‘It’s our whole life'

Battling meth in Hutchinson a day at a time

Sara McHaley cries as she listens to the prosecution during sentencing for her drug related charges on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 in Reno County District Court as her attorney Klaus Meuller listens. [Travis Morisse/HutchNews]

Sara McHaley remembered the banging on the door at 904 E. Fifth Avenue.

“Sara McHaley, Kerry Potter, this is the sheriff’s department, we have a search warrant,” the officer yelled. “Open the door or we will open it for you.”

McHaley turned to Potter: “We’re hit.”

She opened the door to officers, weapons drawn and warrant in hand, who fanned out through the house. Police found more than an ounce of methamphetamine, along with pills and marijuana inside the couple’s home.

The raid on May 22, 2017, culminated months of being watched by the Reno County Drug Enforcement Unit. After receiving a tip the couple sold drugs, investigators began listening while undercover officers and informants streamed audio during controlled buys for methamphetamine.

McHaley said she and Potter, her ex-fiance, moved between half a pound to a pound of meth from the house each week. That included the ounce or more they used themselves after years of building up a tolerance.

The drug unit also collected evidence by sifting through the trash.

McHaley faced 12 years and 10 months at her sentencing, 8:30 a.m. Aug. 10.

A day of meth

By Aug. 10, McHaley had been sober for more than a year — the longest she’d been without drugs since her oldest daughter was born 16 years ago.

Twenty people waited on the docket with criminal cases in Reno County District Judge Trish Rose’s third-floor courtroom. Of those, nine were women along with a teen girl -- at least four with a history of meth.

Heroin appeared in the area two years ago, and it and other opioids are threatening to replace meth. But for now, meth is still king in Kansas.

Nationally, more than 7,500 people died from stimulant use — mostly meth —in 2016, a nearly 450 percent increase over a 10 year period, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meth’s grip is especially tightening on women.

Reno County District Judge Timothy Chambers has seen a rise of women, hooked on meth, filing through his courtroom since he took the bench in 2001. Most of the thefts, forgeries and other crime, he said, can be tied back to meth.

Thomas Stanton, Reno County deputy district attorney, asked Chambers to give Potter the maximum sentence of 14 years and two months based on the charges and his criminal history.

Chambers showed leniency in Potter’s June sentencing because of the programs he completed while jailed at the Reno County Correctional Facility. The judge didn’t go as far as to grant Potter’s lawyer’s request for probation, but he did cut off more than half of the original sentence.

Across the courthouse hall, McHaley hoped the changes she’s made on the outside would convince Rose to give her an even more lenient sentence, keeping her out of prison and letting her stay with her children.

Stanton will look over 15 letters written for McHaley about the changes she’s made since the raid 15 months before. He also will weigh in on a motion submitted by McHaley’s lawyer the day before that asks for a departure in the sentence — from 12 years and 10 months in prison to probation.

The motion by attorney Klaus-Dieter Mueller lists McHaley’s successes:

  • completion of therapy
  • attending weekly narcotics anonymous meetings
  • a promotion to assistant manager at the job she’s held over the last year
  • serving as president of the Hastings North Oxford House sober-living
  • sharing her story around the state in a leadership role with Oxford House.

Six women live at Hastings North Oxford House. Four struggled with a meth addiction. The home on Curtis Street is the only Oxford House for women that allows children.

'It’s our whole life’

A card and flowers sat on the kitchen table the morning of the sentencing, left by a group of Oxford House women.

“This time in your life isn’t easy, but you are walking through it with such a clear reflection of God’s grace,” the card read. “Still, there must be days that are harder than others when you feel like this is more than you can handle ... You’re in my prayers often and in his care always.”

McHaley and her daughters, 16-year-old Jaelyn Lamas and 11-year-old Acaycia Lamas, moved in last October.

Jaelyn sings in the choir and has no problems speaking her mind. McHaley admits Jaeyln grew up too fast because of watching her mom’s addiction.

Acaycia’s on the dance team. She’s quiet but opens up quickly to people. McHaley’s never had to fight to earn back her trust.

