Live Fast, Die Young

She was fifteen going on twenty-five, but three bullets made sure Jenny never saw sweet sixteen

Since the Sixties, methamphetamine had gained a sort of hint-and-wink acceptance in American society--from the housewife trying to lose a few pounds to the businessman who wanted to get a jump on the competition to the college student cramming all night for finals. But they were mere dabblers compared to a real speed freak.

In El Paso and neighboring Teller counties, by the late 1980s meth had supplanted cocaine and heroin as the hard drug most popular with those people sociologists politely refer to as the lower socioeconomic white class. The "white trash" drug of choice.

The reasons for the drug's popularity were in part economic, in part social. Although meth can be as expensive as cocaine, the high lasts hours as opposed to minutes. Injected, snorted or ingested, the chemicals release adrenaline into the bloodstream that pumps up the production of dopamine, the naturally occurring chemical in the brain that triggers feelings of pleasure, creating at once a sense of euphoria and strength.

Small wonder the drug appealed to a group of people who increasingly believed the world had shifted against them, giving everyone else--the rich, the college-educated, the coddled minorities--the upper hand. One hit and the user instantly rocketed from the bottom of society to the top, self-confident and invincible. At least as long as the high lasted.

But meth has several unfortunate side effects, acne and muscle tics the least of them. The drug also causes heart irregularities, even failure, as well as liver and kidney damage. It suppresses the appetite, leading to extreme weight loss among frequent users who must take increasing amounts to feel good. Longtime users look faded, stretched, their skin sallow, their hair and eyes like they've been sticking their fingers into light sockets. It's as though for every hour spent on top of the world, the drug exacts a toll--adding a line to the face and a vacancy to the eyes, stealing a day, a month, a year from a life. And that's just on the outside.

The mind is also under attack. Heavy users frequently exhibit paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. Up for days without food or sleep, they are unpredictable, violent--and sometimes deadly. Meth users and guns go together like bread and butter, bees and flowers, bloodletting and Charlie Manson (a notorious meth user).

This was the world of Steve Staskiewicz. And because of him, Jenny's world.
Presley made a mental note to check up on the relationship between Jenny and Staskiewicz. Street kids, both boys and girls, were sometimes used by adults in the meth crowd as prostitutes and little thieves. Watching Jenny leave the hospital with Staskiewicz, he thought of his three daughters, two of them close to Jenny's age, living with his ex-wife in Texas.

He made another note to call them the next day.

Jenny Carpenter had hair the color of burnished copper and a wide, bright smile. She was born in Vallejo, California, four days after Christmas 1975. Her life went downhill from there.

Jenny's father was Sheldon Duden; he was seldom around. He claimed to be a member of the Hell's Angels and boasted a string of petty criminal offenses. Her mother, Mabel Carpenter, had had her own troubles with the law, most of them related to drugs and alcohol.

In 1989 Mabel Carpenter moved with Jenny to Colorado Springs. For a while Jenny went to Horace Mann Junior High, a low-slung collection of brick buildings in a working-class neighborhood. But Jenny soon dropped out and ran away from home; she didn't get along with her mother.

When Mabel Carpenter moved on to Wyoming, Jenny stayed behind, living on the streets or with whatever "friend" would take her in.

One such friend was Rebecca Corkins, a thirty-year-old with a felony conviction for forgery. Corkins was blond and blue-eyed and more than twice Jenny's age, but the two were about the same size, just a bit over five feet tall.

Corkins invited Jenny to live with her in an apartment owned by Charles Stroud, whom Corkins had met in a community corrections program. Stroud was a 33-year-old three-time felon with a reputation as a drug-deal middle man, enforcer and sometime informant. Stroud claimed to have clout with the cops--not just the local vice squad, but the DEA and the FBI. He even had an official-looking badge from the Department of Justice.

Colorado Springs's meth community was a small world. Its members didn't necessarily associate with each other, but they all knew who was who and their place in the social strata: They knew who they could intimidate and who could intimidate them.

Stroud and Staskiewicz were aware of each other, but that was about it. Their common denominator was Corkins, who in turn introduced them to Jenny.

At some point in 1989, Jenny and Corkins had a falling out, and the older woman kicked the girl back out on the streets. Too young to work for a living, thirteen-year-old Jenny was at the mercy of whomever would take care of her. Staskiewicz volunteered.

The trailer park where Staskiewicz lived was cheap but no bargain. Although a few residents tried to grow a bit of grass and put up playsets for their kids, most of the lots were dirt and weeds, as barren as the lives of the transient population that passed through between jail stints.

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