Three Years on the Road of Happy Destiny

Hello world! Wow! Eternally grateful to even have the ability to tell all of you my story!!

The last two decades of my life have been nothing short of a mess and a struggle that almost took my life. I am here today to tell you since January 23, 2015, I haven’t found it necessary to pick up any mind altering substance. I know longer have to crawl on hell’s doorstep.

Through the bottomless pit I was engulfed in I lost my family, I was unemployable, had no morals or values, and sadly I had lost the choice on wether to live or die. Everyday I woke up and the decision was already made for me against any self will. Life had become a death sentence and constant impending doom raced through my mind. Jails and institutions I had been to, and there was one last option for me before my family and friends had to look at me in a casket.

A solution for living was what I found. An outline for a life beyond my wildest dreams if I could only follow simple steps. My life couldn’t get any worse so I got up everyday and applied those simple suggestions to my life.

Today I am beyond blessed! If you would have told me 3 years ago my life would be what it is today I would have told you you were absolutely crazy. I don’t have to quiet my mind today it’s at peace. The obsession has been removed and today I choose life!! I walk hand in hand with others like me and we trudge the road of happy destiny together!

Recovery is possible! We are worth living a life worth while!! I love you all!

Drugs Were My Security Blanket, But I’m Growing Up in Recovery

I had always felt as if something were missing, my earliest memories consist of a desperate longing for something, someone or someplace that was just not there. This void could never be filled, it always became hungrier and hungrier the more I tried to feed it with external things. As a young boy, I constantly obsessed with toys and video games and as I entered my teens, it was CD’s and stereos.

As I entered young adulthood, my world darkened significantly with the rush of hormones and teenage angst, I moved onto suicidal ideation and self-harm. Then I found drugs, my ultimate security blanket. It started innocently enough, as it always does; with pot on the weekends. But soon it began to spiral outside of my control with drugs like cocaine and crystal meth. My grades floundered and soon circumstance began to conspire against me and I found myself dropped out of high school and selling crack cocaine to earn a living. After two years of this high stress environment, I could no longer take it, so I decided to take my own life. Without getting into detail, my attempt failed, but it turned out to be a decision that for the next ten years, turned my life around. I went to trade school, worked full time, earned enough to buy a car, a home and do the things I wanted to do. This way of life worked, until it didn’t.

They say old habits diehard and it is the truth, unless you’re willing to fetter out the root causes and then become willing to change everything about yourself. Narcotics Anonymous literature states that, ‘half measures availed us nothing’. This is so very true, if only I had known.

As my twenties came to an end, I became more and more unhappy with the career path I was on. I had always wanted to attend university, but I had figured that my choices earlier in life had sealed the deal on that dream. So I did what I had to do to make myself happy, I medicated as much as I could and worked only as much as I had to. To supplement my income, I sold cocaine to my co-workers and it had seemed like I had found the perfect balance in my life. Then I found needles. Then I found my first treatment center. IV cocaine was the most intense drug experience I had ever found, I thought about killing myself but then I wondered how I would go about getting high again if I was dead. I know that sounds insane and it was.

I eventually pulled away from that demon for long enough to find heroin. It was my one true love. It loved me when I was too ugly, too scared and too lonely to love myself. In the end though, like any jilted lover, it took my home, my money, my car and ruined my career. With no where left to run, my parents rescued me and financed my stay in a private, residential treatment center. I was apprehensive about going at first, because I did not want to squander their money on something that I was convinced would not work. I was 155 lbs. of emaciated man-child, brimming with selfishness and cynicism passing through those gates but

I left there after 34 days a changed human being. I was full of hope, compassion, empathy and purpose; not to mention forty pounds heavier with a clear complexion and a smile on my face.

Today I am almost 90 days sober, I regularly volunteer in my community and attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings religiously. I am bankrupt, penniless and unemployed but I couldn’t be happier.

In the new year, I will be attending my first year of university with my eyes set on law school, in the hopes that I can use that degree to advocate and reach out to addicts and their families and do my part to heal wounds in my corner of the world.

My Only Child Is Dead

Bradley Pearson, 18 and my only child was using heroin. By the time I found out, heroin had already gotten its grip on him. It was the beginning of my worst nightmare.

