Texas Tweakers

James "Bull" Durham burned down his mother's house while cooking meth. In Angelina County, the jail is full of guys like him..

Texas Tweakers

Check out our slideshow of James Durham's descent in meth hell.

The pride and shame of the Piney Woods city of Lufkin, Texas, are located about a half mile from each other. Just west of the town's east loop, there's Abe Martin Stadium, site of many a triumph for the purple-clad Lufkin Panthers, 5A state champions in 2001 and perennial contenders for the crown. About a quarter-mile up East Lufkin Avenue, there's the Angelina County Jail, the frequent home of the town's many, many meth heads, dealers and cooks, including James "Bull" Durham, one of the most frequently arrested men in East Texas history.

As jails go it's an almost cheery place. County Sheriff Kent Henson has long encouraged artistic inmates to strut their stuff, and they've obliged with murals of rodeo scenes, portraits of cops and jailers, and Texas history tableaus. Perhaps the most talented of these artists was "Iodine Mike" Russell, one of Lufkin's most notorious meth freaks and a mentor to Durham.

Lawman Henson and misfit Durham share a moment in the chapel of the Angelina County Jail. Although he's arrested Durham dozens of times, Henson says he's a great guy when he's off the meth.
John Nova Lomax
Lawman Henson and misfit Durham share a moment in the chapel of the Angelina County Jail. Although he's arrested Durham dozens of times, Henson says he's a great guy when he's off the meth.
Late last year, James "Bull" Durham accidentally torched his mother's house and car when a "shake-and-bake" meth lab caught on fire. Durham now denies that version of events even though he pleaded guilty on an arson charge and faces 20 years in the pen.
Andy Adams, Lufkin Daily News
Late last year, James "Bull" Durham accidentally torched his mother's house and car when a "shake-and-bake" meth lab caught on fire. Durham now denies that version of events even though he pleaded guilty on an arson charge and faces 20 years in the pen.

Iodine Mike's work dominates the jail's small chapel. Under fluorescent lights and a false ceiling, the room's far wall is adorned with Iodine Michelangelo's masterpiece: a colorful mural of three rugged old crosses in a Holy Land sunset setting. It will remain his finest achievement, as the artist died last year at age 36 of liver failure, at least partially brought on by his epic love of injecting himself with homemade red phosphorus meth.

Henson, a Pentecostal Sunday school teacher in his spare time, is very proud of the work and its message, but if he intended for this dead meth head's vision of the Promised Land to serve as an eternal warning for those following in Iodine Mike's wake, the sad fact is that too few people in Angelina County have heeded the call.

One such scoffer is Durham, who is awaiting transfer to state prison and looking at 25 years' hard time. After a long visit with his new girlfriend, Durham is at last ready to talk to the Houston Press, but first he has a few grievances to air with Henson.

"Hey James, what're you doin'?" asks Henson good-naturedly as a guard leads Durham into the chapel. A ruddy-faced, sandy-haired 52-year-old with a perpetual twinkle in his eye, Henson's the type of man who hates the sin but loves the sinner. He greets even a wild-eyed, inked-up veteran criminal like the 39-year-old Durham with a smile, and will tell you that Durham's a great guy when he's off the meth.

"Hell, what I do best," Durham sighs. By Durham's own count, this is the Angelina County meth poster boy's 48th trip to Angelina County Jail. Durham and Henson clasp hands and hold the grip for at least a full minute, as if they were two ambassadors at a peace summit — or like a meeting of Andy Griffith and Flannery O'Connor's Misfit, as played by either John Travolta or Jerry Seinfeld, both of whom Durham favors.

This summer, Durham pleaded guilty to burning down his sainted mother's home when a small, portable "shake-and-bake" meth lab erupted in his bedroom. Durham's mother lost both her home and car in the ensuing inferno and Durham's torso was scalded by chemicals. (The scabs later tested positive for meth.) That disaster was one of several in the worst of Durham's 39 years on the planet. He now claims to have been coerced into making his guilty plea in that case.

