By PHIL MAJOR
Kevin Moree had turned his life around once. But it did not last.
Moree, who founded the Life After Meth Ministry in Wood County, had experienced the detrimental impact of drugs and crime when he left Fort Worth. He came here to try to break away from that more than three decades ago.
“I wound up in the same mess,” he said.
Eventually he got clean for several years. But some personal tragedies led him back to his bad habits, culminating in a sentence in the Texas prison system.
Combined with time in the county jail, he spent about 15 years behind bars.
It was there that he admitted his way was not working, and it was time for a change.
“You hear about jailhouse religion,” Moree said. He had grown up knowing God and going to Sunday school.
He began a personal and private relationship, taking inventory and beginning a journey.
That led to discussions with a cellmate, who was overbearing. But after he left, Kevin looked at the Bible the man had left behind and opened it.
It was saying to him, “Read me again.” He opened it, and the words literally leapt off the pages.
“I was broken right there,” he said.
“There was no fighting it; no arguing with the Spirit.”
But prison is a rough place, he said, a tough place to proclaim the word of God.
“In prison, you fight,” he said, and he fought the toughest battles of his life. It took a couple years for the other inmates to realize he was serious about his faith, and the physical confrontations subsided.
It was while imprisoned in the Allred unit near Wichita Falls, working at his prison job as a welder, that he began to ask the Lord what it is that he can bring to the table, to be a blessing.
That’s when it began to become more clear, that the Life After Meth ministry began to take shape.
Moree had some reluctance at first.
“I’m not the one for this,” he thought. “I’m not worthy.”
He began to write in a journal and spell out short- and long-term goals for what a potential ministry might achieve.
He envisioned toy drives and providing food and clothing for those in need.
There were needs in the prison, too.
He discovered while gathering the trash that Bibles had been thrown away. So he retrieved them and gave them to inmates who wanted one.
Through his contacts in Wood County, he expressed the need for Bibles in the prison.
One day he was called in about some Bibles that had been delivered.
“You’re gonna need a cart,” he was told. The folks here had sent 500. The chapel in the Allred unit is still providing Bibles.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, one of his supporters in Wood County is a relative of the prison’s namesake, the 33rd governor of Texas, James V. Allred.
The next target was the prison infirmary, which had a section of closed off units. It was essentially what passed for hospice for dying prisoners.
Moree had an older friend there and visited him. It was then that he realized those men were dying alone.
So he went to the chaplain with the idea to start a prisoner-led hospice program.
The initial reactions were less than favorable. But Moree went to work, eventually meeting with the prison warden.
To Moree’s surprise, the warden agreed to consider the program.
A couple months later he was called back to the warden’s office and learned that the prison committee had agreed unanimously to his request.
He put together a team of five men to serve.
Some of the inmates wanted to pray, others just wanted to tell their story. Some, who could not read, wanted letters they had received to be read to them.
One man, who said he was not religious, just wanted to be able to get out in time to die at his brother’s home – which seemed a hopeless request.
Moree asked if he could pray about it.
The next time the team came to visit, this man, who had been unkempt and unbathed, had shaved, bathed and wore clean clothes.
There must be something to this prayer, he told Moree. The parole board had granted him leave to go home and die.
Still, Moree questioned the path he was taking – from the life he had come from, to be used this way.
“I’m rough around the edges,” he said, evidenced by tattoos down both arms.
But at that point he knew this was something much bigger.
He left prison in May 2016.
He began speaking around the area and got involved with Celebrate Recovery in Quitman as a facilitator.
But still, he said, something was missing.
That’s when he connected with the jail administrator in Hopkins County, who had heard about his ministry through a family connection with Celebrate Recovery.
That led to two teams, one men and one women, who visit the jail weekly.
Around 45-50 men and 20 to 30 women come to the meetings, which have been held about a year.
Next came the first of what has grown into three recovery groups. The first meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the civic center in Alba.
The ministry recently sponsored a family event in downtown Alba, modeled after its first event a few weeks ago in Canton.
Moree and the Life After Meth team work one-on-one with addicts and conduct interventions. And those toy drives doubled from the first year to the second.
The group will hold its second fan drive soon, and Moree said he hopes to add a couple air conditioners this year for someone who needs them.
Word continues to spread.
Moree heard from a retired Dept. of Public safety chaplain who connected him with the law enforcement community in Van Zandt County.
Moree explains the importance of connections with the law enforcement community for recovering addicts. They can see that law enforcement is not the enemy, but a partner in their recovery.
Officers do not want to kick down doors and take children from families, but as one explained to him, sometimes the addicts leave them no choice.
The ministry has worked with Child Protective Services and has seen families reunited and children returned to their homes, Moree said.
“It’s such a blessing at the end of the day,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have words for what you’ve seen.”
One key to the ministry is that those seeking recovery will find love, not judgment. And they find it from folks who have been down the same road.
“You guys get it,” Moree said they have been told. “You don’t reject us.”
He is quick to point out that while they do provide love to the addicts, they also step on toes and are tough when needed.
Every addict has been hurt somewhere, somehow, Moree explained. It’s necessary to get to the root of the pain and detox from that anger and rejection before recovery can begin from the chemical dependency.
Moree knows first-hand. He was brought up with good values but lost his way. It was a long journey back, but that journey made him what he is today.
“I just became obedient,” he said.
The ministry team now includes about 600 supporters and an active group of around 25. They are all over-comers, he said.
One of their next goals is to meet with state lawmakers to see if they can change the dialogue about addiction and recovery, different from a clinical and statistical view.
“Hopefully they’ll listen,” Moree said.
The methamphetamine crisis – widespread in East Texas – has turned into something ugly, he said. It breaks up families and ruins lives, and it clogs the justice system.
The ministry is non-profit and is supported by donations. It is attracting interest from around the country, Moree said. He had a recent call from New Mexico asking to provide training in his methods. And people are wanting to know where Alba, Texas is.
(Follow the Life After Meth Ministry Facebook page, including videos from visits to the Hopkins County jail.)