Over the next year, he had gained 2 felony charges due to his heroin addiction. He was in 3 different treatment centers. In May of 2014, while he was in a treatment center, which he was furloughed to, I received a phone call from one of his friends that he had overdosed and was in the Emergency Room. Worst drive of my life was to the hospital not knowing if he was alive, but luckily he was. He survived this overdose however 36 hours later he was brought to jail and served 30 days.

He got out and began the same routine. As much as we tried to help, there was nothing we could do. We went to the extreme of sitting in front of his room. I had to get up for a minute and my husband went into the other room to take a call, he went running out the back door. There was nothing that we could do. I never gave him money, but I did let him live at home. I talked to him every single day, and he did not want to live like that anymore. There was never a conversation I didn’t tell him how much I loved him.

In October of 2014, Dylan agreed to go to Florida for treatment, October 10th, he boarded the plane. He didn’t want to be there from the get go, he wanted to be at home with his long time girlfriend, Jazmin. He walked out of the first center he was in and I refused to bring him home. So he partied for a few days in a hotel with some other kids that got kicked out for using. He then went to a halfway house down there until he then got himself into another center in which he completed. He received his completion certificate on January 17th, 2015.

He was 90 days clean.

I picked him up at the airport at 1 a.m., and he didn’t know Jazmin was going to be with me. When I opened the door, she popped out. I have literally never seen Dylan so happy, he cried and was happy to be home.

Dylan tried so hard but the first week he fell back again. He went to court, was put on probation and seemed to be ok again. On the afternoon of January 30th, a friend of his called him to get rid of the rest of the dope he had before he went into treatment. I could tell he was high when I got home from work, but he hung out with me all night and we had fun. He seemed fine when I told him I loved him and went to bed about 12:45.

Dylan FlexingDylan went to bed, and never woke up.

He died January 31st, 2015.

In his bed, in our house.

Our worst nightmare had come true.

My only child is dead.

The blood curdling scream from my husband is one that rings in my head daily.

I don’t remember much about that day, but I do know that my life will never be the same again. Every day when I walk into my house, his shoes are still where he had them and his jacket on the banister where he left it. He will never have our midnightsnacks we had together, every night for years. Dylan and I were very close, and we talked 10 times a day on the phone, and 1000 texts from me making sure he was ok. He will never have the chance to get married and have kids, travel, and do all of the things that a 19 year old should be doing.

Dylan was quiet, but when he did talk, he was so funny. Dylan and I always knew what each other were thinking. We had good talks all the time.

Jaszin and Dylan had been together since they were 13. She was the love of his life, they were best friends. Dylan had so many friends that cared for him, and have so many stories that I still hear about every day.

Dylan was loyal, genuine, handsome and a good athlete. I cannot put into words the pain that this has caused me and my family. My mission has now become to help others get into treatment and help change the system we currently have. This drug has killed too many young men and women. I fought this fight with him through his entire addiction, some days I keep thinking that I will wake up and this is all a dream.

Lets do all we can to help those who need help. We have to break the stigma and make changes.

Jennifer Brovick. Dylan’s Mom

Sober Since 1991, I Connected The Dots to Escape Addiction.

Hi everyone, my name is Betsy and I am a woman living in long term recovery. My last drink and drug were on November 15th, 1991. Looking at that date can be overwhelming for me. I am in awe that I have not had to take a drink or drug in over 25 years. On one hand it seems like yesterday that I was living the life of an addict and alcoholic, on the other hand it feels like a lifetime ago. I don’t let myself forget what my active addiction was like, it’s not worth risking the chance that I could forget how horrible it was. I certainly don’t obsess over it but I keep it “green” in my memory.

