Local man happy mistakes led him here

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Shawn Runnells

— If you died one year from now, could you look back on your life and be happy?

Shawn Runnells' answer: yes.

"Happy that I turned it around," the 43-year-old said. "There's some things I'd like to take back, of course, but then I wouldn't be where I'm at now."

Runnells was born in Denver, raised around the country - mostly in Farmington, N.M. - and is a three-year Craig resident.

"I decided to move up here, start over," he said. "I followed my girlfriend. There were some things back in New Mexico I wanted to leave behind."

Runnells lives with his girlfriend, Misty, and his two sons, Shawn Jr., 19, and Tommy, 17.

Living together in Craig has been good overall, Runnells said.

"Misty is pretty much the only one (of my girlfriends and wives) that my sons like and get along with," he said.

A promise for the future

It's a cold day.

Snow and ice stretch across the ground.

Runnells is as busy as ever, running from one unit to the next at Golden Arms Apartments, the complex at which he serves as a jack-of-all-trades repairman.

Runnells taps his hand on a desk in his shop and looks straight ahead. He doesn't blink when he says the following:

"I've been a recovering (meth) addict for going on eight years," he says. "It's bad stuff, and not too many people recover from that. I have no use for it.

"But that's the reason I go to work, go home to my boys, go home to my girlfriend, go riding. I made a promise to my kids and my dad that I'd never do it again, and I won't."

Runnells was close to his father, whom he credits with teaching him the skills he uses on a daily basis, performing maintenance at Golden Arms.

He values hard work and takes pride in his position at the apartment complex. He admitted he was a bit overwhelmed when he started two and a half years ago.

But the job came to him, and he never took a step back.

"I'm jack-of-all-trades, master of none," Runnells said, "but if you jump into something and get it done, it doesn't take you a long time to do it. I just keep learning. If someone tells you they've mastered something, they're lying."

Runnells especially appreciates his bosses, who, he said, always treat him with open respect.

"Not everyone can say that," Runnells said. "When I came in for the interview, I wore a muscle shirt, showed my tats. They asked if I had a record, and I looked them right in the eye and said 'yes.' I shook his hand and said, 'Nice to meet you, sir.'

"They never looked at me twice."

Runnells appreciates when people don't use what he looks like as an excuse to brush him off, or act like they know him.

He's been at bars in town and had people approach him looking for drugs to score.

"Just because I look like this doesn't mean I am that way," he said.

But that doesn't mean he didn't make mistakes in the past.

Runnells is a recovering methamphetamine addict. He doesn't like his past, but he cannot pretend it never existed, he said.

What can't be taken back

Seventeen years ago, his sons' mother left. Runnells doesn't blame her.

She was 15 when they married.

"She said she was too young, and she was right," he said. "I don't hold that against her. I wish I knew where she was, but I don't hold that against her."

Runnells also has two daughters, Amanda and Ashley. He hasn't seen Amanda since 1983, when she was 3. He didn't meet Ashley until she was 14, last year.

"I was nervous because I didn't know what she thought of me," Runnells said. "It went really well. Her momma didn't care too much for it."

He would like to see his daughters more, he said. He would like to know where they are.

Family, he said, is very important. He calls his mother, who lives in eastern New Mexico, three times a week, he said.

"I talk to my mom all the time. She's the only parent I have left," he said.

In Craig, Runnells has a different life than before, but one he would not give up, trade in or sell, he said.

"I don't want to leave for anywhere," he said. "It's small. Everybody knows everybody. It's kind of a change in my life. I'm working with the cops instead of working against them."

Holding on to family

When he's not at work, Runnells likes to ride dirt bikes with his younger son, Tommy, out at Sandwash Basin or in Grand Junction.

"Yeah, given up the Harleys and now I stick to dirt bikes," he said.

As a boy himself, Runnells remembered the old Harley Davidson police cruiser his father used to have.

"If I ever disappeared back then," he said, "all my dad had to do was open the front door and there I'd be, playing with the handlebars, thinking I was riding."

Family is very important to Runnells, he said again.

Shawn Jr. is going to college in Albuquerque, N.M., and studies astronomy. Tommy is about to graduate from Moffat County High School.

"I'm very proud of them, mainly because they don't take after me," he said with a laugh.

His boys' teachers often remark how respectful they are, Runnells said. He's proud that they grew up that way.

"I think half that has to do because they're scared of me," Runnells said. "I don't like that.

"But at the same time, I can't have you doing what I did. Don't tell me I don't understand, because I've been there and done that. I won't have them making the same mistakes I did."

He learned a lot in his life through experience, and trial and error. One thing he tries to do is stay honest and open.

"It's the only way to be in life," he said. "Took a while for me to learn that."

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