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Growing up too fast
Drugs and crime meant a fast childhood


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Broken Lives Day 4

Broken Lives | | Growing up too fast

Story Published on November 4, 2010



The most comforting memory for Anthony Sanders’ 20-day drug binge is that he can’t remember all of it. “I don’t know if there’s a good reason why I don’t remember some of it, but I’d probably get sick to my stomach.”

It’s the binges he can remember that scare him most — the thoughts that ran through his mind after smoking crack and the things he did. “This guy is sleeping there,” Sanders, 23, recalls of one incident. “He’s got a 9-mm in his pocket, an AK laying on his bed ... and I had the [guts] to ... sit in his living room, taking his dope.”

Heroin, crack cocaine and prescription drugs took many memories from the men at Ohio Valley Teen Challenge. It also took their childhood. “It seemed like I was always in a hurry to grow up,” said Greg Todd, 32. “I just had a warped perception of what being grown up was.” Todd was indicted on marijuana-trafficking charges at age 15. He was arrested at high school in front of the entire East Liverpool student body.

“After that, I kind of basically withdrew. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.”

After the arrest, people looked differently at Todd. He accepted his new reputation. Interest in sports and getting good grades became a distant memory.

Bob Pavlich, 32, grew up much like Todd, doing things that older people in Poland did, becoming someone he would learn to hate.

“I got banned from playing sports in high school. I was banned from going to dances. I was suspended from school all the time,” Pavlich said. It all began with a compromise, then another and another. He would sneak a beer from the cooler at a family outing or steal a cigarette from his grandfather.

“I’m 12, 13 years old smoking cigarettes, you know, I’m drinking,” Pavlich said. “In my eyes, I’m cooler than the other side of the pillow.”

Pavlich developed a new image: He listened to new music, mostly rap. He cursed. He migrated toward others who did likewise.

“We all liked to fight; we all liked chicks; we all liked drinking, doing drugs, smoking cigarettes. So that was the group I started running with.”

Pavlich succumbed to the pressure of fitting in. His drug use increased in frequency and potency.

“I remember when I said, ‘I’ll never do coke. I’ll never do this; I’ll never do that,’” he said. “But I’m at a party smoking weed, and people are doing whatever. I don’t want to not be cool. Cocaine came along, and every compromise was made.”

It was heroin that destroyed Todd’s life. He was engaged to his childhood sweetheart for seven years until she threw him out.

Sanders also battled with heroin, and it meant numerous troubles with police.

On New Year’s Eve 2002, Sanders, 16, fell asleep behind the wheel of his car

in his mother’s Warren driveway after a night of drugs and alcohol. Two friends were passed out in the back seat.

“I hear this on the window,” Sanders said, slamming his knuckles against the table three times. “Mr. Sanders, could you step out the car, please?” he heard an officer say.

The police had tracked him down using a license plate they found lying next to one of the six mailboxes he had demolished with his car just moments before.

He recalls the police telling his mother, “We ain’t taking your son. He dies in the county jail [and] it’s our fault.”

Sanders was charged and not jailed, and lucky to walk away with probation and his life.

“That’s one night I should have died.”

There would be others.

One snowy morning in February 2009, Sanders was going through heroin withdrawal. He took a snow shovel door-to-door and asked to clear driveways, raising money for his drug.

A neighbor let him in but refused Sanders a job. So Sanders snatched the man’s wallet on the way out. He made his way for an ATM. After a second attempt to use the stolen credit card at a Rite Aid in Champion, employees at the drugstore told Sanders there was a problem.

“Right then and there, I knew I was done,” he said.

Sanders handed the credit card and wallet over to the police three blocks away and wrote a statement incriminating himself. He spent the night in jail after his mother refused to post bail.

His mother, Karen Petro, threw Sanders out of her house when he was released. He went to live with his sister down the road.

“I stole a couple of my mom’s checks. She pressed charges against me, so I [had] a warrant out for that arrest. Stole my sister’s card. Got a warrant for the arrest on that.”

The incident opened Petro’s eyes to her son’s heroin addiction. She knew she was no longer looking at her son.

“I’m looking at the disease,” she said. “As a mother it was the hardest thing I ever had to do to press charges against him.”

In February 2009, Sanders was hiding in a friend’s attic, avoiding the four arrest warrants. He was sleeping on a hole-ridden air mattress in a windowless room surrounded by dirty needles, a prostitute and frequent crack-addict guests.

Sanders shot $60 worth of heroin into his arm, then mustered the courage to walk to the Warren police station to turn himself in when he could take no more.

“I knew the consequences; I knew the repercussions; I didn’t care,” he said. Pavlich recalls having $3,000 on any given Saturday and being unable to buy a pack of cigarettes on Monday.

He would sit on the edge of a couch for days on end, shoving cocaine into his body.

“Just getting out of bed in the morning was snorting an eight-ball of cocaine and drinking a fifth of Bacardi,” Pavlich said.

When a horseshoe-shaped bone fell out of Pavlich’s nose, he started eating what he could no longer snort. That was around Thanksgiving 2004, and Pavlich remembers lying awake in bed.

His conscience and the sound of someone else’s baby crying from an adjacent room were keeping him from sleep. “I really had to take a long, hard look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, look what my life’s come down to.’”

Today, Pavlich still suffers the consequences of his addiction.

“There’s a dime-sized hole — bleeds all the time — going through my nose.

I’ve got a dysfunctional duodenum. I got holes going through my intestines.

I got diarrhea every single day of my life. I got high triglycerides, high cholesterol.”

Todd spent his final years before Teen Challenge in and out of jail, living with friends, women and an ex-girlfriend’s family. “By the age of 26, I was a full-blown heroin addict,” Todd said.

His drug addiction landed him in jail on charges of theft, drug paraphernalia and driving under suspension. He would spend the majority of his 20s incarcerated.

“I don’t know the exact number, but it’s somewhere right around 50 out of 60 months,” Todd said. “Basically, I’d go do six months, get out for a month, get arrested again, and I’d go back and do another six.”

The stories of Greg, Bob and Anthony conclude Saturday. On Friday, we continue the story of OVTC.

The NewsOutlet is a joint media venture by student and professional journalists and is a collaboration of Youngstown State University, WYSU radio and The Vindicator.

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