When McHaley was Acaycia’s age, she had already been smoking marijuana for years. Her parents divorced when she was 12 and she sunk further into drugs.

By 14, she tried meth for the first time.

By age 20, “things just went downhill.”

McHaley shares a full-size mattress with one daughter and another sleeps on a twin bed nearby in the cramped room.

The daughters are just happy to have their mom active in their lives.

McHaley volunteers with Acaycia’s dance whenever she can and makes small steps back into Jaeyln’s life with each day of sobriety.

One change the girls both notice since their mom stopped drugs: they have dinner together. On the back wall behind the table, a sign says: “Home is where your story begins.”

“I haven’t had you around a lot and I don’t want you to go,” Acaycia said from the table weeks before the sentencing.

Jaelyn, trying not to cry, sat at the kitchen table and looked off into space while thinking about life without her mom -- again.

The girls contemplated the time their mom faced in prison -- 12 years, 10 months.

“Wow, it’s ... our whole life,” Jaeyln said, tears billowing. “You’re gonna miss me graduate, miss her graduate. You might even miss me have a kid.”

Aug. 10

7:48 a.m.

McHaley said she barely slept the night before.

She’s had trouble sleeping since quitting drugs. Her mind keeps turning.

Occasionally, she has a nightmare about using and for some reason her sponsor is always there.

McHaley smoked and snorted meth for years before she tried shooting it up. The first time she did, the feeling was so powerful it gave her an orgasm.

It happened other times she shot up as well and others have told her it happened to them.

“If anyone is being honest with you,” she said, “it happens.”

Meth floods the brain with dopamine which regulates the feeling of pleasure. The long-term effect can ruin the body’s ability to produce dopamine.

Now that feeling — the warm tingling and a brief but frightening rapid heartbeat and loss of breath, followed by a euphoric high that she chased for years — scared her.

She now knows where that road leads.

The women at Oxford House shared hugs and a few laughs forced through the tears before heading over to the courthouse.

Several wore Oxford House T-shirts from a recent softball game between the sober-living organization and the Reno County Sheriff’s Office.

McHaley wore an Oxford House T-Shirt that said: “This ain’t no game. This is life.”

McHaley, who had a nickname on the street as “The Boss,” still has a tough demeanor about herself, but this day she had a hard time fighting back the tears.

She’s self-conscious about the weight she gained since quitting meth -- at least 50 pounds, she estimated.

Meth hid her depression and gave her the energy to face each day.

“It made me feel like I could be anybody,” she said. “I had self-esteem.”

Her parents, Terri and Tracy, waited out front of the 1930 courthouse on the cool summer morning as the sun crept higher and higher.

8:05 a.m.

McHaley remembered stumbling in on her father divvying up lines of cocaine on a table when she was a child. She also found needles.

Her father has convictions for selling meth in two separate 2009 Harvey County incidents. McHaley said her dad did a 180 in his life, and now her parents are back together.

“Like I told Sara, you already beat this,” Tracy McHaley said of his daughter from the courthouse sidewalk. “You are clean.”

Sara McHaley’s brother, Chad, used meth as well. Years ago, their mother Terri kicked Chad out of her vehicle on 30th Avenue. Terri thinks it helped him hit bottom sooner.

She now she wished she’d done the same with her daughter.

But Terri worried about her granddaughters. They needed their mom, even though McHaley checked in and out of their lives. Many of the parental responsibilities fell on the grandparents.

Sara McHaley was arrested at least four times, three for meth, between 2012 to 2015. She spent at least 60 days in jail at the end of 2015.

In 2016, living in a shed converted into a bedroom behind her parents’ home on Fifth Avenue, McHaley tried to kill herself with a cocktail of pills.

Jaelyn found her mom clinging to life and Terri took McHaley to the hospital.

Jaeyln tried to kill herself the same way a year before. Terri took Jaeyln to the hospital as well, and they filled the young teen with activated charcoal to absorb the non-prescription pills she ingested.

