Recover password

A mother’s failed war on drugs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gabriella Duncan had a bad feeling.

Call it a mother’s intuition or a weary familiarity with doom, but even more than 1,400 miles away from her son, somewhere in the Albuquerque area, Duncan could feel something had gone wrong again.

“I often sense things, and not always just the bad, but the connection with him is strong,” said Duncan, a former Albuquerque art and music teacher who moved to Seattle about two years ago.

Aaron Wozniak, her 32-year-old son, was released from jail around November after violating probation. Before that, he had served about four years in prison after being convicted of numerous charges, including auto theft and heroin possession.


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He had been clearheaded upon his release, finally, Duncan said. He had paid for his own stay in a halfway house in Albuquerque and registered for school at Central New Mexico Community College. Duncan had sent CNM $60 in enrollment fees.

Gabriella Duncan

DUNCAN: Grieves for her son’s life of drugs

Aaron Wozniak

WOZNIAK: Lifetime of crime blamed on drugs

Just before Christmas, he stopped calling her.

An old girlfriend of his had posted a message on Facebook saying he was dead. Duncan didn’t believe it.

For weeks she scanned local Albuquerque media reports online, hoping for news on her son’s whereabouts. Then on Jan. 23 the Journal published the grainy images of a woman and a man with a scruffy red Mohawk haircut who were wanted for questioning about a chase two days before involving a speeding stolen vehicle that left Corrales police officer Jeremy Romero severely injured.

Duncan recognized the man with the Mohawk as her son.

She called Corrales police.

She wanted to call Romero’s parents, too, to offer her best wishes, but she worried they would not welcome a call from the mother of the man accused of causing their son such pain.

She posted cryptic messages on Facebook. Turn yourself in, she pleaded. I love you.


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She doesn’t know whether he saw them.

But on Feb. 17, Valencia County sheriff’s deputies saw him. They had gotten a tip that Wozniak, with five outstanding warrants pending against him, was holed up in Meadow Lake. After another chase in another stolen car and a brief foot chase that day, deputies took Wozniak into custody.

And so it begins again. Perhaps he will be found guilty; perhaps he will be set free. Either way, Duncan said she doubts he will get the help he needs to save him – and society – from himself. And then it will all begin again.

At the crux of his crumbled, harmful world are drugs, she said. Meth. Heroin. Cocaine. Whatever.

“Drugs have brought us to a place of war, using our children and family members as the collateral damage,” she said. “It takes your soul and makes you forget who loves you.”

She loves him. She also hates the drugs, hates what they have done to him, hates that she could not wrench him from their grip.

I wrote about Duncan’s fight to save her son and her daughter, who is also a drug addict and a convicted criminal, in 2010. After years of rehab, hospitalizations, counseling, forgiveness, tough love, she had forced herself to let go of but not give up on her children. She tries to keep in touch with them both, as much as they will let her. She tells them she loves them, but she also tells them she will not enable them.

Even now, she is not sure how it happened or what she could have done differently.

“No parent says, ‘Sign me up for this,’ she said. “Ever. You love on your kids when you can and say you are so sorry that this is their choice. You’re sorry that they felt they needed something like that. You remind them of what you dreamed of for them even if it’s not what they want. You just know it isn’t time yet, and your eternal optimism is tarnished and tired and sad. You love on them and take them back to the streets and remind them, you will be ready to take them to a program. You remind them who you felt they were meant to be.”

Court records show Wozniak has been in and out of jails and prisons for years for crimes ranging from auto theft to fraud to child abuse. An attempt at drug court, a rigorous program for substance-abusing offenders that includes therapy and random drug testing, failed in 2010. He is classified as a habitual offender.

Prison, Duncan said, is no solution. But then, what is? She doesn’t know.

“Our drug addicts need more care than anyone else,” she said. “If we put as much time into healing them as we do prosecuting them, wonders could be done.”

She knows there are those who blame her for what her children have become. But their painful, cruel words are nothing compared with her own self-scorn. It took years for her to forgive herself, to believe she did all she could to save her children, to give herself permission to grieve.

And so she does.

Duncan is an artist and an advocate for the homeless in Seattle, many of them substance abusers. It is a way for her to keep trying to save others. At least with them, she still has a chance.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.