A Dose of Reality

Published 9:08 am Thursday, November 26, 2009

“I’m not going to lecture you or pass judgment on anyone in this room,” Joanna Krohn told an assembly Tuesday at Ironton High School. “I’m just a mother.”

A mother with a painful story to tell — a story she hopes that by telling, she will save others from the tragedy of losing a loved one to drug abuse. Her son, Wesley Workman, died of an accidental gun shot wound to the head in April 2008, weeks before he would have graduated from Portsmouth High School. Wesley’s death was the end result of years of substance abuse.

“I stand in front of you reliving my pain for a reason,” Krohn told the students. “If just one of you takes something from my visit today then I have done my job.”

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Wesley was a football standout at Portsmouth High School and from birth he had been the apple of Mom’s eye. Early in his teen years, a problem developed.

Wesley had an addictive personality, Krohn said.

“Drugs and alcohol affected him in an extreme way and he became addicted almost immediately. When Wes partied he was out of control. He didn’t just drink a few beers, he would drink a lot and become extremely intoxicated. He started with pot and graduated to harder drugs, more dangerous drugs.”

Krohn tried to keep Wes away from drugs, away from alcohol and away from the people who would provide these things to him in spite of his age: He was 13 when he began drinking. But he managed to get what he wanted in spite of her.

“The first time he got caught under the influence he was 13 years old. He was drunk and high. I called his dad and was shocked to hear this was not his first time,” Krohn said.

Wes eventually moved in Dad and the drug addiction worsened. Even at 13, Mom discovered Wes could get his hands on any drug or bottle of booze he wanted.

“I wondered where a 13-year-old would get alcohol and drugs,” Krohn said. “He had older friends. He got it from adults. I always wondered how can adults sell drugs to a kids, a 13-year-old. The sad reality in this world today is people do not care.”

At this point his personality changed Krohn recalled. Wes began getting into trouble at school and then trouble with the law. Between the ages of 14 and 16 Wes was arrested countless times and was once sent to a juvenile detention center.

“I thought the worst thing I would ever face as a parent was sitting in a courtroom and watching my son led in in handcuffs,” Krohn said. “I was wrong.”

Because of drugs, Wes would disappear for days. At 15 he was found unconscious on someone’s lawn, barely breathing and suffering from alcohol poisoning.

“He almost died,” Krohn recalled.

Wes skipped school and was on probation 80 percent of his teen years.

Mom tried to understand his problem. She read books, went to counseling meetings and support groups.

“Wes was a good person who made bad choices,” she said. And there were good times mingled with the bad.

Substance abuse wasn’t the kid’s only problem. Wes had a temper and substance abuse often exacerbated the temper.

The problem with his temper escalated and Wes frequently was violent.

“He threatened me, pulled a knife on me. He picked fights. Two times he hurt people seriously,” she said.

Once when he got into trouble he was forced to go back and live with his mom rather than his father. Outside of town at Mom’s house, he had limited access to the city and those who would aid his addiction. To make sure he wasn’t getting his hands on drugs, he was drug tested twice a week at school.

“He messed up so many times,” Krohn recalled.

But one month before his 18th birthday he was allowed to move back home with Dad. Wes returned to the lifestyle he had known before and to the people who supplied him his drugs.

“Only this time it was 10 times worse,” Krohn recalled. “He had learned nothing.”

At one point Wes was selling drugs and his Dad’s house was broken into — crime and drugs usually go hand in hand. To protect himself, Wes got a gun, although it was illegal to sell a gun to a person under the age of 21.

Such destructive behavior was so at odds with Wes’ talent, she said. At point there was talk of his getting a football scholarship.

“His response was to get mad and deny doing anything. He told me to say out of his business. He was not doing anything,” Krohn recalled.

Only weeks away from getting his diploma, Krohn recalled thinking if she could just see him safely graduated from high school, she would then do whatever it took to help him tackle his addiction. But graduation day never came for Wes Workman.

“My world shattered on a Sunday night in April (2008) and it was during Portsmouth spring break,”

Like many other addicts, Wes tended to get into trouble during celebrations such as spring break and Christmas.

She can remember the exact time, 10:45 p.m., that she got the call from the New Boston police: She needed to get to the hospital. Wes had been shot in the head.

“I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe,” she recalled. “I don’t remember if I hung up the phone or just dropped it.”

The injury was serious: Wes had to be taken by helicopter to a hospital in Columbus.

Wes’ had thrown a party that night at his dad’s house. It would be Wes’ last party, a spring break affair that quickly careened from drunken revelry to disaster. Wesley accidentally shot himself. The bullet had so damaged his brain doctors gave little hope of survival. A couple days later, he was dead.

To those kids who sat silent on the bleachers, Krohn urged them to consider the consequences of their actions. To the adults, she urged them to consider the consequences of their example.

“Don’t let your house be the party house,” she told them.