The plan has long been for McHaley’s parents to take Jaelyn and Acaycia if she’s sentenced to prison. However, McHaley used a borrowed notepad to finalize the plan in writing.

8:09 a.m.

The semicolon tattoo on the inside of McHaley’s right wrist — the same one Jaeyln has — is visible as she holds the notepad and writes with her left hand.

They got the tattoos together after McHaley’s suicide attempt. It means neither of their stories is over.

There are about 40 people in the courtroom to support McHaley. They filled most of the wooden benches on the side where the defense sits.

McHaley, her daughters and parents, sat on the wooden bench in the front row. McHaley kept wiping tears away from Acaycia’s eyes. Terri squeezed her rosary beads.

As a child, McHaley dreamed of her own perfect family— husband, wife, kids, stable jobs, nice house, family outings and dinner together.

It took her a long time, but now she knows that living a good life doesn’t always require a man.

To her, life is perfect now, despite barely making ends meet while working at Burger King and sharing a cramped room with her daughters.

She said she has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix, with an emphasis on aging population and medication dispensing. She said no one in the medical field will hire a recovering addict with the severity of her convictions.

She hopes one day to become a peer mentor or drug counselor.

“All rise,” a court official said.

Judge Rose made her way to the bench.

Everyone waited for Rose to call Sara McHaley.

8:30 a.m.

Stanton, who works as the prosecutor for the drug court, sat at the table in the courtroom. He saw the revolving door of drug addicts in and out of jail and prison as a police officer before he became a Saline County prosecutor in 1991.

He doesn’t remember seeing a meth case until the late ’90s.

In 2000, he completed a 40-hour course from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on clandestine meth labs. He has the certificate hanging in his office, but he rarely puts the knowledge to use any more.

The KBI reported an overall decline in meth labs statewide the past few years.

In the 2000s, minus 2004 which had no data reported, the county averaged 27.55 meth lab raids each year with a high of 54 in 2001. Those numbers include sites with the chemical or equipment for making meth, a dumpsite for meth manufacturing components and lab seizures.

In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act which put ingredient pseudoephedrine behind the counter, limited sales to 7.5 grams per customer in a 30-day period and required pharmacies to track sales.

In the decade since 2010, the county averaged 4.125 meth lab busts a year with the high of 11 in 2011.

The last meth labs reported in Reno County were in 2016. There were two that year.

Stanton’s involvement with the Kansas County and District Attorney’s Association allowed him to help make changes to the state’s drug laws.

He worked on the state’s legislation that put restrictions on pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, and the Kansas drug sentencing guidelines for more severe penalties to convicted dealers.

Both changes pushed math labs out of rural basements and into Mexico.

Meth labs may be gone, but seizures from meth smuggled across the border nearly tripled in the last five years, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. Other drugs decreased or showed marginal increases.

Only marijuana seizures outpaced meth through July 31 in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

8:35 a.m.

Reno County Sheriff’s Office Det. Corey Graber would likely be at the courthouse waiting to hear the sentencing on a case he worked months on, but today, he’s out of town in the middle of a meeting.

Graber, who took over the drug unit in 2015, said there are still some “old-school cooks” around, but most of the meth comes from the Mexican cartel.

On Aug. 7, three days before McHaley’s sentencing, the U.S. Attorney District of Kansas announced a Mexican man was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison for smuggling more than 1,000 pounds of liquid methamphetamine into Kansas City.

Federal agents reported watching 43-year-old Fernando Chavez-Rodriguez unload liquid methamphetamine from a fuel tank on a semi-truck into five-gallon buckets.

The three-person drug unit in Reno County seized about 1,700.6 grams or about 3.7 pounds so far this year — more than any whole year since Graber took over. That includes nearly a two-pound bust on March 22 in Nickerson that led to the arrest of Michael Curran.

The flooded market has brought prices to an all-time low and turned more women into dealers, Graber said. Men still comprise most of the dealers and users, but more women have been popping up on the drug unit’s radar.

More than ever, Graber said, suppliers are willing to unload meth on credit.