My life was great growing up until I was 13. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13 and she died slowly and painfully at home when I was 14. From 14 to 16 I truly felt like I was hanging upside down, bouncing through life on my head. I felt fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and helplessness on a daily basis.  When I was 16 I had my first drink, my friends and I got a few six packs of beer and set off to get drunk for the first time. I finished my 6 pack and I drank the extra beers my friends did not want. They wanted to go home, I wanted to find more beer, lots more beer. Now I could stop here with my “active using” story because every drink or drug in between and up until the last….that was how I used. There was never enough for me. I never wanted to stop. I eventually put drugs and alcohol as my top priority for each day. It literally became a 24/7, 365 day a year job, actually worse. I was arrested twice, I stole from everyone I loved, strangers, employers and even my drug dealers. I had a DUI and I went to court, handed my license to the judge, left the courthouse got in  my car and drove for the next four years with no license, registration or insurance. I put myself in situations that I easily could have been killed, raped or kidnapped all in search of drugs and alcohol. I had opportunities in my life that alcohol and drugs convinced me not to take. I never went to college even though my father offered to pay for it. I was an equestrian who could have had an amazing career as a professional but my disease of addiction had other plans for me. I know today that my disease made all of my life choices from age 16 until I went into rehab at age 31.

What I understand today is that alcohol and drugs are basically anesthetics and what they did for me was relieve my anxiety, depression, hopelessness and helplessness. Crossing the line into full blown addiction is when I had no sense of right or wrong, no feelings of guilt, shame or remorse. I could rob you blind and not think for one second about the fact that is was wrong on many levels and that intuitively I knew better. As much as I did NOT want to go to rehab, I am forever grateful that I did. I stayed for 30 days and I received an amazing education on the disease of addiction. I was able to “connect the dots” as to why I could not and can not drink or drug successfully. I’m not going to lie to you, my first year, year and a half in recovery were hell. It was really hard for me to deal with all the damage and wreckage I had caused. I felt like someone dropped me off from another planet at 31 years old. All of those feelings came back ten fold but I learned how to go through them, grow and learn from them….not run like I had for so long.

Today, my life is completely different and has been for a long time. My daughter was 6 months old when I got sober and she will be 26 at the end of this month. I had a son in recovery who is 22 yrs old. Neither of my children have seen me drink or drug. I have done all the “cool” mom things that have brought such joy to my heart and amazing healing. I could truly fill pages with the beautiful things I have experienced in recovery. I have also gone through, worked through some very difficult times. I have had the “obsession” to drink and drug tap on my should or should I say bang on my shoulder a handful of times but I am active in a 12 step program and I have learned what I need to do to stay sober.

I attend five 12 step meetings a week, just as I did in the very beginning. Why change something that works right !!!!! I have recently joined an advocacy group and am working my way towards my goal of public speaking. I honestly have been excited for life just about every day for the last 20 years. Being an active addict and alcoholic was a million times harder than

LIVING in recovery….Living in recovery is joy………….Everyone can get sober……We do it together 🙂

How To Express Love When Addiction Gets in the Way, From a Mom

I am a mother of an adult child who struggles with addiction. I am a voice of pain, a voice of love, a voice of hope, a voice of fear. A voice of a mother who has spent more time looking for her son to be someone else rather than seeing him for who he truly is. …

He almost died. So many die. In my small corner of the world 9 kids I’ve known and loved have accidentally overdosed. In the past year. That’s nine sets of grieving parents, some of whom have told me, (me?) “I wish I’d have gotten the chance to say I love you, to say I see you…..oh Barbara, tell your kids you love them.”

There is one thing I know: our children, even our adult children, need our love — no matter how lost they are, no matter how unloveable they feel, a parent’s love can be lifesaving.  Sometimes, especially during the heated throes of our child’s addiction, that love can be hard for us to express. All the more necessary for them to know it exists.

But how?

**How do we express love to one who’s caused us so much grief, frustration, and pain?

—>We can start by listening. Listening can be an act of love.

**What if we can’t fathom being in the the same room with our adult child?

—>Then we owe it to ourselves and them to listen to kids in solid recovery.

Kids in recovery have gained insight from their own struggles.

Kids in recovery are open to sharing the inner turmoil and shame that ransacked their lives during their addictions.

Kids in recovery tell us they didn’t want to hurt us, or lie, or steal…they teach us that their actions were not personal,

Kids in recovery remind us that there was nothing we could’ve done to stop them from using.

They explain that a family’s love is vital to their survival.

They answer questions with clear eyes and open hearts.

