Ice storm: Epidemic of the Islands

Joseph Lewis, once an "ice" addict, is now drug-free and recently became a father. He lives in temporary housing provided through the Hawaii Drug Court Program with his girlfriend, Ashley, and their son, Bryson, now 11 months old.

Young man finds
new life away from ‘ice’

Three years ago, Joseph Lewis first smoked "ice" with his father and a couple of friends in the bed of his father's pickup truck atop Tantalus.

Within seconds his problems no longer existed, he said.

That first hit led to a weekly habit. Later, Lewis had a $300-a-day habit. In six months his weight plummeted to 145 pounds from 185 pounds.

After Lewis was arrested for theft, he was offered drug rehabilitation or prison time -- and reluctantly agreed to enter the Hawaii Drug Court Program. Lewis is one of many who turned their lives around thanks to the program.

Lewis, now 20 and weighing 210 pounds, has been free of drugs for more than a year, has a job with a telecommunications company and is a father for the first time.

"Being sober is fun," he said. "There's so much more to it that I took for granted before I started using drugs."

Smoking ice for the first time made him feel like he was flying and gave him a heightened sense of hearing, he said.

"You would hear things that you wouldn't hear," he said. "I could hear my heart (beating)."

Both of Lewis' parents smoked ice. His father dealt ice, and his mother had connections to drug dealers.

Lewis lived with his grandparents after his parents divorced when he was 2 years old.

He disapproved of his friends and parents smoking ice.

"I was always that person that said, 'It's stupid to smoke ice,'" he said.

At 16, Lewis started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. Before he turned to ice , Lewis was involved in church activities, Hawaiiana and chanting competitions.

After learning that his father dealt ice, Lewis' friends asked if they could buy the drug from his father. His downfall began when his friends became acquainted with his father.

"They started cutting school to hang out with my dad," he said. Lewis said he was outraged when his father started to help his friends change the oil in their vehicles.

"I never learned how to change my oil," he said.

"He was disrupting my life. ... I went to school, and they would talk about my dad and how they went cruising last night. I was like, 'What?' I was embarrassed," Lewis said.

Lewis was 17 when he succumbed and started smoking ice with his parents and friends. Lewis said his father assumed that he already had used the drug. His father told him: "If you're gonna smoke, smoke in front of me. Don't smoke behind my back."

Lewis started selling newspapers to support his habit and eventually started selling drugs in Waikiki.

"When you take a hit, all your problems, all the things that you were thinking about 10 seconds ago are gone. All you're thinking about is how I'm high and where can you get your next hit," he said.

"Everything becomes funny and weird," he said, adding that he had stayed up for seven days while under the influence of ice. He began to steal money from his grandparents and committed other crimes as his addiction escalated.

"I took for granted my family and how much they cared for me," Lewis said.

Lewis had a juvenile criminal record of 17 felonies and was imprisoned four times, including two weeks at Oahu Community Correctional Center when he was 18.

Lewis said he believed the Hawaii Drug Court Program was his only solution to avoid prison time.

He spent 30 days at the Hina Mauka Recovery Center. Two months later he entered the program through the help of his attorney.

Lewis said he slowly began to overcome his temptations with the help of the curriculum and counselors.

During his sobriety, his father continued to smoke ice and would ask Lewis if he could pick up drugs for him. Fearing that his sobriety was in danger, Lewis filed a temporary restraining order against his father.

A judge recently ordered Lewis' father to spend two years at the Sand Island Treatment Center after he violated his probation. During his hearing, Lewis testified that his father was in need of treatment instead of a lighter penalty of five years' probation.

Lewis' mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, is homeless and lives at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Lewis said he wanted to share his experience with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin so other young adults battling ice addiction will have the courage to seek help.

He is now in temporary housing provided through the Drug Court Program and is seeking a better home through the help of Gov. Linda Lingle.

Last month, Lewis approached Lingle after he saw her leave Wallace Theatres at Restaurant Row. He explained that he was a client of Hawaii Drug Court and his plight of finding a home for his family. Within days, Lewis received a call from the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii.

"He's a real go-getter," said Janice Bennett, administrator of Hawaii Drug Court and Lewis' counselor. "He wants to be a different person."

Lewis credited his grandparents and girlfriend Ashley for supporting him as he struggled to quit ice. Being a father to 11-month-old son Bryson has also changed his outlook.

"My son plays a role in my recovery. He's someone I look up to, to stay how I am," Lewis said. "I want to give my son everything that I wasn't given.

"I'm going to teach him how to change the oil as soon as I learn."


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