In 2015, the average price of an ounce of meth sold for $1,000, Graber remembered. Now the price hovers around $400 an ounce for dealers -- less than $300 if someone is willing to travel to Texas. There are more savings for anyone buying in bulk.

Dealers can break down and sell that ounce for at least $650 on the streets. If the dealers sell it in grams, they can make much more money, but they risk the constant traffic that raises red flags for law enforcement.

The drug unit began monitoring McHaley and Potter in January 2017 after receiving a tip that they were selling drugs. They saw people coming and going as expected of a dope house.

Over the next few months, the drug unit arranged at least four meth purchases from McHaley and Potter and scheduled to sift through the trash collected at 904 E. Fifth.

Graber, a former farmer who played on the offensive line for Dodge City Community College, listened in from an unmarked vehicle nearby during the drug deals.

A search warrant noted at least four meetings with Stutzman Refuse Disposal to sift through the trash.

“The driver used the blade to clear all other trash from the collection bin, so the trash collected at 904 E. 5th Ave. would be separate from the rest,” the document stated. “Officers then followed the truck to a pre-arranged meeting place, making no stops and collecting no other trash while en route.”

During the searches, officers found small pieces of glass with a white powdery residue believed to be meth, insulin syringes with “no evidence” that anyone at the home was dependent on insulin, baggies and broken pipe with residue that tested positive for marijuana.

8:45 a.m.

Joshua Jones with the Hutchinson Police Department wrapped up a domestic violence call that led to a meth arrest.

In a pat-down, officers found a glass pipe on Michael Moore.

Jones sifted through a bag he keeps in the patrol vehicle with field testing kits to find the one labeled “methamphetamine.”

He scraped a piece of residue from the pipe and dropped it into the testing kit.


The pipe will go in an evidence closet at the police department where two plastic containers steadily fill with needles found during arrests or by residents around town.

HPD arrests for meth more than doubled from 2014 to 2015, according to data from the HPD bulletin. The 2017 data showed a record number of meth arrests dating back to 2006, the earliest year available — 2018 is on track to be even higher.

9:09 a.m.

Moore was booked into jail at for battery, possession of meth and paraphernalia.

Sheriff Randy Henderson said 90 percent of the jail population is there for meth-related reasons, whether it be possession or stealing to support the addiction.

There are 176 people at the jail: 34 are women.

In 2002, the jail averaged five women per day, according to the sheriff’s office. There were more than 40 women a day in jail by 2017.

Most addicts have childhood trauma and begin their addiction at an early age, according to clinical social worker Paula Hopkins. The Horizons Mental Health Center employee works at the jail in a position funded equally by the health center and sheriff’s office.

Hopkins remembered one man who shared his story in jail.

The man, she said, talked about being forced as a boy by his mother’s boyfriend, to shoot the two up with meth. If he did it the wrong way, he would be beaten.

Hopkins said he eventually shot himself up and, even though he didn’t want that life for his daughter, she knew the right way to shoot up when addiction took over her life.

11:30 a.m.

Fulicia Sligar had been up for a few hours, fretting her Oct. 23 release while sitting in a small classroom at the jail.

She sits at a desk near the front of the room. Her shoulders curve down protectively and her eyes shift nervously around the room, never maintaining eye contact for more than a second.

Sligar’s plight started later in life than others in the jail.

She started using meth when she thought her marriage of more than 15 years was ending. Sligar suspected infidelity and started using meth as a way to cope with feeling inadequate.

She tried meth as a teenager. She used it more socially then. Sligar said she used for about a year. It had been 25-years since she used drugs.

Divorce proceedings started in 2011.

Because of past experiences, Sligar knew meth made things seem better. The availability of meth made it easy to start using.

“Then when you come down, everything was really worse than before,” she said.

The 45-year-old has been in the county jail since April 23. She turned herself in to begin a six-month sentence while high on meth after a failed suicide attempt in her daughter’s garage.

The first week, Sligar said, she confined herself to the cell while she sweated and shivered through detoxing.

