BEULAH, Ala. — The front page of the Oct. 24, 2005, Ledger-Enquirer delivered more of a thump than the newspaper hitting the front porch.
“Cranktown,” the headline read in large, bold letters.
Beulah, Ala., a rural community along the backroads of northeast Lee County and the sloughs of Lake Harding, earned the nickname because of the harsh toll methamphetamine use had taken on many who live here.
Some were direct victims of meth abuse. Others were collateral damage.
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The newspaper’s story outlined how meth had touched 8 out of every 10 people in the community. It told of grandparents raising grandchildren because meth abuse had taken one — or in some cases both — parents out of the picture.
“Perhaps Beulah got a bad rap,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said recently.
Jacob Geiger, 21, was a sophomore at Beulah High School when the story was published. Today, he is the assistant chief of the Beulah Fire Department.
“I remember that article,” Geiger said. “I thought at the time it was unfair. There are a lot of good people in this community. Like anywhere, there are a few bad eggs. To that extent, it was unfair and some felt gave us a bad rap.”
But it also did something else, Geiger said
“It woke some people up in this community,” he said.
The problem still exists in Beulah, but it is more under control, Geiger and Jones said.
“Better in regard to the circumstances compared to five years ago,” Jones said. “There is not any one particular reason. We continued law enforcement in the area. We have more agencies coming on board to the fact that meth was going to be one of major issues. Unless we dealt with it in a coordinated and unified effort, we were going to have some major problems.”
That has happened, Geiger said.
“It is nowhere near the problem it used to be,” he said. “I think a lot of people started to wake up and see what meth could do to you.”
Geiger credits enforcement as one of the reasons.
“The Lee County Sheriff’s Department has done a great job,” he said.
Jones tells a story to illustrate why he thinks some of the finger pointing at Beulah was not “entirely fair” when other parts of the county, state, region and nation were dealing what seemed to be an explosion of meth use.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Department made a major meth bust in 1999 in Opelika. It was one of the first large busts in the region and put the department on notice, Jones said.
Authorities seized more than 70 pounds of meth.
“When we were able to take that lab down, we stepped back and said, ‘This will be a huge issue,’” Jones said.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Department made meth enforcement one of its missions.
“We dedicated resources, got in contact with other agencies,” Jones said. “If we don’t get aggressive, then it is going to really take over. ... It stands to reason we started making a lot of cases — a lot in the northeast part of county near the river. It appeared Beulah was where all meth was made, but it wasn’t just Beulah. It was other areas as well.”
Jones puts it this way:
“Was Beulah the Cranktown, USA of the region?” he asks. “There were other areas... that were not getting the attention Beulah was getting. It could have been as prolific in other counties in Alabama and Georgia.”
One of those aware of the meth issue long before the newspaper put a spotlight on the meth labs along the river and in the remote areas of Lee County was the Rev. Bill Bryan of The Bridge, an Assembly of God church on Lee Road 263 near the heart of Beulah.
Bryan, who has been at the church nearly 20 years, was working with a congregation experiencing the havoc that meth use can bring to individuals and families.
“It has economically ruined families,” Bryan said five years ago. “It has created distrust within families. They don’t know who they can trust within their own families.”
Today, Bryan says the situation has gotten better and that the “Cranktown” article “opened some eyes.”
“It made some people start asking some hard questions,” he said.
The pastor said he has watched the toll meth takes.
“It robs people of their careers, marriages, all of the financial gain they have worked for,” he said.
Though the extent of what Bryan calls “a storm” has eased in the Beulah area, the clouds have not cleared.
“The storm has calmed some, but I have some concern the storm may be coming back,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Bryan addressed the issue from the pulpit.
During a sermon based on the story of Jonah and the whale, Bryan warned of the dangers of meth.
“Depressed, lonely, no hope — and a free ship shows up called Meth, which offers some relief,” Bryan said. “You get on this ship but find out you are headed into a hurricane.”
Bryan then showed a video from The Georgia Meth Project to illustrate the hopelessness. A young man walks into a laundry mat and starts robbing people.
At the end of the commercial, the young man grabs a younger version of himself and screams, “This wasn’t supposed to be your life.”
Jones, while pleased that the meth problem in his area seems to be decreasing, says he isn’t fooled.
“It hasn’t gone away,” he said. “It is not at the proportion or dimension it was five years ago. Has it gone away? No.”