"I didn't burn that house down," Durham tells the sheriff with no more preamble. "I know you think I did and you think I'm a piece of shit, but I didn't burn that house down. I got burnt, I've been shot, I've been slandered, but I didn't burn that house down."

Durham also wants to know why nobody's in jail for what happened after the fire. While he was out on bond, two young men came by the shack where he was living, a little hovel he built behind what was once his mother's home. One of the men allegedly clubbed him with a two-by-four and the other, James Brent Shires, allegedly shot him with each barrel of an old-timey over-under gun. (One barrel fires .22 caliber bullets, the other is a .410 shotgun.) Durham says they were acting on the orders of an ex-girlfriend whose bid to rekindle their romance he had spurned. Shires was charged with aggravated assault and is out on bond, but the other young man was no-billed by a local grand jury. The woman has not been charged with any crime.

"I was laying on the ground for dead with a bullet in my guts and this man come up to me with that shotgun and shot me dead in my butt-hole," Durham cries to Henson, his voice rising. "You wanna see it?" he asks. The sheriff declines, much to a reporter's relief. "He shot me not in the ass but in my asshole," Durham continues. "And now I gotta wear a bag!" He parts the folds of his orange jumpsuit and shows us his colostomy bag.

"It's all 'cause I'm Bull Durham, Lufkin's most hated," Durham grouses.

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27 comments
doctropic
doctropic

Congratulations on your Best of the West award for this piece, John. I hope you're working on turning this story into a novel - the quotes are priceless, but it's your writing style that makes the piece.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Dedicated_Dad
Dedicated_Dad

There, but for the grace of G*d, Go I.And YOU, too...

ChauncydeF
ChauncydeF

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Great, great piece, John, the most painfully graphic I've read in a long time. And I'd say that there are plenty of stories like this built around the money and desperation that is inherent in the drug trade, be it meth today or alcohol back in the 20's.

My knee-jerk reaction to all drug stories is to legalize drugs period. That's what Buckley said back in the 80's and I haven't found an example yet to dissuade me. Until this. Sorta.

But...these stories are all based on a couple things: profit motive and individual addiction. As you point out, even if we eradicate the labs here, demand for the drug is enough that someone will fill the vacuum. (Mexicans in your piece.)

If on the other hand, we legalize drugs, there will still be a small percentage of addicts, say a fixed rate of 5% (other recreational drug users will not suddenly explode into dysfunctional folks who lose their jobs and families and all that matter...in other words they won't become addicts). But, meanwhile, the gov't can take over the trade, bond purity, eliminate the profits, and still do a campaign against usage, like the PR campaign against tobacco, alcohol etc., and treat the problem of addiction for what it is: a public health problem.

They can do that with the vast savings from the very expensive 'war on drugs', which has proven as useless as prohibition, and continues to create colorful criminals like Bull Durham.

If we simply continue to combat the law of supply and demand, we waste money, lives and the rest of our resources that could actually give hope to the most hardscrabble backwoods and inner city people whose smarts could benefit us all.

Poshpoet
Poshpoet

I have a dear friend addicted to meth, it seems nothing else matters. Addiction rules or governs theirs lives as a symptom of the real problem society faces. Some of those caught up with meth have no where else to turn and those with loved ones, turn there backs because they know there loved. Go figure. Images of any abuser should be labeled counter productive unless drugs are concerned. Idealistic behavior is ramp-id because we through curiosity write stories giving them a certain importance, while corrupting a young mind, who may innocently read these articles. www.poshpoetry.com

Michael Belmares
Michael Belmares

...is that Ronnie Dobbs from Mr. Show?

brent82
brent82

I totally thought of Ronnie Dobbs when the Sheriff said, "well what about that time I caught you stealin my lawnmover?"...hilarious!

alehound
alehound

"He shot me not in the ass but in my asshole," too funny...