Sligar’s daughter, Nicole Raya, remembered her mother once as a tidy person who loved to decorate. A pomeranian followed her around while she tended to her garden at their home on Sherman Street.

Raya’s friends knew her mom as the “lunch lady” for the decade-plus she worked in the Hutchinson School District.

Those memories seem like a lifetime ago for Raya, whose more recent memories involved pulling her mom from dope houses.

When the divorce finalized, Sligar used the $5,000 from the settlement to pay a few months rent on an apartment and buy dope. That’s when she started to shoot meth or “bang.”

She stood in the kitchen of her apartment at 10th and Elm and prepared the drug.

Sligar leaned against the counter as she pressed the needle into her arm. The sting of the injection lasted only a moment before the warm, tingling rush coursed through her body and up into her chest.

Good meth always made her cough when she shot it up. She doesn’t know why.

The rush sent a jolt of fear through her and she slowly sank down the kitchen cabinets onto the kitchen floor.

As she sat on the kitchen floor, Buddy, the dog she bought after her divorce, trotted up to her. The mixed breed dog, mostly white with a black spot over one eye, sniffed at her arm and licked at the blood.

She felt low in her addiction, but not enough to quit using.

Once the fear from the initial rush waned, Sligar felt a high greater than anything she could remember.

She chased that high ever since. But nothing ever matched the intensity of the first time.

With meth, Sligar had the energy to face the day and bury her depression. She tinkered with decorations around the apartment and painted continuously.

One day, she noticed “hi” engraved on a freshly-painted wall. Sligar convinced herself that other people were coming in and writing on the wall every time she left.

So she stopped leaving as often.

She became convinced the wood inside the furniture that she kept in the divorce had been swapped out by her ex-husband.

She’d turn the entire apartment upside down to investigate the furniture. She’d look up in disbelief that all the furniture had been flipped over.

She also became convinced people were messing with her car radio and vents. Eventually, Sligar took out a loan on her car to pay for a few months rent and more drugs.

She sold off furniture and refurbished furnishings, but she still ended up homeless.

She kept clothes in an empty trash can behind a friend’s home on 10th Avenue and floated around sleeping in different places: a broken down van behind her daughter’s home, dope houses, a vacant home and with “boyfriends.”

It’s not uncommon for women who can’t support their addiction to sleep with men who keep them high. Instead of prostitution, the women call them their boyfriends.

Sligar said the women are called “dope whores.”

As places to stay ran out, Sligar ended up in Raya’s garage.

A friend, a boyfriend, paid for Sligar’s bond after her drug test on probation turned up meth and weed. The judge imposed a 60 days jail sanction.

She didn’t want to go to jail but feared he would have to pay the entire amount of the bond if she didn’t show. She thought hanging herself with a belt in the garage was the best alternative.

Sligar said she lost consciousness and woke up on the floor. She began walking to jail when a dope friend picked her up and gave her a ride.

The man who paid for Sligar’s bond has been putting money on her books and telling her she owes him.

Sligar doesn’t know how she will repay him.

Sligar said she’s thought about leaving town, but she doesn’t know where to go. All her friends are users.

Raya, a 29-year-old mother of three, has considered letting her mom stay with them. She’s not sure how it will work out, since the last time Sligar bickered with Raya’s 10-year-old daughter.

“It’s been a long time since I can remember my mom being normal,” Raya said. “Her grandkids, my kids, won’t see that.”

Sligar already weighs the chances of a relapse. One positive she mentioned of freedom is seeing her dog, Buddy.

“He helped me through a lot of bad stuff,” Sligar said. “He loves me no matter what.”

More than anything, she wants her own place where her daughter and grandkids can come to visit and be proud of her.

But she fears living alone because of her “self-destructive habits” and she doesn’t think a sober-living home like Oxford House will work for her.

She’s already had strife between a former cellmate.

Sligar stayed up most nights monitoring her shampoo. Sligar thought her cellmate had been taking her shampoo and watering it down.

A new cellmate arrived on Aug. 10 who she knew from the “streets.”

She’s been treated for anxiety and depression in jail. She hoped the new medicine she started that day would lead to a better night’s sleep.

