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From math teacher to meth user: How one Winnipeg man turned his life around

Crime Wave – Hope on the horizon
WATCH: As Winnipeg continues to see a rise in nearly all crime categories, Global News’ Joe Scarpelli looks ahead to what can be done to rein in the problem.

In the third story of a three-part series on the human toll of crime in Winnipeg, a former math teacher says he became addicted to drugs at the age of 51, and it destroyed five years of his life. Read the first and second stories here, or watch Global News’ full crime special.

When news of another meth-related crime in Winnipeg hits the airwaves, the image in most people’s minds is of someone who is hopelessly addicted, already dealing with numerous problems and living on the streets, but this is often not the case.

“The perception that everybody who is using meth are intensive users and are experiencing psychoses and things like this. This is incorrect,” says Jobb Arnold, a conflict resolution professor at Menno Simons University.

Crime Wave: The fear of violent crime
Crime Wave: The fear of violent crime

“These are our relatives who are engaging in these practices. These are people who, you know, are our friends, family, community members.”

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Mario Chaput knows he is the furthest thing from the stereotype of a meth user, yet he developed a meth addiction at the age of 51 that stayed with him for five years.

I even find that’s odd. Who starts an addiction at 51? But my home life was getting worse,” said the now 57-year-old Chaput, a former microbiologist who became a high school math and science teacher.

READ MORE: (Oct. 2, 2018) On the front lines of Winnipeg’s meth crisis

Chaput was under great strain looking after his wife, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis. He tried meth once, he says, and it helped.

It became a weekly need, then a daily need as the pressure forced him to take a leave of absence from work. His marriage broke up.

“To me, it helped with a long list,” he said. “I forgot that I was lonely. So when I got more lonely, I used again.

He stopped his hobbies. He stopped painting. He stopped caring.

READ MORE: Peer support group for Winnipeggers with meth addiction embraces $5,000 in funding

“It’s amazing how it takes over your life … I couldn’t even, like, read the mail. I couldn’t make a phone call. It would take me three or four days to make a simple phone call to just either cancel the cable or make an inquiry on my phone bill or something,” Chaput explained.

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Using meth to help his loneliness only made things worse, as Chaput says his two adult children grew further apart from him.

“I never told anybody. Only the people I was using with, they knew I was using, but no one else knew.

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“And once they started to know, and basically, that was last April 2018 … things started to crumble,” he said.

Car crash to recovery

In June of last year, Chaput says he ran a stop sign and crashed his car while he was under the influence. He was taken to hospital and doesn’t remember much about what happened.

He tried to detox several times but kept failing. Chaput says he always blamed the addictions programs for failing, rather than himself.

And then, finally, in October of last year, he decided enough was enough.

Crime Wave: Meth in a flawed city
Crime Wave: Meth in a flawed city

After 28 days of detox, he then landed at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba with a bed. When he left AFM, he found Morberg House, a 12-bed transitional home for men overcoming homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges. With each successive move, he was given more responsibility to take care of himself.

At this point, he was broke, had lost his apartment and had damaged relationships with people he cared about, he says.

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READ MORE: ‘Tough on crime’ is not the answer to fixing Winnipeg’s inner-city meth issues — report

But he was determined, and Chaput started to deal with his problems. Because he was a teacher and had a pension, he started paying his bills that were in arrears. He did his taxes. He started taking care of his health again.

Step by step, he dealt with what needed to be dealing with, he says.

Morberg House was there every step of the way to help, and Chaput says he’s still working on putting his life back together.

New documentary

Now, Chaput is the focus of a new documentary produced by a Manitoba paramedic shining a light on people like him — the lesser-known but more common meth user.

“I didn’t want it to demonize anybody,” says Rodney Bodner, the paramedic behind the documentary.

READ MORE: (May 14, 2018) ‘Funding alone will not fix the system’ — report on Manitoba mental health, addictions

“I wanted to show the humanity behind this, that these are real people with real problems. It’s a rare instance where no people are being portrayed as very violent. It does happen. But for the most part, people that are using methamphetamines are not unlawful. They just have a lot of mental health issues, maybe poverty-driven issues or trauma.”

The documentary, called Methamphetamines: Community Under Siege, comes to Amazon Prime in January 2020.

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