ST. GEORGE – Brenden Turpin spent his teenage years getting into trouble, experimenting with drugs and going to jail. But now, at the age of 21, he said he has turned his life around.
Brenden Turpin was released from the Purgatory Correctional Facility last March after a six-month sentence for possession of crystal meth, participated in a state-sponsored treatment program, got married and now has a five-year-old daughter with another child on the way.
“He’s a different kid,” his mother, Jeannie Turpin, said. “Before, he had no focus in his life … except for getting drugs. He was mean. Now, he’s always supportive and loving.”
His wife, 25-year-old Stacy Turpin, said the change in her husband since being drug-free has been “huge.”
“When you’re using [drugs], that’s all you’re about,” Stacy Turpin said. “Now, he’s a great father to our daughter. We have another on the way. It’s the difference between night and day.”
Brenden Turpin said he is a new person. He’s trying to find a job and support his family. He said he’s now clean.
But in July, he was arrested on two additional charges. This time, for distribution, a crime he allegedly committed a year ago; and he has strong feelings about that.
“They shouldn’t wait a year to hit me with distribution charges. It shouldn’t be legal,” he said. “If they have some [evidence], they should hit me with it at the time, not later when I’m doing well and in a program. I’ve changed my life since then.”
Brenden Turpin said he’s not sure what the new charges stem from.
Lt. Dave Moss with the Washington County Task Force said Brenden Turpin was arrested on two separate warrants for two separate charges of distribution. Those charges stem from incidents in the summer of 2010 when the drug task force either used undercover agents or confidential informants to purchase drugs from Brenden Turpin, Moss said.
The first warrant was issued while he was serving time in Purgatory on other charges, according to Brenden Turpin’s recollection of the time frame that he was in jail. The second warrant was issued a month after he was released.
Moss said it is common for officers to sit on a case and not issue a warrant immediately.
“We … need to protect our sources,” Moss said. “If I buy drugs from you, then I immediately bust you, you know that it was me or that it was this other guy. When the drug task force does undercover operations where we are buying drugs from people that are selling drugs, we don’t bust them immediately all the time. In fact, most of the time we don’t. We usually let it go for several months [while] we’re building a case. When we finally end up filing the charges, we take it down to the County Attorney’s office.”
Whether or not Brenden Turpin is convicted, he said the charges themselves are already causing difficulties.
“It’s stopping me from getting a job,” he said. “No one wants to hire me when there’s a 2nd-degree felony pending. I can’t even get a job at Taco Bell because of it,” he said. [Editor’s note: Jeannie Turpin informed St. George News that her son recently found a job at a local restaurant just before this article was published.]
County Attorney Brock Belnap said Distribution of a Controlled Substance carries a prison term of up to 15 years per count. Brenden Turpin is currently facing two counts of distribution – both 2nd-degree felonies. Belnap said some first-time offenders might be put on probation instead.
“I think it’s not uncommon in drug crimes for people to be put on probation first,” Belnap said.
However, this is not Brenden Turpin’s first drug offense. Belnap said Brenden Turpin is in the beginning stages of the court process for the new charges, and Belnap does not know which way the judge will lean.
Moss said being clean could make a difference in the sentencing if Brenden Turpin is found guilty of either count.
“That’s a mitigating circumstance,” Moss said, “if someone can go in and say, ‘I made some mistakes a year ago. I’ve changed. I’ve cleaned up my life.’”
Moss said officers can and do testify as to whether they have had any recent run-ins with the individual.
“Certainly the judge can take that into consideration,” he said. “That’s something that the courts have got to decide. And the same is true in reverse.”
If an officer can prove that the suspect has not been clean, that can help the judge determine the sentencing, as well.
Dan Murphy, with the Southwest Behavioral Center and host of “Last Call” on Fox News Radio, said there are a lot of positive people, kids and youth groups that do not abuse drugs that live in the community. But the roughly 10 percent who get caught in addiction “create the problems in the rest of society.” He said those can “step over the lines and commit crimes, and it affects us all.”
“Becoming an addict is a process, not an event,” Murphy said. “Becoming sober is the same.”
Murphy, who is a recovering addict himself, said the first step in treatment is the addict believing they are an addict.
“They’ll admit it verbally, but they don’t believe it. Denial. It’s inherent in the nature of the illness,” he said. “When I got sober, I had tried several times to go to detox. [I] tried stopping every way I knew. I didn’t really believe in my heart, … but I couldn’t grasp that emotionally in my soul.”
Murphy said he ultimately had to understand that he was powerless over everything, but especially drugs and alcohol.
“I asked God to help me,” he said. “[It wasn’t] an immediate revelation, but a sense of surrender in my heart. That’s when my life started to change in a positive direction. It takes a little while.”
Murphy said he has never met anyone who truly overcame addiction on their own, with the exception of very few people who white-knuckled it – what he calls “dry drunk syndrome.” He said you can remove the substance, but that does not change the character defects.
“The problem is not the drug or alcohol. It’s the individual,” he said. “One common bond that all addicts have, once they start, they cannot stop. They continue to tell themselves that they can stop and they will when they’re ready. It’s quite simple, but quite difficult for someone coming into recovery to understand the simplicity of it.”
He said most of those who don’t overcome their addiction end up in “jail, the hospital, dead or in recovery.” Those who try to conquer the addiction on their own way will face great struggles even though the concept is simple.
“And then you die along the way trying,” he said.
In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to officially abolish criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs. Jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy, according to Time.
Sue Thompson with the Drug Enforcement Agency said teens, even in Washington County, can get access to marijuana easier than alcohol. She said decriminalizing drugs might increase teen use.
Thompson is also concerned with the amount of marijuana farms found in Washington County in the last few years. She said this has put residents recreating on the land in great danger from those wanting to protect their crops.
But when asked if decriminalizing drugs would solve those problems, Thompson said it is her job to enforce the law, not have an opinion on it.
Murphy said what “we’re doing now” to fight the war on drugs, “simply isn’t working.” Murphy’s addiction began when he was living in California, where getting caught for personal possession might get someone a ticket instead of a trip to Purgatory.
“I don’t see how legalizing or decriminalizing can minimize the existing problems,” he said; “however, the fact is that what we’re doing now is not working. We have a prohibitionist mentality, overkill; particularly in this state.”
Murphy said if marijuana was decriminalized or even legalized today, most people would not start smoking weed. But he did say that making it legal and taxing it just might save “enormous sums of money from the drug war” and that money should be put into “treatment, education and prevention where it really belongs.”
“We’re warehousing 2.5 million people in this country. Eighty percent are there for drug-and-alcohol-related crimes,” he said. “We’re doing something very wrong today [by] trying to legislate morality and it doesn’t work. It never works.”
Murphy said the local police do a “fantastic job” attempting to eradicate some of the problems, but as long as there is supply and demand, the drug dealers will always win.
“Demand is here,” he said, “10, 11, 12-year-old kids say it is easier to get marijuana than alcohol. We have heroin in our middle schools. Are we winning? Not at all.”
Curtis Jensen contributed to this article
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