QUINCY, Ill. | Justin Richie sat in the basement of his house trying to get one last high.
Waiting upstairs were members of the West Central Illinois Task Force.
It was Sept. 24, 2012, a day that Richie saw as his last as a free man.
"I knew my life was over," Richie, now 30 years old, said. "I thought I was going to prison forever. I didn't think I'd get an opportunity to redeem myself and make a better person out of myself."
Richie was one of five people arrested on aggravated unlawful methamphetamine manufacturing charges during a bust on a residence in the 1100 block of North 10th Street in Quincy. Aggravated unlawful meth manufacturing is the most serious of all meth charges. Those found guilty of the Class X offense can spend up to 30 years in prison.
Richie already was serving probation at the time of his arrest. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to threatening a public official. His chances of staying out of prison hinged on his ability to turn his life around and get clean.
He couldn't pull it off.
"As soon as I got in handcuffs, my high was gone," Richie said.
A bad start
Richie grew up in Quincy, and when he was 14, his parents had divorced and his home life was in shambles. That's when he started to dabble with drugs and alcohol.
By the time he was 15 years old, he had two aggravated battery convictions on his juvenile record.
"I just took my anger out on everyone around me," he said.
He spent 18 months in the Adams County Juvenile Detention Center. Time spent there didn't do much to change Richie. He was hanging out with people in their 20s, which gave him easy access to drugs and booze.
"If I wanted it, I could get it," he said. "Once my mom and dad got divorced, I had no rules. I was a pirate. I did what I wanted when I wanted. I had no structure in my life at all. There are a couple of older guys who I stayed with, and they'd wake me up and make sure I went to school.
"They used to tell me how important school was. I'd act like I was going to school, but then just go to another friend's house."
He quit school in 10th grade and continued to get in trouble, so his parents decided to send him to military school. The school helped wean him of the drugs and alcohol, but Richie wound up being his own worst enemy. Two weeks before graduation, Richie and some of his classmates snuck off base and got drunk. He was kicked out of the program.
Heavy into drugs
Richie said he first tried meth when he was 15. It was just one of many drugs that he said he had used.
"I've taken about every drug possible," Richie said. "I'm an addict. If you put it in front of me, I'm going to use it."
He stopped his meth use for two or three years after seeing others get in trouble for using the drug. He said he stuck to drinking and smoking marijuana, and he would mix it up a bit when he would travel to St. Louis for rave parties where Ecstasy was readily available.
Richie eventually left Quincy and spent two years in the Las Vegas area. He found a place to live in a gated community, but he didn't work. His mother regularly sent him money for support, but Richie instead spent the money on drugs and alcohol.
"We drank and got drugged out every single day," he said. "I didn't work. I told her I was spending the money on food and on rent. I spent it all on drugs."
Trouble eventually caught up with Richie in Nevada, too. A group from the neighborhood he lived in got into a fight with a rival neighborhood group. The crew Richie was with wound up shooting a van owned by the other group. No one was injured or charged in the incident, Richie said. He moved back to Quincy soon after that.
"I did a lot of crazy stuff growing up," he said.
Back to meth
Richie said he got back into doing meth about four years ago. It wasn't long after that when he started dating Kayla Demoss. He was ashamed of his meth use and hid it from her. He was reintroduced to the drug through friends who gave it to him for free. He played video games at the time and used meth to help him play all night.
"I had 2,700 hours in on this video game, 'Battlefield Bad Company 2,' " he said. "I was ranked 600th in the world. I was addicted. I'd stay up for days playing it."
Demoss didn't know how Richie had the energy to stay up all night.
"I'd be like, 'How do you stay up all night and play that?' I had no idea," she said. "He's like, 'I don't know. I just get into the game.' "
Richie soon got a job that took him out of town during the week, leaving him weekends to spend with Demoss. Wanting to make the most of his time with her, Richie convinced Demoss to try meth.
"I said if we smoke this dope together, then we can stay up and spend all weekend together," Richie said. "We don't have to sleep. We can spend all of our time together. I got bath salt at first, and she didn't like it. I got some ice, and she didn't like it.
"I got some meth, and I knew what it was going to do to us. I knew it was going to destroy our lives eventually, but I didn't care because I was getting high myself. I introduced it to her, and she liked it. I knew right then and there we could do it together, because she enjoyed it."
Richie said he would buy 3-4 grams, and the couple would stay up all weekend. They did this every weekend for several months.
Demoss said she had previously experimented with marijuana and alcohol, but she stopped using them without a problem.
Meth, she said, was different. Once she had it, she had to have more.
"Once I tried meth, I was like, 'Whoa,' " Demoss said. "In the back of my head, I was feeling guilty about it. I do have kids. I have a family. I don't want this to destroy my life. I said, 'I can stay in control of it. It's not going to destroy my life.' I still took care of my kids and maintained my job up until two weeks before I got arrested."
Things began to spiral out of control for Richie and Demoss in the fall of 2012. She lost her job at a local eyecare business. After they were arrested on the night of Sept. 24, each lost custody of their children — Richie has one daughter and Demoss has a son and a daughter.
However, they stayed together and got married in December 2012 while both had charges pending in their case.
"She is God's gift to me," Richie said of Demoss. "She has been there, done that and stuck with me."
The road to recovery
Both Richie and Demoss are thankful for being caught.
"The day my house got raided, I was calm," Demoss said. "I knew I wouldn't have to go back to it any more. I was relieved. I was like, 'Please, take me away.' It was hard for me to tell my parents that I needed help. It was scary for me. They had to find out by me getting arrested."
The arrest served as the ultimate wake-up call for Richie. He spent 24 days in the Adams County Jail and was finally released after Judge William Mays reduced his bond to $5,000 so Richie could seek treatment at Recovery Resources.
"They saved my life," Richie said of Recovery Resources. "They gave me the tools I needed to get out and stay clean. It's the first time in my life that I've ever been clean."
Richie changed everything from the people he hung with to the clothes he wears. Gone are the days when he'd wear hats and "look like a thug."
Both Richie and Demoss have been clean of drugs since their arrests. They are trying to improve their lives. They had been living with Demoss' parents, but they recently moved into a place of their own on Quincy's southwest side. They also are trying to repair the relationships with their children and continue to fight custody battles.
Demoss, who had no previous criminal history, was put on 24 months probation after she pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful use of property.
Richie recently started work as a welder. He puts in 10-hour days five days a week to provide for his family and stay away from the life he used to lead.
He knows he's fortunate not to be in prison. Over the objection of the Probation Department, which said Richie would not be a good candidate for probation, Mays sentenced him to 24 months of probation. Richie has to walk the straight and narrow until June 2015, or he could be thrown in jail.
Richie doesn't plan on going back to his old ways anytime soon.
"They could put me on probation for 10 years, and I know I'll make it," Richie said. "I don't want to lose everything again. I don't want to fail again. I've come a long way to just fail.
"I want to succeed in life. I want to become a somebody. Five years from now, I don't think anyone is going to remember us as the meth addicts. They're going to remember us from all the good that we're doing now."