Teenage Diaries Revisited: From Kicking A Football To Kicking Meth

May 8, 2013
Originally published on May 13, 2013 10:19 am

Name: Frankie Lewchuk

Hometown: Mentone, Ala.

Current city: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Occupation: Car stereo installer

Then:

"I used to be a wimp in school. ... Since I started playing football in 9th and 10th grade, all I did was get a haircut, start wearing decent clothes and play sports. Now I'm a popular person... and I want to keep it going that way."

Frankie was a high school football star whose picture was in his hometown newspaper every week. He thought he and his family were normal, until he learned that his father was on the run from the law. One day, the FBI showed up, and his dad landed in prison. Frankie's diary explored his relationship with his father, and how his life was both ordinary and extraordinary.

Now:

Years after graduating from high school, Frankie was back in the hometown paper, this time for drug-related crimes. He has struggled with an addiction to crystal meth. Now, Frankie is becoming a dad. He takes his recorder along as he attempts to repair his life and his relationship with his family.

Produced for All Things Considered by Joe Richman and Sarah Reynolds of Radio Diaries, edited by Deborah George, Ben Shapiro and Sarah Kate Kramer.

You can subscribe to the Radio Diaries podcast at NPR.org.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

All this week, we've been reconnecting with people we first met on this program in 1996 when they were just teenagers.

AMANDA BRAND: Hello. Nope, wrong button. There. Hello.

JOSH: Let me do the introduction now. My name is Josh.

BRAND: My name is Amanda.

MELISSA RODRIGUEZ: My name is Melissa Rodriquez.

FRANKIE LEWCHUK: Hi, my name is Frankie and I'm going to give you a little tour from my Cadillac here.

JUAN: Here I am. My name is Juan and I'm here in the U.S.

JOSH: It's my radio show, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: These Radio Dairies came from independent producer Joe Richman. He gave teenagers tape recorders and the chance to tell their own stories. This week in our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited, we're hearing just how much can change in 16 years. Today, we head to the Alabama/Tennessee border, where Frankie Lewchuk has spent his entire life.

When we met him as a teenager, he was a small town football star. Here is Frankie's new diary.

LEWCHUK: Hello. Hello. Hello. All right. My name is Frankie Lewchuk. It's been 16 years ago in my story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RADIO DIARY)

LEWCHUK: Hi, my name is Frankie and I'm going to give you a little tour in my Cadillac here. OK, that's out here in my front yard right now...

I know it's me but...

(LAUGHTER)

LEWCHUK: ...it just sounds different. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RADIO DIARY)

LEWCHUK: I'm going to open the door and let you see what I got in here...

(SOUNDBITE OF A CAR ENGINE)

LEWCHUK: It's already inside. I'm getting it painted metallic purple or candy apple red. People say they can hear me coming down the road - boom-baboom-boom.

I was the only kid where I went to school that had a car like that. But I loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RADIO DIARY)

LEWCHUK: Boom-baboom-boom.

The only thing that I loved more than my car was playing football. I was 100 percent very awesome football player. It's good to look back and know that I was good at something growing up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey, y'all buy some new jacks? Them RCA jacks ain't no good.

LEWCHUK: Here we are right in front of Studio City in Eastridge, Tennessee.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I pulled this radio out and all the wires and the dash are cut.

LEWCHUK: I sell car audio and install car audio. It's our family business. We're off I-75 right behind the Wendy's. See if it works.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There it goes. There it goes. There it goes.

LEWCHUK: We got power, boys and girls.

Catching up on my life now, well, about six years ago, well, I got in some trouble and I can talk about that later. But other than the trouble, the last 16 years nothing has really changed except my age.

I live in a trailer but it's a two bedroom, two-bath trailer. I got my wife with a baby coming and I'm going to be a daddy. And, I mean, all I want to do is keep working and helping mom and dad. And that's all I really ever did since I've been out of school, really. Give me one minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ed, where is our book?

LEWCHUK: When I come in the shop, dad is working there at his desk every morning.

DENNIS LEWCHUK: And what am I supposed to say?

(LAUGHTER)

LEWCHUK: I'm Dennis Lewchuk. Frankie is my son.

LEWCHUK: I grew up watching dad sell radio stuff when I was a kid. Dad's still there doing the same thing, wearing the same pair of overalls he's had his whole life. He has a beard with long hair, kind of like ZZ Top. Just anybody that comes in, he'll sit down all day long, talk to you the whole day.

LEWCHUK: (Singing) Dreaming...

LEWCHUK: Then he gets into his music mode where he plays guitar after song after song. He even has our customers in there singing with him.

LEWCHUK: (Singing) Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, I'm dreaming.

LEWCHUK: I mean, I love my dad with all my heart. But it's just, my dad is one of those kind of people, if you do something to him one time then he holds a grudge or he stays stubborn. Or, you know, when we first opened up this business he named it Frank's Stereos, you know, after me. But it's not like that anymore. He's scratched the Frank's off the window and changed it to Stereo City.

That really broke my heart. You know? But I don't think he'll ever trust me again, ever...

(LAUGHTER)

LEWCHUK: ...because what I did when I was on drugs.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO)

LEWCHUK: This is Frankie again. We're in Valleyhead, Alabama, where I grew up, right between two mountains in the middle of nowhere. I know every piece of woods in here, every tree, everything there is to know about this, I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CAR HORN)

LEWCHUK: What are you doing, boy?

DARRELL: I'm waiting on your ass.

LEWCHUK: Goddamn, that's a way to talk to an old neighbor. Oh, you want to be on the radio, too?

(LAUGHTER)

LEWCHUK: Here's Darrell. The first time I did my drugs was with him.