Because we are not talking with our own children, we are more relaxed and open — less afraid and guarded. We find ourselves able to listen (and hear) their stories. Invariably, we see similarities with our own kids. We gain a new perspective on our own kids’ and we start recognizing them for who they really are, in all of their complexities.

I want to be a voice of the kids suffocating in their own addictions who silently beg for their parents’ love.

I want to be a voice of the parents who’ve lost their own, with words of love unspoken.

I want to be a voice of kids in solid recovery who need to be heard.

As my son began his descent into the cycle of his addiction I saw him as someone I wanted him to be, rather than who he actually was. I said what I hoped would change the subject and asked him questions where there was only 1 right answer.

“Hey, son, you doing ok?”

“Yes.”

“School going ok?”

“Ya.”

The right answer was the one which fortified my denial.  He, of course, played along. I didn’t want to know things weren’t ok. Didn’t want to think he was in pain, or having trouble in school, or feeling bullied.  I had so much going on in my life….the divorce, my writing…..I made a habit of burying the truth at every turn. Listening to my rationalizations instead of my child.

How alone he must’ve felt. How unmoored. How sharp the divide growing between us.

As he descended even deeper into his addiction — losing jobs, losing weight, losing his mind, I was blinded and paralyzed by the fear of what may be the truth. That my boy was suffering, struggling, lost in the dark and moving farther away from me with every breath. His cries for help unheeded.  He was a stranger to me, until I had a random talk with a kid in recovery and my reality shifted – I saw my son with new eyes.

And that’s why I started TruthTalks™ workshops. To help other parents learn about their own kids from those who’ve been there. In TruthTalks™ workshops, parents listen, kids in recovery talk.  There is a lowering of defenses in this safe place, a heart opening when dialogues happen…..I see parents’ faces soften as empathy grows for their adult children. I see the warm water relief washing over a kid in recovery after he’s told his story. After he’s heard. Listened to. Seen. Forgiven.

That’s only the beginning.

As we come to see our kids through different lenses and hear them through new ears, hope is born.

I used to be a voice of denial. These days, I am a voice of truth.

For more information go to www.truthtalks.us

I Found Recovery After Meth. And Today, I’m Asking You To Help End This Crisis.

okay, here it goes…. I am a drug addict. Scratch that I am a meth addict. Over the last few years, that has been a big part of my life and I’m quite ashamed that I have let my addiction take over every aspect of my life.

It has helped me lose everything I once held dear….my family, a job and friends that I loved, and most importantly my daughter who has no idea why mommy is not with her right now….as I sit here sober and desperately trying to figure out which step to take first to rebuild my life, I realize how truly stupid I was. When you decide to sober up your old friends are gone because you lied to them a million times and they just got sick of it, the friends you made while high and probably did the drug too are no where to be found because well you don’t have drugs anymore.

To anyone and everyone I have hurt with my drug use, I am truly sorry. Especially to my daughter who won’t understand until she’s older. If you have never tried meth it’s easy to sit there and judge me. Addiction is something that every single one of us has to battle whether it be small like a caffeine or nicotine addiction or something big like meth, heroin, pills, or alcohol.

To any and all of you who are fighting to stay sober and change your life for the better, you can do it! And those of you who are stuck in your addiction and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s there I promise. It took me months of saying I’m ready to change for me to take it upon myself to do so because I am truly ready to get on with my life and not forget about this part of my life. But to learn and grow into a better person because of it. It was hard for me to write this because no one likes to admit they have a problem but I do.

Hello Everyone, my name is Arielle Nicole Claypool, and I am a meth addict.

I could sit here and throw some statistics at you and use some big words that would make me sound smart but in reality I would have no idea what it would mean.

I am here as an addict asking you to sign this petition for the sole reason that everyone is an addict. I am asking you to sign this and pass it on because addiction should be recognized as a whole. We shouldn’t be discriminating against one group of addicts telling them their addiction is wrong and instead of helping them we waste taxpayer dollars to send them to prison for years on end only for them to relapse and do it all over again.

Why does this happen, because of a flawed system telling them that, ‘we don’t think we can help you because of your addiction so please proceed to the nearest prison, the treatment road is closed for you.’

