the only way they are going to beat this addiction is through Jesus Christ and Joe's House," said Bravo.
Now with over 30 members, Joe's House is changing Kern Valley, one soul at a time. "I am hoping people take advantage to get clean and turn their lives around, and in a round about way my husband will be apart of that with out physically being here," said Hudnall.
Although Deputy Hudnall is not alive his legacy, lives. "I see that being around a long time, unless somebody has an answer that get methamphetamine to go away tomorrow," said Stephens.