guest
guest

bull durham is a liar..he was no 11 yr old he was 15 and an abusive drunk crackhead...he didint work to support his family it was to buy crack and whiskey.He did have his own place and a common law wife for many years but she lived in a nightmarish hell as he rose to his psuedo power...i feel extremely sorry for this woman and "Krystal" and whoever his new girlfriend is he is never gona change...but at least he is behind bars and cant hurt her like he did the ones before her

Voice of Con-$cience
Voice of Con-$cience

Kent Henson is a genius. Not only has he figured out a way to increase awareness of the lurking danger that "shake and bake" labs pose in his community by explaining how to spot possible "meth labs" (acetone cans, red-lye, coleman fuel), "tweakers" (bad teeth, smelly blisters, head-lights, likely living in a trailer or burnt out house somewhere on a backroad) where these criminals shop(Walmart:) and what they shop for(E and anything with a skull and crossbones), he has also figured out a way to increase the number of "labs" in his and many other areas( which cant hurt his income and/or budget), by making it sound like a cake walk to breeze to the corner store, grab some ingredients, throw them together and have some dope by the time you get home, ensuring that every curious teen, money hungry waitress and any motivated drug addict will run right out and give it a shot. Bravo Sheriff! Make sure to set some of your money aside for counsel, it looks like you'll need it.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Man, Dave Grohl has really let himself go.

T.E. Bell
T.E. Bell

So I WASN'T the only one who thought it!

Shkskn

T.E. Bell
T.E. Bell

Another buzzing, sparking example of Mr. Lomax' especial genius. He has a command of image, phrase and timing, be it in scathing little widgets, or in long thumbsuckers like this one, that could serve as a masterclass for writers in the Post New Journalism style.Write on, writer, write on 'til the dawn.T.E. Bell

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

This was a great read.

I wonder if there is any difference between these dope cooks and the booze cooks of years ago during prohibition who died an early death because they used their own poison?

Apparently quality control procedures have never found favor with these guys.

And it sure sounds like the same breed of police officers are chasing after them!

nonsequiteuse
nonsequiteuse

It's tough to pick out the greatest tragedy in a story full of them, but how awful to consider how Oregon has enacted legislation that has reduced the scope of their problem, and to realize that Big Pharma will go to the mats to prevent us from seeing this kind of benefit nationally. I saw a Frontline episode, years ago, that said that we had a chance to completely head off this problem in the same way the Quaalude problem was stopped - we, the US, had the chance to control the production of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine completely. We would not have a meth epidemic had we been able to intervene at that point. Tragic. Great story, John. Keep shining the light.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

That's exactly what I want people to take from this story. Thanks.

Championshipvinyl73
Championshipvinyl73

a damn good article. I couldn't help but think of Rory Cochrane as Billy Mack in "Love and a .45" as I read it. It took loneger to read the article as it did to actually watch 'Spun" but it was well worth it. Bull in an exonerating biopic? Not likely. As an inspiration for a central character in a cult classic "dope" type of film? Possibly.

Shellymillwee
Shellymillwee

Incredible story. I was born in Lufkin and still have family there so I truly believe that it's important to put a spotlight on the drug issues there. Kudos to Lufkin law enforcement and John Lomax. Excellent article.

Darth
Darth

Yes, let's glamorize and bring notoriety to these idiots.

MadMac
MadMac

Yeah, because nothing says glamor like a colostomy bag.

Darth
Darth

Absolutely! Colostomy bags rule.

Robin
Robin

I like to joke about East Texas as much as the next non-East-Texan, but it's nice to read about the decent people in this article trying to fight the good fight. Ultimately, however, this is a heartbreaking story with Greek-level tragic underpinnings. I know and love a couple of meth addicts. (One just got out of prison for the (I lost count) time, and the other repeatedly and earnestly measures his sobriety in days.) I don't have the words to describe how much I hate that shit.

 
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