By Dick Hughes
A local high school senior has turned his struggles with drugs into an award-winning song and a trip to the Grammy Awards.
Andrew McMains, 17, co-wrote a rap song with David Bond that won first place in the ninth-annual Teens Make Music Contest.
The song's message is "using drugs comes with a price," McMains said. "I'm just a normal kid that has been through some hard times in my life."
Sponsored by the Recording Academy's charity, MusiCares, the national contest is for teen musicians whose original composition "celebrates life above the influence or brings attention to the real-life consequences of substance misuse."
McMains is close to graduating from Marion County's juvenile STAR Court – Supervised Treatment and Recovery. The intensive program combines substance abuse treatment and other services with ongoing court appearances. It is for youth aged 14 to 17 who are on probation for non-violent offenses and have substance abuse problems.
Once youth successfully complete the multi-level program, their juvenile court records are expunged. In a celebration of gaining a fresh start, their original court documents are fed into a paper shredder during the graduation ceremony.
McMains, Bond and Caleb McDonald, who tied for third in the national contest with his song "Demons," participate in Bridgeway Recovery Services' adolescent treatment program and recorded the songs at the IKE Box in downtown Salem. Bridgeway is sending all three, along with their mothers as chaperones, to Los Angeles for the Grammy celebrations.
Two years ago, Bridgeway used grants from Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management and the city of Salem to buy music and video production equipment.
Sonny Saltalamachia, Bridgeway's adolescent program supervisor, said the music has spawned a way for youth to journal about the difficulties in their lives. Several teens participate in the music therapy program each week. Saltalamachia creates a rap beat on a sound track, the youth discuss and decide on a topic, and then they write lyrics to the sound track.
"It becomes a cathartic experience," he said. "Sometimes behind a kid's attitude lies a kind and vulnerable kid who has had a lot of trauma in their lives. Once you get to know them, they're beautiful on the inside."
McMains and Bond's song, titled "Lost," is about that vulnerability. The verses recount what they encountered by using drugs, with a chorus told from the mother's perspective.
Joe Kauffman, McMains' probation officer, said there are a lot of misconceptions about juveniles who get into trouble with the law.
"Most of these kids have a lot of trauma in their lives and then they start acting out," he said.
McMains hopes to continue making music, as well as pursuing his interest in photography that he developed through high school classes.
"I'm just so proud of Drew," said his mother, Cassie Ricketts. "He's so talented."
She said she doesn't know where their family would be without Saltalamachia, Kauffman and STAR Court.
"They truly, really care about these kids."