[Following is part of an ongoing series to show the social impact of drugs in Van Buren County - ed.]

Richard Reynolds was pretty easy to talk to. Sitting there on the steel stool, orange jumpsuit and shackles, the conversation was close to what you’d have in a coffee shop with someone you just met, or knew from around.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him, nor the first time you read about him in the paper. He’d been up on first appearance a month ago after being found asleep in a car off Highway 110, passed out really, and a search of the car produced methamphetamine, cash and a loaded gun.

He was a felon, and first appearance called for a $50,000 bond. He made bond (the story, published in our April 9 issue, “First appearance and a mother’s resignation” included a conversation between his family and the bail bondsman).

Two days later he was back in jail. The deputy said they’d found him asleep in a car parked behind a gas station off Highway 65, passed out really, and a search of the car produced methamphetamine and a gun.

Back in jail, no bond this time. He’s there now. They sort out court cases by number and assign a case every time there’s a set of charges. As each one is presented it’s assigned the next number in line. Reynolds two separate acts of being found in-car produced case numbers two digits apart, both felony cases, both including charges of a felon in gun possession.

We spoke. They escorted him out to speak and we had a conversation in the visitor’s area. A guard sat nearby, watching quietly, closely. Everybody in arm’s length.

The burning question: Why? Why the drugs thing?

“It’s a lifelong thing for me.”

He’d been raised around it. As he grew up everybody did it. (His mother’s since-then sobriety a feature of the earlier article.) Plus he had to make money. Had kids to raise, family to take care of. You need some quick money you make a phone call, somebody forwards you an ounce, and you start selling. Easy if you know the game.

And, he pointed out, it pays better than some min-wage grunt-work job.

Which begged a point: Yeah, but you’re in jail now. Hard to make money from jail.

He was clear eyed, sharp and articulate. Questions that required thought he’d stop and rub his head, hand against the stubble of the jail-short buzz cut.

He didn’t need to do it, he admitted. His girlfriend made a good living. His family helped out, he had a nice place to live and a decent car to drive.

Stop, rub head.

It’s the way life was. He’d even been off the stuff at one point for about eight years. (He was proud of this, pointed it out several times in the conversation, usually while making clear-eyed eye contact.) Then, a while back, rocked by the death of his grandfather he got back on it.

“It,” is a loaded term. Nowadays it’s all “Ice,” a modern interpretation of methamphetamine, the kind brought in from Mexico and made with industrial-grade chemicals, Reynolds explains. Back when he started it was plain-ol’ meth, the powder stuff people brewed out of household chemicals and starter fluid in someone’s kitchen. Ice, reflecting its ingredients, is more powerful and longer lasting.

Nobody, he said, brews meth any more.

Law enforcement interviews back this up. There still might be a meth lab or two out in the county making some for personal use, but that’s about it. Dealers, now, get it from Mexico-originated sources. The meth lab has gone the way of the moonshine still.

And, thanks to industrial-grade production to match the ingredients, there’s plenty of Ice around.

“Your mind wouldn’t wrap around how much of it is around here,” Reynolds said.

He explained: If we were outside the jail right now (implying if we were out of earshot of the quietly watchful guard) it would take one phone call. He could borrow my phone, he knew the number to call. He’d do all the talking, the person answering the phone would listen. Drive to the location and get an ounce of Ice, no money down.

Make, maybe, after expenses, a couple thousand dollars.

(At his second arrest the police report states the officers found, other than a “crystalline rock,” a number of small plastic bags and a set of scales. Intent to distribute was one of the charges listed.)

He had a marketeers mind. Asking about a recent arrest where law enforcement found 1.7 pounds of methamphetamine in a car, he broke it down quickly, mental math, knowing how many grams would be produced. A few more mental calculations came up with profit margin and likely cost of the 1.7 pounds.

The business attracts three kinds of people, he said: People who want to make money (he put himself in this group), people who want to get high, and what he called “the bad people.”

The bad people are the ones who’d lost everything, he said. They had nothing, nothing left to live for, no family, no friends who could be trusted, none of it, all gone. Describing that group and there was a quick flash of the eyes, something behind them, the look people with stories have when you’re getting close to a story they don’t feel like telling.

And how did all this start, this doing drugs?

He rattled off the milestones: 14 years old smoked his first cigarette, alcohol at 16, smoking marijuana (‘pot,” he called it) later that same year. Methamphetamine (“meth”) at a party with friends when he was 18.

He was 28 at the last arrest.

And how will this all end?

He’s off it, he’s done with it, he said, making clear-eyed contact.

For others?

Rehab, he said, something more than jail.