A story of breaking cycles.
My parents were teenagers when they had me. My grandfather wouldn’t let my mom use public assistance, so she worked all the time. He thought since we had clothing, food and a roof over our heads we were good. However, with my mom not around, there was a lack of nurturing in my childhood. My dad was an alcoholic, so I spent a good part of my early years exposed to alcohol use. My dad hosted keg parties in the basement of my house. So once I became a teen, it felt natural for me to join the party crowd. I didn’t want to become my dad, so I smoked weed instead of drinking. By late high school, I had started selling marijuana. Eventually, my suppliers also had meth, cocaine, and heroin.
I first tried meth after I had my first son, one year out of high school. My supplier told me it was glass, so I thought it was a different drug. When I took it, everything became so clear. I started making lists and thought my whole life would be fixed. Then the sun came up and it was a whole other story. I knew it would be a problem for me, so I told the supplier to keep it away from me.
After I finished getting my accounting degree at CVTC, I was reintroduced to meth. I used because of body insecurities, and it made you lose weight. But once I found out I was pregnant again, I quit. Later my husband and I moved to New Richmond. That city had the same meth problem Eau Claire has now. I was looking for marijuana, but all I could find was meth. So, I started using again.
This is where I really entered a cycle of drug abuse. I would lose my job and house, quit using, get everything back, and then to celebrate, I would use again. Soon I was back to selling drugs to pay bills and eventually become addicted again. This cycle repeated five or six times. The things I knew I was good at were using and selling drugs, so it felt natural to go back to them.
Along the way, my marriage ended and I was arrested twice on drug charges. The first time was in St. Paul. The second happened in Eau Claire, and I went through the AIM treatment court. I did well, but at that time the court only focused on addiction. It never dug into the relationship and money problems that led me to using drugs. So, after being sober for three years, I went back to meth. Imagine, as an adult, losing everything you have and being told to get it all back but you can’t do it in the way you had previously. To figure it all out by yourself is very difficult. If you don’t change your whole life, it is easy to return to the behavior you have always known.
Eighteen months after AIM court, I found myself in jail again. By then, I had six felony drug charges. Sitting in jail, I knew prison was a real possibility. I decided to turn my life around no matter what happened. My boys deserved a better life than this. If I went to prison, I wanted them to see me healthy before I went. I applied for AIM court, but the county put me on a cash bond. At this point my family wouldn’t pay it. Another option was to accept a plea bargain and plead guilty, and they would let me out of jail. The plea capped the prison time at 3 years and ordered a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI), which would take three months. I asked for daily urinary analysis while out, in order to keep me away from meth, but they didn’t listen.
After serving time for my other charges, I came back to Wisconsin with no real plan. I did not want to stay with family because I knew I needed to do this on my own, but there was nothing set in place before I was released. I was in limbo, and felt set up to fail. Luckily I remembered the AIM Court Coordinator and went straight to her office, crying from stress. Not having any conditions on my bond scared me. We fought to reopen my case to include the drug tests. During the three months before my sentencing, I acted as if I was already in AIM Court. I attended weekly court and whatever programs I could get into. I was able to stay at the Bolton Refuge House after my release. Then, I was accepted into the Housing First Program through Western Dairyland, which provides housing to chronically homeless people. I pay 30% of my income for rent, and they cover whatever I cannot.
Because I was proactive, everything fell into place. By the time I went to court for sentencing I had a full time job and a place to live. The ruling was for me to attend AIM Court and not go back to jail. By now, AIM Court added programs like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Moving on (a course on relationships), and TREM (a program addressing childhood trauma.) I completed these groups and began developing a support network outside of family and old using friends. I did well and graduated.
After everything, I could have completely left this part of my life behind. However, I feel like it’s my calling to share these experiences with people so that change can happen for others like me. Now, I am a full-time student at UW-Eau Claire. I plan to work on criminal justice reform so the system can better keep ex-incarcerates from returning to their previous habits. I also want to help the general public to understand addiction and their potential role to help those coming out of jail from reentering.
I believe when everyone starts to see each other with dignity and respect, positive change can happen.
As told to Cara W. and Jessica T.
This story originally appeared in Behind the Faces of Criminal Justice in the Chippewa Valley, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.