There’s a great deal hanging in the balance as Justin Tummillo sits in his jail cell at the Erath County Sheriff's Office.
The 31 year old has held a long battle against drugs, sprinting away from them while looking over his shoulder. And like the wife of Lot in Genesis, looking back has had disastrous results.
Tummillo has never been finicky about the form of drug he indulged in, admitting to being an equal opportunity user.
“I've used mostly meth,” he said. “But I’ve dabbled in a lot of stuff. Anytime they’ve asked what my drug of choice was, my answer has been, ‘Whatever you’ve got. I’m not real picky.'”
Tummillo had a previous stint in the Erath County Jail last April, and his initial plan was to stay until he felt strong enough to face the outside's temptations. But a premature bail out landed him squarely back into the lure of the underworld.
“I wanted a fresh start,”he said. “But it was just too soon. slipped up within a week and caught some more charges in Tarrant County.”
Tummillo was incarcerated again, spending six months in Hutchins State Jail. Once more he determined to use that time to conquer his addictions.
“While I was in there, I did 120 days in a treatment program,” he said. “It helped a lot.”
The facility's drug and alcohol program is not based upon the conventional 12 steps embraced by many treatment programs. The focus of the program is upon a patient's need to change his way of thinking.
“It gave me a different way to think,” he said. “But I've got to get out and test it.”
Perhaps it was a blessing that Tummillo had to face charges in Erath the day of his release from Hutchins, sparing him from opportunities to answer drug's siren call.
“The day I thought I was getting released, I came back here,” he said.
Tummillo is a well spoken, amiable young man with a sense of presence that seems at odds with his checkered background. And he takes full responsibility for his predicament.
“I can't blame things on anyone but myself,” he admitted. “I can't say it was how I was raised or anything involving my parents. Anything I put myself through, I did.”
Tummillo had begun his teens a typical young man who managed to stay out of trouble and towed the line. He believes moving from Stephenville to the Metroplex, coupled with conditions at an urban school, might have been the catalyst for his descent into the world of drugs.
“The other eighth graders at lunchtime were running off, skipping school,”he recounted. “It was just a bad area where we were.”
Tummillo found himself in the midst of the wrong crowd and started experimenting with drugs.
“I got caught with weed by my dad in the summer of eighth grade,” he said.
Tummillo realized, even at such a young age, he needed to get away, and sought help from a man he knew from church. The well-meaning friend suggested Tummillo try attending a charter school in Irving.
“I thought, 'Okay. School starts next week,'” he recalled. “That meant I wouldn't have to put up with another month before my regular school started. I could just go on to the new one early.”
His intention was to get away from bad influences. But the new school was not to be the haven he had hoped it would be.
“It was like they got the worst of the worst kids from the area schools and packed them into this one charter school,” he said. “There were gang members and witches. It was just a cluster of crazy little kids. And there was me, right in the middle of it.”
But Tummillo continues to take full responsibility for the direction his life was about to take.
“It was all my decisions,” he said adamantly. “I chose to go that school. And I chose to hang out with the people I was hanging out with.”
He recalled the many times his family tried to get him to wake up to the situation in which he was embedded.
“For a long time people kept trying to tell me, 'You've got to stop hanging out with the same people,'” he conceded.
When asked if those friends were supportive of him during his crisis, he cringed before answering.
“No,” he said emphatically. “No way.”
Justin accepts the “friendships” he maintained with his cronies was something of a one sided affair.
“You’ve always had something to give these people?whether selling them drugs or giving them money,” he said of himself in the second person. “They want something from you.”
Tummillo reflected upon the steps his family took to try to save him from the situation he had stumbled into. His father set up a visit with Sheriff Tommy Bryant who arranged for the then seventeen year old to visit with an old high school friend of his who was serving time in jail and headed for the state prison.
“I remember one time coming up here and talking to Tommy,” he said. “He had me talk to one of his old buddies who was going away. If I would have just listened, I'd have been fine.”
Despite the years of abuse Tummillo has inflicted upon himself, he is unwavering in his resolve to shake off the proverbial monkey clinging to his back.
“Now, I'm 31 years old and I'm not wanting to hang out with those same people,” he said.
He has accepted he will be spending Thanksgiving in a cell, away from his two children. But he hopes to have a Christmas on the outside.
“I just want to get out,” he said. “The longer I sit here, the more I realize life doesn’t stop. I’d like to get out and get some of my plans and goals started. In here I’m just sitting on them.”