Hopkins said most addicts suffer from a mental illness. Depression and anxiety are common, but she also sees more severe mental health issues like schizophrenia.

It’s often difficult to determine if the mental health issue started before or was a result of the drugs, she said.

Self-medicating isn’t uncommon either, she said.

11:42 a.m.

There’s an insulin syringe in the fridge over at the Hastings North Oxford House, but it’s needed for women living in the house with diabetes.

Prescriptions are monitored closely at Oxford House.

Two people count prescription pills each day at dispensing time. If pill counts don’t add up, it is considered a relapse and everyone in the house will be temporarily kicked out and re-interviewed.

It happened earlier in the summer at the Oxford House on 15th Avenue.

Everyone in the house is required to attend a weekly meeting and they all have house positions: president, vice president, treasurer and so on.

Reno County officials see Oxford House as a lifeline, but it wasn’t always that way.

When Oxford House first came to Hutchinson in the late 1990s, men were actively using drugs in the former home at 16 E. 12th Avenue.

Kevin George said parolees quickly took control of the home. George heard a meth lab was found in the basement a few months after he moved out. The home was shut down in the early 2000s.

Oxford House started back in Hutchinson under new leadership in 2014. Matthew Griffin worked to open the first home.

He remembers the police being called to an Oxford House where a woman played catch in the front yard with her child. The caller thought the woman was high.

Griffin said she had “permatweak,” an uncontrolled twitch of the jaw -- a long-term effect from her meth use.

In some cases, people in recovery still feel the tingling of bugs crawling over their skin -- “meth bugs,” they call them. It’s the same feeling that causes users to pick and itch at their skin from the dryness caused by meth. Some users claim to see the invisible insects.

Griffin’s work with the Oxford House World Council took him all over Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. He estimated 60 to 90 percent of people in the sober living homes in those states were there because of meth.

Hutchinson, he estimated, is closer to 90 percent.

There’s no overnight detox facility in Reno County. People can detox in an Oxford House, but they can’t stay as active users.

Oxford House recommends one home for every 10,000 people to combat the likely number of addicts. Hutchinson, population 41,000, has nine.

McHaley wants to stay in Oxford House for as long as she can, but she also plans to find a place in Hutchinson for her and her daughters.

A 2006 Oxford House study of 150 people found that 31.6 percent of people who went through an Oxford House had relapsed after two years, compared to 64.8 percent of people who did other treatment.

McHaley thought about leaving town, but this is where she grew up and where her children call home. She figures drugs are everywhere, and if she can’t make it here, she can’t make it anywhere.

She tries to avoid temptations. She had at a recent trip to Dillons on Fifth Avenue where a few people she once used with asked her to “hang out” -- implying they’d do meth together.

McHaley’s brother, Chad, left town a couple of years ago to avoid those temptations and left behind a son.

Chad had a son with Kasey Pisoni, who spent time in prison from 2014 to 2017 for multiple drug charges, including meth, and identity theft. All of the charges stem from Reno County cases.

Pisoni, 29, was released on parole in October 2017. She absconded in May and a warrant was issued for her arrest on Aug. 23.

Police took the infant right after birth.

From the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, HPD Sgt. Garret Leslie said it’s not uncommon for officers to be called to the hospital to remove a baby born with drugs in their system. Leslie was watching over a woman handcuffed to a bed who had a history of meth use. She was having a mental breakdown.

McHaley’s parents adopted the boy. He’s lived with them since shortly after birth.


Alexa Baugh, wearing a prison-issued jumpsuit, watched as her son Angel fell asleep for the first time in her arms at Lake Shawnee.

Judge Chambers sentenced the 26-year-old Hutchinson woman to prison when she was still eight months pregnant. She’d used meth and failed a drug test while on probation.

Baugh has a daughter that lives with the father and triplets that she had adopted.

Chambers wasn’t going to let Baugh use her children as leverage the way Jacqueline Jurgens did.

Stanton remembered Jurgens pleaded with Chambers for probation in cases that include distribution of meth. She begged the judge to let her remain free so she could take care of her children.