I am very passionate about this seeing as many of my friends and fellow addicts are facing anywhere from 0-25 years in prison because they were trying to get their fix and simply ‘middle-manned’ a deal. They aren’t dealers or the people bringing it in from out of state yet they are in jail instead of the actual criminals.

If you are a human chances are you are an addict. Help your fellow brothers and sisters out by signing this and helping bring some very much needed attention to this issue. Thank you all for your time and God Bless.
https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/addicts-need-rehab-not-prison

On Halloween, I Met Heroin. 13 Years Later, I Found a Solution and Got Sober for Good.

They told me I would never get my kids back!

I was 36 years old, mom of 3 and on Halloween my boyfriend of 2 years asked me if I wanted to try something. I said sure I was then introduced to a feeling I never even knew existed – peace, happiness, excitement and love! Heroin I stuck in my vein!

Within 3 months I was addicted to heroin, crack and methadone! I lost everything!! I called my parents said I need help they gave me a one way ticket to NY and said see you in a year! The lawyers said if you go you will NEVER get your kids back, NEVER!!

I knew I had to go. I was going to kill myself if I stayed in Richmond Va without my kids anyways!

I remember sitting on a bridge. I had 3 options – kill myself (the pain of not having my kids was worse than anything I had ever felt in my life), go back to Richmond to try once again to get my kids back, or I heard “Be Still Know I am GOD!”

13 years later I am SO GLAD I LISTENED TO “Be Still Know I am God”

God never said how long but I knew that I had to trust him!!

18 months later after graduating Walter Hoving Home and then going to run the Youth challenge I went to court….TEMPORARY judge said FULL CUSTODY TO MOM!!

BUT GOD……..

I look back at that 18 months without my kids not even being able to see them and realized I was building my foundation so that I never had to put them through that again!

I have NEVER turned back! 13 years later my youngest is 19 at Penn State my other two are with me doing amazing!

But God…….
the picture of me with the kids is the first time I saw them in 18 months!! Best day of my life!!!

They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in chicken plants.

The worst day of Brad McGahey’s life was the day a judge decided to spare him from prison.

McGahey was 23 with dreams of making it big in rodeo, maybe starring in his own reality TV show. With a 1.5 GPA, he’d barely graduated from high school. He had two kids and mounting child support debt. Then he got busted for buying a stolen horse trailer, fell behind on court fines and blew off his probation officer.

Standing in a tiny wood-paneled courtroom in rural Oklahoma in 2010, he faced one year in state prison. The judge had another plan.

“You need to learn a work ethic,” the judge told him. “I’m sending you to CAAIR.”

McGahey had heard of Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery. People called it “the Chicken Farm,” a rural retreat where defendants stayed for a year, got addiction treatment and learned to live more productive lives. Most were sent there by courts from across Oklahoma and neighboring states, part of the nationwide push to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.

Aside from daily cans of Dr Pepper, McGahey wasn’t addicted to anything. The judge knew that. But the Chicken Farm sounded better than prison.

A few weeks later, McGahey stood in front of a speeding conveyor belt inside a frigid poultry plant, pulling guts and stray feathers from slaughtered chickens destined for major fast food restaurants and grocery stores.

There wasn’t much substance abuse treatment at CAAIR. It was mostly factory work for one of America’s top poultry companies. If McGahey got hurt or worked too slowly, his bosses threatened him with prison.

And he worked for free. CAAIR pocketed the pay.

“It was a slave camp,” McGahey said. “I can’t believe the court sent me there.”

Soon, it would get worse.

***

Records show that courts send about 280 men to CAAIR each year, coming from throughout Oklahoma, along with some from Arkansas, Texas and Missouri.

Across the country, judges increasingly are sending defendants to rehab instead of prison or jail. These diversion courts have become the bedrock of criminal justice reform, aiming to transform lives and ease overcrowded prisons.

But in the rush to spare people from prison, some judges are steering defendants into rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

The programs promise freedom from addiction. Instead, they’ve turned thousands of men and women into indentured servants.

