Unmasking Meth

Students create multi-media project to tackle the stigma of meth addiction in Delaware County.

The documentary quickly became a multi-media project titled Unmasked: The stigma of meth.

After the university was contacted in 2016 by the Ball Brothers Foundation, a team of students produced a documentary taking a close look at why and how meth affects people’s lives in Delaware County.

The documentary quickly became a multi-media project titled Unmasked: The stigma of meth.

The telecommunications department talked to instructor Terry Heifetz, who then approached Unified Media coordinator and instructor Juli Metzger and asked her to get involved.

“When Terry and I sat down and talked about it, we concluded that yes, we could certainly do a documentary, but we really wanted to do more than that. We wanted to have as big of a reach as we can because Unified Media is about reaching as broad an audience as possible using different platforms,” Metzger said. “So we said let’s do a magazine and let’s do a website as well as a documentary.”

More than 50 students applied to work on the project, then 24 undergraduate and two graduate students were selected. Heifetz and Metzger spent the summer of 2016 attending drug task force meetings, talking to local officials and collecting information for the class. Once the class began, both the Delaware County sheriff and prosecutor came to speak to the students.

“I don’t think anyone told us no. This is a problem that everybody who’s involved with cares about. It affects so many different lives,” Metzger said. “One of the things I love about this is what you see in the documentary is one layer to the story. What you read in the magazine is another layer, and that’s really the way multiplatform journalism ought to work.”

Junior journalism and telecommunications news major Elizabeth Wyman wrote the magazine’s cover story about Brian and Rhea Graham, a couple who are both recovering addicts.

“I met with them multiple times, from in the studio to going to their house a number of times, so it was just more of a conversation,” Wyman said. “I really got to know them well by the end, so it was really fun getting to know them and being able to help them share their story that’s really turned out to be really big for the community.”

In addition to the Grahams, Wyman went to the Delaware County Jail and interviewed seven inmates who were serving for meth-related crimes.

“It was interesting, I had only really ever talked to athletes or just people before and I really had to realize you can’t talk to every person you interview the same,” Wyman said. “I definitely learned to be more aware of when you’re interviewing people. You still gotta be compassionate whether you’re talking to felons or a little kid or an athlete, and so I think that’s one thing I learned when I went to jail. It was definitely an experience getting their side of the story.  I can’t get that perspective from anyone else.”

Junior telecommunications and theatre directing major John Osterhoudt directed the documentary and spent time with the subjects before the cameras came in order to get to know them outside of the on-camera interview.

“Addiction is something that is affecting a lot of people very terribly … what I wanted to do with this story was tell it from the perspective of people who have been actually affected,” Osterhoudt said. “I wanted to see what I could do to open up the conversation.”

Before Unmasked, Osterhoudt was sympathetic and cared about addicts, but never had a personal connection because he didn’t know any.

“Now, I know very well people who have been affected by it and it’s gotten a lot more personal while also gaining sympathy for what it’s like. I can never understand, but to hear it firsthand is much different and it’s real,” Osterhoudt said. “It seems like a hypothetical policy issue, like far off, let somebody else deal with it. But it’s happening all around us and I got to dive right into the center of it and learn all about it.”

Junior architecture major Katie Haines attended the premiere at John J. Prius Hall to support Wyman and her roommate, who also helped with the class.
“From what they’ve told me, the magazine articles I’ve read, and the panel discussion at the premiere, I can say that this project was one of the first to have the inside voice of former meth addicts and give them the opportunity to explain the reality and emotion behind that type of experience,” Haines said. “Listening to Rhea speak in person was very moving and you could see and hear the emotion in how she presented this project…Humanizing these issues allows the community and students to more easily connect with the faces behind the problems and thus find solutions.”

Two public screenings of the documentary were held during the spring 2017 semester, one at Pruis Hall and one at Muncie Civic Theatre. The documentary, magazine and podcasts are available at stigmaunmasked.com

Story by CCIM Media Team Reporter Michelle Kaufman.