ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Many have seen the mugshot collection know as "The Faces of Meth," but few have heard the words of the people behind some of those pictures, and even fewer have read their tales of victory over addiction because it doesn't happen very often. But it does happen.
"I remember hearing one of the female officers saying 'oh my God there's kids in there," said Mark Hyndrich, 52. He was the first meth cooker busted in Franklin County, Missouri. And he says while the day of his arrest felt like the worst day of his life, it turned out to be the best.
"When they arrested me, I was living with two of my kids and my wife. We barely had running water, I went and stole a Johnny On The Spot and we were using that for a restroom and thought I was living high on the hog," Hyndrich said.
He says he got hooked on meth trying to stay awake driving trucks for a casket company. And had he not been arrested, Hyndrich believes he would be in one of those caskets.
"If they wouldn't have put me in jail, I would have never got off of it, but I was in jail so, it was white knuckling it all the way."
After a month of toughing it out alone, Hyndrich was able to get into a prison based Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. And 14 years later, he is still clean, and successfully running a small engine repair shop in Pacific, Missouri. But his meth years took their toll, turning him into a diabetic, destroying his teeth and reducing a 270 man to a 165 pound skeleton.
"It just goes to show that no matter what kind of background you have or what kind of upbringing you have, anybody can get addicted to this stuff."
For Donnie Brannon, 45, church would end up being his salvation from meth, which in his case is ironic. "I never went to church or nothing. Didn't know nothing about God. I didn't grow up in a church. I grew up in bars with my dad," Brannon said.
Brannon was so addicted to meth he went to prison twice, for a total of five years. When he was released the second time, at the insistence of his wife, he started his new life by moving away from his old haunts in Franklin County to Jefferson County, where he found the help he needed to stay clean at Fellowship First Baptist Church of High Ridge, the local home of a Bible based 12 step program called Celebrate Recovery.
"I will never ever let anything take me to the bottom again because there is help out there," Brannon said.
He attended his first meeting in 2007. Today, he's the group leader. "I came out of prison with four years clean and that was already a number I wasn't ever going to throw away. Now I am at nine years. I am not giving that up. Use one time and that number is gone."
Both Brannon and Hyndrich were arrested by Sgt. Jason Grellner , a Franklin county narcotics officer. "I can count on one hand the number of people I know that have been clean and sober for more than two years," Grellner said.
He believes one reason the recovery rates for meth addicts are so low is because demand for treatment is larger than the supply. "That moment in time when an addict decides they want help is the moment that they need the help. They are not going to wait two or three weeks and just not use. They are going to continue to use."
For Hyndrich and Brannon, thinking back on their meth years reminds them how far they have come. And now, they hope the stories of their recovery will inspire others to see there is a better way.
"You know right from wrong,' Hyndrich said. "All you got to do is keep telling yourself you know right from wrong and you know you're doing wrong. And believe me when you do right you live right things turn around they just do. It's a fight it's a battle but it's a battle you want to win believe me because it is well worth it, well worth it."
"I enjoy feeling life, The good and the bad," Brannon said. "At least you are feeling something."
Web exclusive: Sgt. Jason Grellner, a narcotics officer in Franklin County, who arrested both the men featured in our story.
Mark Hyndrich, the first meth user and cooker busted in Franklin County.
Donnie Brannon, former meth user and cooker who now runs a local chapter of Celebrate Recovery.