The beneficiaries of these programs span the country, from Fortune 500 companies to factories and local businesses. The defendants work at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Oklahoma, a construction firm in Alabama, a nursing home in North Carolina.

Perhaps no rehab better exemplifies this allegiance to big business than CAAIR. It was started in 2007 by chicken company executives struggling to find workers. By forming a Christian rehab, they could supply plants with a cheap and captive labor force while helping men overcome their addictions.

At CAAIR, about 200 men live on a sprawling, grassy compound in northeastern Oklahoma, and most work full time at Simmons Foods Inc., a company with annual revenue of $1.4 billion. They slaughter and process chickens for some of America’s largest retailers and restaurants, including Walmart, KFC and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. They also make pet food for PetSmart and Rachael Ray’s Nutrish brand.

Simmons Foods now is so reliant on CAAIR for some shifts that the plants likely would shut down if the men didn’t show up, according to former staff members and plant supervisors.

Chicken processing plants are notoriously dangerous and understaffed. The hours are long, the pay is low and the conditions are brutal.

Men in the CAAIR program said their hands became gnarled after days spent hanging thousands of chickens from metal shackles. One man said he was burned with acid while hosing down a trailer. Others were maimed by machines or contracted serious bacterial infections.

Those who were hurt and could no longer work often were kicked out of CAAIR and sent to prison, court records show. Most men worked through the pain, fearing the same fate.

“They work you to death. They work you every single day,” said Nate Turner, who graduated from CAAIR in 2015. “It’s a work camp. They know people are desperate to get out of jail, and they’ll do whatever they can do to stay out of prison.”

To unearth this story, Reveal interviewed scores of former participants and employees, court officials and judges and reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents, tax filings and workers’ compensation records.

At some rehabs, defendants get to keep their pay. At CAAIR and many others, they do not.

Legal experts said forcing defendants to work for free might violate their constitutional rights. The 13th Amendment bans slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as punishment for convicts. That’s why prison labor programs are legal. But many defendants sent to programs such as CAAIR have not yet been convicted of crimes, and some later have their cases dismissed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Noah Zatz, a professor specializing in labor law at UCLA, said when presented with Reveal’s findings. “That’s a very strong 13th Amendment violation case.”

CAAIR has become indispensable to the criminal justice system, even though judges appear to be violating Oklahoma’s drug court law by using it in some cases, according to the law’s authors.

Drug courts in Oklahoma are required to send defendants for treatment at certified programs with trained counselors and state oversight. CAAIR is uncertified. Only one of its three counselors is licensed, and no state agency regulates it.

The program mainly relies on faith and work to treat addiction.

Sharon Cain runs the drug court in rural Stephens County and decides where to send defendants for treatment. She said state regulators don’t stop her from using CAAIR.

“I do what I wanna do. They don’t mess with me,” she said. “And I’m not saying that in a cocky way. They just know I’m going to do drug court the way I’ve always done it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma now is considering legal action in response to Reveal’s reporting.

About 280 men are sent to CAAIR each year by courts throughout Oklahoma, as well as Arkansas, Texas and Missouri. Instead of paychecks, the men get bunk beds, meals and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. If there’s time between work shifts, they can meet with a counselor or attend classes on anger management and parenting. Weekly Bible study is mandatory. For the first four months, so is church. Most days revolve around the work.

“Money is an obstacle for so many of these men,” said Janet Wilkerson, CAAIR’s founder and CEO. “We’re not going to charge them to come here, but they’re going to have to work. That’s a part of recovery, getting up like you and I do every day and going to a job.”

The program has become an invaluable labor source. Over the years, Simmons Foods repeatedly has laid off paid employees while expanding its use of CAAIR. Simmons now is so reliant on the program for some shifts that the plants likely would shut down if the men didn’t show up, according to former staff members and plant supervisors.

But Donny Epp, a spokesman for Simmons Foods, said the company does not depend on CAAIR to fill a labor shortage.

“It’s about building relationships with our community and supporting the opportunity to help people become productive citizens,” he said.

The arrangement also has paid off for CAAIR. In seven years, the program brought in more than $11 million in revenue, according to tax filings.

