Grieving mom wants Aspen to confront youth drug addiction
IF YOU GO
What: Screening of “I Am Jane Doe”
Where: Baldwin Gallery in Aspen
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Why: To build awareness of sex trafficking and raise funds for Callie’s Backyard Foundation
Jackie Long knows all too well why a parent wants to retreat and simply grieve after losing a child to drug addiction.
Long’s daughter Callie died on Dec. 12, 2013, the day before her college graduation. She didn’t collect the international business degree she worked so hard to earn from Colorado University.
“She died before she got her diploma,” Jackie said.
Long started sharing the story of her daughter’s death with The Aspen Times last summer in hopes that it would spur some parents in the Roaring Fork Valley to face the ugly truth about drug use and youth.
“I have been trying to speak out, but my grief didn’t let me,” Long said at the time. The effort proved again to be too painful. The story was put on hold.
But over the past year, Long has found the extra strength to speak up.
“I have decided to fight the demons that took my daughter,” she said this week. “It’s four years later but this is the right time to talk about it.”
She is focused on increasing the awareness in Colorado on addiction, homelessness and sex trafficking — three issues she said are devastating a surprising number of young adults ages 18 to 27.
“All these subjects are intertwined,” she said.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, the big issue is drug addiction. Long contended there were 20 overdoses or suicides connected to drug use among young people in the Aspen area over the past two years — just that she is aware of. Although she spends most of her time in Denver now, she frequently visits Aspen. She said she learns on every trip of additional cases where children of Aspen residents are dealing with addiction and its consequences.
It’s a big problem, she said, and parents and kids need to know that addiction is an issue that should be treated without shame. Too many times parents want to sweep it under the rug.
“People pray to God that it passes over them,” she said.
Her daughter’s journey into addiction started when she went to Boulder. She achieved sobriety three times, but drugs had a “deeply entrenched hold on her soul,” Jackie said.
Out of respect for Callie, Jackie doesn’t dive into the details of her daughter’s battles. However, she’s willing to share more of her family’s story and lend an ear to parents in a similar situation.
Long believes the Roaring Fork Valley needs additional resources where addicted youth can turn for help. There need to be more programs in middle school that educate kids about drug use. High school-aged kids need to be warned about the dangers of getting hooked on opioids that are prescribed as painkillers.
Parents need to know where they can turn for answers when they fear they are losing their kids to drug addiction, she said.
“I don’t know where a parent goes to talk about these things,” Long said.
And she’s advocating for more cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and the Drug Enforcement Agency, always a controversial topic in Aspen.
In Denver, youth homelessness is a big issue and one often tied to drug addiction. Perhaps lesser known is the problem of sex and human trafficking.
Long became concerned in 2009 about young girls on the Front Range being swept up by the sex-trafficking industry. Youth are being exploited for sex, pornography or both, she said.
Long created Callie’s Backyard Foundation to draw attention to the problem. Her lobbying contributed to the creation of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, which includes metro Denver law enforcement agencies and the FBI. The task force specifically targets sex and human trafficking rings.
After Callie’s death in 2013, Jackie took a two-year hiatus with her activities at Callie’s Backyard Foundation. She needed the time to grieve. She reorganized, with the goal of expanding her work on addiction and homelessness in addition to sex trafficking.
In September 2016, the foundation launched its first food delivery van. It delivers free sandwiches and resource information cards for direct and indirect help to homeless youth in the Denver area. Long is often making the deliveries herself, as video on the foundation’s website attests.
Long is in the Roaring Fork Valley this week for a “friend-raiser” and to build awareness of the sex-trafficking issue. The foundation is presenting a screening of the film “I Am Jane Doe” at 6 p.m. today at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen.
The film, directed by Mary Mazzio, chronicles the battle that several American mothers are waging on behalf of their middle-school daughters, victims of sex trafficking on Backpage.com, according to the film’s promotion. A member of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force will attend to answer questions, Long said.
Callie’s Backyard Foundation is asking for a tax-deductible donation of $20.
While her daughter’s struggles differed, Long feels a connection with the moms shown in the film.
“I’m just a mom,” Long said. “To tell Callie’s story, if I help one parent, if I help one kid, it’s worth it,” she said.
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