WHEELING - Patrick Tribett gazed through a jail cell window in the spring of 1993 and watched his Concord University classmates receive their diplomas - just he as thought he would.
Tribett was set to receive a bachelor's degree in social work from the Athens, W.Va., university, but that never happened. After three years of being sober, Tribett again began to huff inhalants and drink alcohol during his final year of undergraduate work. He crashed his car and landed in jail. He defaulted on his student loan, and his education was over.
Tribett said it was difficult to wear the prison-issued jumpsuit as he watched his classmates in their caps and gowns.
Patrick Tribett, known for gold paint-faced police mugshot, says he has been sober for eight weeks and now works out regularly to improve his health. Above, Tribett runs at a local track. (Photo by Scott McCloskey)
"That was a pill to swallow," he told the Sunday News-Register. "I should have had a bachelor's and a master's (degree). The big strike was losing my education. I had three years clean at that time, after I went to rehab. I was going to go to WVU and get my master's."
"It went down hill when I wrecked that car," Tribett added. "That was the straw that broke the camel's back."
But it wasn't the "straw" that made him famous. That happened in the summer of 2005 when Bellaire police found Tribett inebriated from huffing spray paint. His mugshot, with the lower half of his face covered in gold paint, quickly circulated throughout the Internet. The image appeared in numerous magazines, and Tribett said it even appeared on a billboard in Europe.
Young people dressed as Tribett for Halloween. He was roundly ridiculed - but because he was still using drugs and alcohol, Tribett wasn't fully aware of his "fame."
"I was walking down the street in Columbus (Ohio), and a guy recognized me," Tribett said. "He was the director of a rehab. He said, 'Patrick, can I speak to you?' He said, 'Do you know you're in Maxim magazine?'
"I was on mugs and T-shirts," he added. "It's unreal. I was completely dumb to all of it ... (The notoriety) didn't bother me at first, but then it started to get on my nerves."
Tribett isn't being made fun of today. The 45-year-old McMechen native is being congratulated. Tribett has been sober for eight weeks. He works out five days a week at CentreTown Fitness in Wheeling. On Thanksgiving morning, he ran the 2009 5K Turkey Trot Run or Walk at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Tribett suffered through painful muscle cramps during the trot, but he endured. He finished and even encouraged other runners along the way.
"If you keep running like that you will be a champion one day," Tribett told a young girl.
Tribett's attorney, New Martinsville resident H. John Rogers, attributes his client's newfound sobriety to the Marshall County drug court program, which he entered following a recent huffing arrest. As part of that program, Tribett currently is living at the Lazerus House in Wheeling, and he is focused on his health and sobriety.
"I used to be pretty athletic," Tribett said. "It's not like it was when I was in my 20s, but I still work out pretty well. I'm pretty dedicated."
CentreTown Fitness Manager George Frazier was reluctant to allow a well-known addict into his facility. It wasn't long before his concern went by the wayside, though.
"I didn't feel comfortable with all that's been in the newspaper," Frazier said, referring to Tribett's past arrests. "It's been at least six weeks, and I don't think he's had any backlash with his addiction. I have gotten to know him a little bit, and he is intelligent. He is very mannerly, friendly and presents himself well. You would never know he has that type of addiction.
"From the little I know of him, I like him. I would like to be part of his healing process."
Tribett has gone long periods of time without using drugs or alcohol. He once was sober for five consecutive years. He lived that stretch of sobriety in prison, however. Tribett was sent there for a crime he committed in 1998 while under the influence of inhalants.
He doesn't remember the crime, but he is remorseful.
"I hurt a guy, and I got a felonious assault," Tribett said. "I felt bad because the guy didn't do anything. I was blacked out on whiskey and doing the inhalants. I woke up handcuffed to the rail in the old Bellaire Police Department."
Tribett said each and every one of his troubles has been the result of his inhalant and alcohol addiction. He said there was no family trauma that resulted in his substance abuse, and he enjoyed his childhood.
Tribett grew up in McMechen, the son of Robert Tribett, a railroad employee, and Patricia, a housewife. He has a brother and two sisters that remain part of his life. Tribett said his family was normal.
"I grew up in a really good family," he said. "If there's ever anything negative in my life it's because of the inhalants, not my family. I had opportunities to get an education and everything. Because of addiction, I couldn't stay on a responsible path."
Tribett clearly recalls his introduction to inhalants. He said he was 16 or 17 years old, and he was running around with an older crowd. The early inhalant of choice wasn't gold paint. It was "crystal clear glaze" his friends purchased at a former downtown Wheeling business.
"It would blow your mind," Tribett said of huffing. "I would hallucinate. It was unreal."
It wasn't long before Tribett's friends grew out of huffing inhalants. He didn't.
His drug and alcohol use expanded over the years to also include marijuana and pills. Tribett was using drugs alone. It was his "escape."
In recent years, Tribett "escaped" to wooded areas in Ohio and Marshall counties. He carried paint cans to huff, beer cans to drink and sandwiches to eat. He also carried a radio.
Tribett said, as he sat along hillsides getting drunk and high off of fumes, he listened to the classics - Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Tribett said, after his 2005 arrest and that well-publicized mugshot, he could no longer "escape."
"It was a form of escape because I didn't have to deal with people or responsibility or anything like that," he said. "After I got my picture in the paper it was devastating. I tried to mind my own business after that, but it was basically impossible."
Now, Tribett escapes not only to the gym for a workout, but also to counseling and meeting sessions. He meets and socializes with other addicts at the Unity Center recover facility in Wheeling.
Ohio Valley Recovery Inc. Executive Director Scott Pinter said he did not know Tribett until he began spending time at the Unity Center. He said that famous mugshot of Tribett is not an accurate representation of the man he is.
"After seeing the picture, I thought he was of poor mental health," Pinter said. "He really changed the way I thought about him before I met him. (The mugshot) strips of you of thinking of him outside of dereliction.
"He has us laughing constantly, and he is cheerful, smart and pleasant," Pinter added. "The people around him are proud of him. He's a special person."
"Day by day" is a phrase often used by recovering addicts. Tribett is no different. That is how he currently lives. Tribett said he doesn't crave inhalants. He said he used them because they were cheap. Tribett said he would like to have a beer and watch a football game, but he knows that is no longer an option for him.
He said, at age 45, he believes he never will be the father of a child. Tribett still holds out hope that he'll one day be able to earn that bachelor's degree that eluded him more than 15 years ago.
Tribett knows that his addiction has cost him a lot in life, but he still believes his life can be satisfying.
"I'd like to get straight and have a little job and a little apartment," Tribett said. "I don't ask for too much. I'm not materialistic. ... I try to accomplish the things I can in that particular day, and let the day unfold."