“They came up with a hell of an idea,” said Parker Grindstaff, who graduated earlier this year. “They’re making a killing off of us.”

***

Janet Wilkerson, CAAIR’s founder and CEO, shows off the pantry that feeds the participants in her recovery program.

Janet Wilkerson had a problem. As vice president of human resources for Peterson Farms Inc., she was having trouble filling the overnight shift at her chicken processing plants. The hours were long. The pay was low. And there never seemed to be enough workers.

Then a convicted meth dealer named Raymond Jones walked into her office in 2003 with a story and a proposal, according to a newspaper story at the time. After finding Jesus, Jones had overcome his addictions and decided to start a rehab. He asked Wilkerson to take a chance and hire his men. They were cheap, he promised, and they could work all hours. Their wages would fund his recovery program.

Wilkerson eagerly agreed. She called the arrangement a “win, win, win” for the men, chicken plants and Jones.

She was so taken with the idea that four years later, she created a nearly identical program of her own.

Her brother had died from alcoholism, and her husband’s drinking had nearly destroyed their marriage. She had long wanted to help others like them. The economics also made sense. The chicken plants needed workers, and Jones’ program was bringing in revenue of more than $2 million a year.

Wilkerson had the connections to make it happen. In addition to working in human resources at Peterson Farms, she also moonlighted as a spokeswoman for Simmons Foods and other top poultry companies. Wilkerson enlisted her assistant and another poultry executive and brought Jones along as a $250,000-a-year consultant.

Then she pitched the idea to her bosses. The companies wouldn’t have to pay workers’ compensation insurance, payroll taxes or medical care. They could replace the workers for any reason at any time. Like a temp agency, her program would pay for everything; the men just needed to work.

Simmons signed on. Later, Crystal Lake Farms and Tyson Foods Inc. did, too.

Jones agreed to introduce Wilkerson and her business partners to court officials. But his reputation was deteriorating. Plant supervisors said Jones’ workers sometimes would show up high. Workers complained that Jones wasn’t feeding them.

Wilkerson vowed to make her program better. She and her partners hired away one of Jones’ top managers and used men from his program to build their first dormitory. They worked for free, as community service. Then she stopped paying Jones and they parted ways.

By 2010, hundreds of men poured into CAAIR from courts across Oklahoma. So did the money, allowing the Wilkersons – Janet as CEO and her husband, Don, as vice president of operations – to draw combined salaries of $168,000 a year, nearly four times the median household income in their area.

That’s when Brad McGahey arrived.

***

A county welcome sign stands near the Simmons Foods chicken processing plant in Southwest City, Mo.

At Simmons Foods, McGahey first went to work in evisceration, suctioning guts and blood out of slaughtered chickens speeding past him on metal hooks. Then he became a grader, arranging raw breasts, thighs and legs into orderly piles as they moved up a conveyor belt to packaging. It was monotonous work.

Growing up in the country, McGahey wasn’t bothered by the sight of dead animals. He’d gutted catfish and skinned deer all his life. But the first time he stepped into the Simmons plant, the stench of chicken blood and feces was overpowering.

“I almost threw up,” he remembered.

On May 27, 2010, three months into his time at CAAIR, something went wrong.

A machine dumped a mountain of parts onto the conveyor belt, causing chicken to pile up faster than he and his co-worker could sort it. As they plunged their hands into the heap of cold parts, McGahey remembers hearing a scream. His co-worker’s rubber glove was caught in the conveyor belt.

McGahey grabbed the woman’s arm, wresting her hand free. But the machine snagged his own hand. In a matter of seconds, McGahey’s wrist was jerked backward, lodged in the seams of the conveyor belt as it hurtled toward a narrow stainless steel chute overhead. Someone yanked the emergency kill cord, which should have stopped the machine, McGahey recalled. But it raced upward, dragging him along with it.

He felt a flash of panic. Then an excruciating crunch.

Medical notes later would say McGahey suffered a “severe crush injury.” The machine smashed his hand, breaking several bones and nearly severing a tendon in his wrist. When he finally yanked his wrist free, his hand was bent completely backward. The pain was so bad that he nearly fainted.

A nurse at the plant took one look at him and called CAAIR.