Chambers agreed to three years of probation.

A few days after the October 2017 sentencing, Jurgens came to the courthouse to sign over custody of her children, Stanton said.

She was arrested on March 7 for failure to appear on a theft charge.

Baugh and her brother were adopted by their grandparents at a young age while their parents struggled with a meth addiction. It made her feel “unloved and not good enough.”

She planned to put Angel up for adoption, too.

Baugh arrived at Topeka Correctional Facility — the only state facility for women — on Jan. 11 and roomed with Elizabeth Tracy, also of Hutchinson.

Tracy has convictions for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, along with possession of lithium metal, anhydrous ammonia, meth and drug paraphernalia, charges that date back to December 2006.

She’s been at TCF since 2009 with the earliest possible release date in 2019.

The Kansas Department of Corrections has a capacity of 915 women. The KDOC has 913 women in custody.

Men outnumber women in Kansas prisons 10 to 1. But from 2005 to 2015, the Kansas Department of Corrections showed a 16 percent increase in women inmates compared to 6 percent for men.

All across the country, the war on drugs declared in 1971 by former President Richard Nixon as “Americans public enemy No. 1” has filled prisons.


Nationwide, the number of women incarcerated increased by more than 700 percent from 1980 to 2016, from about 26,000 to nearly 214,000, according to Washington, D.C., based organization, The Sentencing Project, which advocates for justice reform.

The growth for women outpaced men by roughly 50 percent.

In 2016, roughly 25 percent of women were in prison for a drug offense compared to 14 percent of men.

Aug. 10 was Baugh’s second time outside of the prison since she arrived. The first was on Feb. 15 to give birth to Angel.

Baugh completed a parenting class at TCF that allowed women and their children to go on a day retreat to Lake Shawnee. Women were still required to wear their prison jumpsuits, but, any day outside of the prison, is a special treat.

She started the day with a shower, put on makeup and had the top of her hair braided -- Angel likes to pull at the bottom of her hair.

She mostly stayed inside the cabin on the lake to keep her infant out of the sun. They laid on a blanket and played with toys that were brought for the day.

They had their second photo ever taken together.

Baugh plans to take custody Angel on her Oct. 2 release. At her release, she will be 10 months sober — the longest, she said, since she was 12.

Angel has been living with Baugh’s parents. Her post-release plan includes moving in with her parents, getting a job and going back to school.

At the end of the afternoon, Baugh handed Angel back to her parents and prepared to load back onto a van for the ride back to prison.

3 p.m.

Jones, a 33-year-old military veteran with three children, had a few hours left on his 12-hour shift in Hutchinson.

Each day on patrol he sees the cycle of addiction firsthand.

Users go from working a steady job to turning to crime to support their addiction. Dope houses have a noticeable spike in activity when government checks come out around the first of the month.

In a patrol SUV, Jones made his way by the home where McHaley was arrested at 904 E. 5th. It’s the same home police raided five months later in a methamphetamine distribution investigation into Amanda Swinney.

Amanda Swinney and her father, Dennis, own the home under a land contract.

Swinney was arrested on Oct. 7 in Burrton during a traffic stop where officers found a suspected ½ pound of meth. She bonded out of jail.

Graber said the drug unit followed Swinney to Wichita on Oct. 13, 2017. Graber said he pulled her over when she entered back into Reno County the next day and found a quarter pound of meth in the trunk.

Seven people have been charged in the drug unit’s investigation. Swinney, who used with McHaley, is charged with distribution of over 100 grams of meth.

Officers know of two dope houses on the same street. There are others on Sixth and Eighth Avenues and Grandview Street that officers know of.

First and Second avenues have been called “Hell’s Kitchen” for where people cook meth. Although that doesn’t happen as often anymore.

Officer Lance Hirt said he remembers being able to smell meth being cooked the first few years in his roughly 18-year career.

Knowing the dope houses is the easy part. Building a case takes months and officers on the HPD say they don’t have the staffing to sit on a home.