(unintelligible) a minute ago, ain't it.

DARRELL: Yeah.

LEWCHUK: Darrell lived up the road from me, just invited me over one night. And I seen him get some tinfoil out of his pocket. And I asked him what he was doing. And he said, don't tell my wife, he said, but I am fixing to take me a hit of crystal meth. The next thing I know he's like, you want to try this. I said heck, no. He was like, come on, come on, just tried once. He goes, I won't tell nobody you did it.

Well, I tried it once with him and I liked the feeling that it gave me, the high that it gave me. And from that day on, for about a year straight, I couldn't go without it.

DARRELL: You got hooked to it on that first draw.

LEWCHUK: Yeah, I know it.

DARRELL: That's all it takes. I got you hooked.

LEWCHUK: No, I know. It ain't your fault. You didn't break my arm. I wasn't a dope.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWCHUK: Well, I was going to get down the other way and I stopped and said hi to you.

DARRELL: I'm glad you come by 'cause I do need some speakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN ALARM AND CAR ENGINE)

LEWCHUK: I was 24 years old when I started doing what I did. And I went from being on the front page of football, representing my little bitty school, to being on the front page as a thief and a meth head. My family meant nothing to me. My life meant nothing to me. I didn't care. All I wanted to do was get high. I would steal, like, push mowers or tools out of garages, just stuff that I knew I could resell real quick to support my drug habit. And I would steal stuff from my dad, out of our store, too.

I just - I'd go sit up in the middle of the road, right in front of my house where I lived at, and I'd just sit there and smoke meth and listen to the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEWCHUK: Just listen to the radio and just sit there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You weren't even my son for that year. I could talk to you and you were just like in the daze.

LEWCHUK: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I never ever, ever, ever dreamed like something would happen to you like this, Frankie. Never ever thought you would get on drugs.

LEWCHUK: I never thought it would happen either but...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: 'Cause you weren't that type of person. At 16, you were a whippersnapper. And every day, remember, when you'd get ready for school you come in: Mom, mom, is my shirt tucked in straight in the back? Does my hair look good? I mean, you were so preppy in school and football. And then to see how you transform your life with the drugs, it was just like from night and day.

Oh, boy. It tore me to pieces.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Every night I would come home and pray and pray. And when you got arrested I was happy, I mean, 'cause I knew that you were going to get some help.

LEWCHUK: I was in the DeKalb County Jail in Alabama. I was in a jail cell that had eight beds in it with about 70 people in it. So you had to sleep on the floor, sleep by the shower, sleep right by where everybody uses the restroom - that's where I'd sleep. I was right beside the urinal where I had to lay my head every night. That was my fork in the road.

It took going to jail and going to rehab and getting told what to do by someone else - like I was a kid all over again - to straighten my life up. But I did it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When dad went to prison, Frankie, back in '94, it was hard. And then when dad come home this happens to you. And it was just like another cycle again. But we all stuck together as a family.

LEWCHUK: We've been through a lot of stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, I'm proud of you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

LEWCHUK: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I mean, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you, no matter what.

LEWCHUK: I know.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Do you love me?

LEWCHUK: I love you, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Do you love me?

LEWCHUK: Yeah, I love you, Momma.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWCHUK: Yeah.

One thing that I haven't talked about was my dad was in jail, too. He stabbed a guy in self-defense. But I'm not for sure exactly what the charges were. He had to do 18 months in prison.

LEWCHUK: Hi, Mom, Frankie, Jenny, Johnny, Angel. You know I'd give everything if I could be with you tonight...

LEWCHUK: He had a tape recorder and he would talk to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEWCHUK: And he would sing us music on his guitar while he was in prison. He did that the whole time he was in there. And it would happen to dad and it happened to me.

LEWCHUK: I love you, everybody.

LEWCHUK: How did you feel when I went to jail knowing you was in jail?

LEWCHUK: Well, after me being in there and then to see you there, I didn't know back then if you'd ever get right again or if we'd ever get you back.

LEWCHUK: Oh, you know I stole stuff from you, was on drugs. But you know I'm sorry for it.

LEWCHUK: That stuff that you took, I forgave you for those, but I mean, I don't forget about what I went through with you. And I do fear some day that - trying it again and...

LEWCHUK: That ain't even in my mind.

LEWCHUK: It happens to lots of people. Never say never. It could happen again.

LEWCHUK: No.

LEWCHUK: I still worry about it as a father and I always will.

LEWCHUK: Dad, I told you I ain't gonna do that crap. It's been since 2006 when I got off drugs. I've been clean since.

LEWCHUK: Well, Frank, I believe I've taken advantage of my second and you have a second chance, you need to use it. Am I right?

LEWCHUK: We'll find out, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

LEWCHUK: Come on, baby. This is Frankie, again. It's been a couple months since I talked to you. A lot's happened since then. Had a little baby girl and I'm a daddy now and her name is Aubrey Crimson Lewchuck. Crimson Tide, that's Alabama's football team. She's making some kind of crazy noises. I got the recorder sitting on her belly and she's holding onto my thumb.

She's got her mommy's eyes and her momma's hair. And hers got two necks like I got. Just can't believe that - I don't know that God makes stuff that beautiful. What are you doing? I'm gonna be the best dad I can be. I hope to be running that shop someday and then my kid be down there helping me hook up radios.

The world's so crazy. I mean, you never know how things are gonna turn out. You never know. This is Frankie Lewchuck and Aubrey Crimson Lewchuck. We'll see you guys later. Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: The music of Frankie Lewchuck's father, Dennis. Aubrey Crimson Lewchuck is now three months old. Frankie's story was produced by Joe Richman and Sara Reynolds of Radio Diaries. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.