Editor's note: This is the third story in a series highlighting an individual's experiences on the road to substance abuse recovery on Guam. The series aims to shed light on Guam's need for resources to effectively administer its drug treatment programs.
The women would gather in the meeting room during the morning. Some sat in the back while others sat at tables out front, facing each other. The lights would go dim and worship videos were projected onto a white board – the power of Youtube.
The women prayed, for themselves and their families, and their progress in recovery. The music, booming at first, drifted into muted meditation.
Then the lights flicked on. Seats were pushed back and the music made loud again. They stood, arms stretched out front, eyes closed, brows furrowed, noses scrunched and vocal chords vibrating with intense tenacity – this room could sing.
This was the morning routine for Martina Guanzon and her fellow inpatients, about three times a week, at Oasis Empowerment Center.
Oasis operates as a faith-based treatment center. Guanzon said she found God while incarcerated but lost some faith after her release, prior to coming to Oasis.
Singing, she said, is something that she loves to do. And now, she uses it in worship.
Guanzon is 29 years old. She was born and raised in Saipan but moved to Guam when she was 18.
It was on Guam when she first used methamphetamine. Guanzon disliked the drug at first but would develop a taste for it a few years down the line. She would use meth constantly, in addition to marijuana – her drugs of choice.
By 2014, Guanzon would become one of the youngest drug dealers on island, later profiting from a lucrative market that would earn her about $100,000 per year at her peak.
Her actions, she believed, were justified. Dope, after all, became a significant source of financial support for herself and her family. In particular, a sister, whom she raised and supported through drug proceeds.
Guanzon would ultimately convince her sister's husband to join the military and for the pair to leave Guam for the states.
"She doesn't use. She's clean as a whistle," Guanzon said. "I was using it to support her but that doesn't mean I want her to follow the lifestyle I had ... I knew the consequences. I knew what she would get into if she was to get caught with me. And she has a baby."
Guanzon would spare her sister the repercussions of the drug world but would subject others to those same consequences - an understanding she'd come to realize years down the line.
Guanzon began her first serious relationship on Guam when she was 18. The couple would remain together for seven years. She would become a functional user while with him, learning to maintain her sleep and eating habits, functions that often become disrupted with drug use. The adaptations would also help Guanzon hide her drug habit from her parents.
'I almost killed him'
But that first relationship would end bitterly. The man proved unfaithful, Guanzon said. He discovered her drug habit and used it as a gateway for his cheating, she added.
"With him, the reason why I kept using was because I felt so insecure with him. Every year there were different girls he's cheating on me with. So I was like, 'What's wrong with me? Should I lose weight?' I stayed in for seven years," Guanzon said. "Finally, I caught him. I lost my mind. I was under the influence and I almost killed him. After that, I finally left him. It was hard but I said, 'Oh my God, I almost killed somebody."
Guanzon said she drifted away, and to help with that, she turned to an old friend.
"Drugs made me stronger. It didn't make me feel pain, nothing. It didn't make me feel sorry or remorse, nothing. No feelings for how bad he hurt me," Guanzon said. "Wasted seven years of my life being loyal to somebody."
Guanzon would move on to meet a major drug dealer on island and they would fall in love, she said. By that time, she was dealing as well. They made good money and Guanzon was getting used to the fast life. Around 2014, a gram of meth would sell for $600, she said. Prices would rise as arrest after arrest curbed the supply. At one point, some dealers were selling a gram at $1,000, she added.
But in 2015, Guanzon would find herself behind bars. The arrest came shortly after returning to Guam from visiting her sister in the states.
"I was planning to stay back there but here we are, so in love," Guanzon said. "I followed him back to Guam and boom, I got arrested."
Guanzon made bail the next day. She called her ex-boyfriend to pick her up at the Department of Corrections but noticed her current boyfriend, and fiancee at the time, watching from a nearby bus stop. She believed he suspected she had spoken to police and that he wouldn't come for her because of that.
But your job in the dope game is to deny, Guanzon said, and that is what she did.
"(My ex-boyfriend) picks me up and next thing you know there's a car chasing us all the way to Mangilao traffic light ... I'm like, 'Who's that?'"
Guanzon thought it may have been police. She hadn't detoxified yet and was still "chemically unbalanced." The car came closer and Guanzon said she was becoming nervous. Then the car pulled up beside them and rolled down its window.
"He goes, 'Babe where you going?' And I said, 'Oh, you still love me?'" Guanzon said, chuckling. "So right there, I ditched my ex-boyfriend at the traffic light and got into my fiancee's car."
In the years afterward, Guanzon would walk in and out of prison. Picking up violation after violation, she would ultimately serve 14 consecutive months in jail – a 27-month sentence in total but with credit for time detained.
"Everybody that I thought were my friends left me in there. Those were the hardest times in my life. I had the support of my parents. Of course, they're not OK with what I've done ... When they found out after I got arrested, it changed everything."
When Guanzon came out of prison, she jumped between treatment centers before settling on Oasis, which operates the only women's inpatient program on Guam.
Inside prison, she received no treatment and the treatment that was available was lacking, Guanzon said. What was offered was whatever DOC could afford, she added.
"You can't expect us to come out and think we're going to be perfect out there for the community. We can't do that without treatment while incarcerated. So when we get released, we're out facing the world with no tools. With no way to cope with how we're feeling, nothing."
Oasis, she said, is providing those tools now. But when she began treatment in September 2018, it was as an outpatient, coming in to classes "high as hell." Regardless, this was progress.
'Tired of running'
In the past, Guanzon would run. However, at this point, she was actively seeking help, coming into meetings and getting tested, even if she knew she would test positive.
"I'm tired of running," Guanzon said. "And my sister is doing fine, I don't even need to do dope anymore. My sister would tell me, 'Go seek help. Now it's your turn to take care of yourself. What are you waiting for?' When she told me that, it was like a relief."
Those words would come two weeks before Guanzon entered the inpatient program in February. It was the second time. She attempted becoming an inpatient in November 2018 but Guanzon said she wasn't ready at that time.
At Oasis, she was also connected with a sponsor, who has been a tenacious and supportive aspect to her recovery. Guanzon said she wouldn't be in the program if not for her sponsor and other supporters.
There is lingering guilt, she added.
Guanzon believed she was justified when she was dealing methamphetamine. A conversation with a judge placed that belief into perspective.
"It was when I knew I was going to do time," Guanzon said. "He goes, 'A murderer kills one person. A drug dealer kills millions of lives.' I never saw it like that ... But he's telling the truth. ... Me selling drugs destroys their lives, their families, their kids don't eat – it's a domino effect ... I looked at him and I cried."
Guanzon is receiving counseling and other tools at Oasis to help her work out her feelings and guilt – everything the drugs suppressed.
"I'm working on it," she said.