Instead, they spend their time responding to the calls that result from meth instead of addressing the meth problem itself.

The HPD hasn’t staffed the drug unit in years. And the sheriff’s office is only able to put three officers on the drug unit.

There are six people on patrol during Jones’ shift, including a sergeant.


McHaley’s sentencing was pushed back to Aug. 24. Stanton wanted time to review the motion for probation instead of prison.

It gave McHaley an opportunity to celebrate Acaycia’s 12th birthday.

On Aug. 23, Swinney waived her right to a preliminary hearing from the same area McHaley stood the next day.

Stanton indicated any plea agreement with Swinney would include prison time. Lots of it.

Another sleepless night for McHaley and Jaelyn. Acaycia said she managed a few hours of steady sleep.

McHaley arrived early with another large crowd. This time about 28 people.

Tears quickly began to flow from family, friends and McHaley as she took her seat in the front row in between her two children. Finally, her name was called.

Terri pressed her the rosary beads tightly to her forehead. Jaelyn and Acaycia held their hands against their faces.

Stanton asked for a few more minutes to read over the letters and Judge Rose did the rest of the docket before returning to McHaley.

Tracy tapped his foot impatiently and makes a gesture over to McHaley that makes her briefly smile.

The men and a woman in jumpsuits cleared out and Stanton was ready to give his position on the case. The only people remaining in the courtroom are there for McHaley.

Matthew Griffin, who reintroduced Oxford House in Hutchinson, told Rose about McHaley and the different person she is today. McHaley’s attorney also had some kind words.

“I have never had a client in my entire career that has made such an impressive turnaround when it comes to addressing the underlying issues and taking positive steps,” Mueller said. “And I could not be more proud of the things she has accomplished.”

Stanton said he knew of some of the people who wrote letters because he has prosecuted them. Stanton said in drug court he encourages others to cheer for people when they reach milestones McHaley has made, especially over a year of sobriety.

However, Stanton argued McHaley’s crimes were just as dangerous as a violent crime.

“Look at what drugs have done to the fabric of this community,” he said. “What meth has done to the fabric of families; how many lives have been torn apart by a person using drugs. At some point, there have to be consequences ...The only position I can take as a prosecutor in a drug distribution case of this magnitude is that a dispositional departure be denied.”

He said the state asks for count one, possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a school, for 12 year and 10 months. He asked for the other five drug-related charges, which carried a less severe sentence, to run concurrently.

As a last word before Rose’s ruling, McHaley said she would be one of the Oxford House success stories.

Rose said McHaley has presumptive prison time, but she has discretion in these cases.

“The success of Oxford House is something that simply, the evidence is there along with the anecdotal evidence,” Rose said. “You have impressed me and I find substantial and compelling reasons to depart to probation.”

Rose sentenced her to three years of probation with the underlying sentence of 12 years and 10 months.

A gasp filled the courtroom.

Her father, Tracy, unsure, asked for verification of what he heard.

Weeping could be heard for the next few minutes as family and friends took turns squeezing McHaley tightly.

Outside of the courthouse, McHaley laughed as her father said they would both be registered drug offenders.

Sara McHaley stands on the step of the Reno County Courthouse between her daughter, Jaelyn Lamas, 16, and her mother, Terri McHaley, right, as she waves to a friend after her sentencing hearing for her drug related charges on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. McHaley was given 36 months probation instead of prison time for a charge of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell. [Travis Morisse/HutchNews]

About this story

Methamphetamine is often called the silent killer.

It rots teeth and skin and can cause brain damage for years after quitting the drug, or even for life.

It also remains a hidden affliction for this community, a world many of us never see, hear or touch.

But it affects all of us. The addiction passes through generations. It rips apart families.

In Hutchinson, 90 percent of crimes can be related to people doing meth. Nearly everyone in our county jail is there because of meth.

Reporter Michael Stavola tracked one day’s worth of meth use in this community, and the people it touches, in order to shine a light on this dark problem, and the people fighting to free themselves from its clutches.

And this day is just one out of many in the life of meth.