Run with it: How Red Birchfield used his last chance to kick heroin

written by Chris Horne; photographed by Ilenia Pezzaniti


It’s the day after Christmas and the Birchfield household hums with people having a good time. There’s crosstalk and laughter and random bursts of activity whenever one of the kids comes to the kitchen needing something. David, the oldest, walks in and Red nods in his direction, pointing at the newspaper clipping on the fridge of a high school football team’s perfect season. He says, “That’s my son.” The youngest, 4-year-old Cadence, shows grandma her new kiddie kitchen, then pivots quickly with a Rolo in her open hand, offering it to anyone in need of a treat. Evangelina, the middle child, peers into the viewfinder of a digital camera, squaring up the funny faces her parents make.

As family gatherings do, this one turns to storytelling about their shared past. Cady, on one of her visits to the table, brings a tiny photo of Red fished from a box of memories. When Red’s mom, Chris, sees it, she notes she also saved an old picture of him.

“It was the one from Illinois,” she clarifies.

“Oh, yeah?”

“All the blood,” she says, trying to coax his recollection as casually as a mom might otherwise note that green sweater you always wore in 2nd grade. Nothing still, so she adds, “The police had beat you up.”

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