“The kid’s hand is mangled!” he recalled the nurse screaming into the phone. “He needs help!”

McGahey expected an ambulance. Instead, one of CAAIR’s top managers picked him up at the plant and drove him to the local hospital. Doctors took X-rays of McGahey’s hand, gave him a splint and ordered him not to work.

Back at CAAIR, he spent a sleepless night cradling his throbbing hand. He figured it would take months to heal and planned to rest. But CAAIR’s administrators would have none of it.

They called McGahey lazy and accused him of hurting himself on purpose to avoid working, former employees said. CAAIR told him that he had to go back to work – either at Simmons or around the campus until his hand healed, which wouldn’t count toward his one-year sentence.

Wilkerson said she doesn’t remember the specifics of McGahey’s case but acknowledged that CAAIR has given such ultimatums before.

“You can either work or you can go to prison,” McGahey remembered administrators telling him. “It’s up to you.”

He already had made up his mind.

“I’ll take prison over this place,” he said. “Anywhere is better than here.”

***

Most men sent to CAAIR are addicted to alcohol, meth, heroin or pain pills. They are usually young, white and can’t afford stays in private rehab programs.

Inside CAAIR’s dormitories, Bible verses and Simmons Foods posters line the walls. Participants usually sleep six to a room, crammed onto wooden bunk beds. They attend church services in a common room down the hall, decorated with quilts and wooden crosses.

During the one-year program, the men can’t have cellphones or money. If they relapse or break the rules, they can be kicked out or punished with extra time. In 2014, CAAIR reported that about 1 in 4 men completed the program.

Former employees said work takes priority over everything. If counseling or classes interfered with the job, the decision was clear. “It’s work,” said Aaron Snyder, who participated in the program and later worked as a dorm manager. “You’re going to work.”

The men also perform free labor for CAAIR’s founders, family and friends. A group of men said they helped remodel the Wilkersons’ master bedroom. Another said he helped one of their daughters pack boxes and move. Still others worked on an egg farm owned by the Wilkersons’ other daughter. The program told the courts that it was community service, according to employees.

The strict regimen has helped some men get clean. Those who arrive without a home, steady employment or food said they find their basic needs met at CAAIR. Those who complete the program without breaking any rules are eligible for a gift of $1,000 when they graduate.

“I have to say CAAIR was the hardest thing to do in my life,” said Bradley Schott, who graduated in 2014. “I went to basic training at 16. And (Army) Ranger school. And it wasn’t as hard as CAAIR, mentally or physically. But it saved my life.”

Jim Lovell, CAAIR’s vice president of program management, said there’s dignity in work.

“If working 40 hours a week is a slave camp, then all of America is a slave camp,” he said.

Men who were injured while at CAAIR rarely receive long-term help for their injuries. That’s because the program requires all men to sign a form stating that they are clients, not employees, and therefore have no right to workers’ comp. Reveal found that when men got hurt, CAAIR filed workers’ comp claims and kept the payouts. Injured men and their families never saw a dime.

Following Brandon Spurgin’s chicken plant injury, CAAIR filed for workers’ compensation on his behalf. CAAIR got $4,500 in insurance payments and Spurgin says he got nothing.

Brandon Spurgin was working in the chicken plants one night in 2014 when a metal door crashed down on his head, damaging his spine and leaving him with chronic pain, according to medical records. CAAIR filed for workers’ compensation on his behalf and took the $4,500 in insurance payments. Spurgin said he got nothing.

Janet Wilkerson acknowledged that’s standard practice.

“That’s fraudulent behavior,” said Eddie Walker, a former judge with the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission. He said workers’ comp payments are required to go to the injured worker. “What’s being done is clearly inappropriate.”

Three years later, Spurgin’s still in pain and can no longer hold a full-time job.

In addition to injuries, some men at CAAIR experience serious drug withdrawal, seizures and mental health crises, according to former employees. But the program doesn’t employ trained medical staff and prohibits psychiatric medicine.

A judge in Tulsa sent Donald Basford to CAAIR in 2014 despite a documented history of severe mental health problems. The 36-year-old quickly unraveled, repeatedly complaining to staffers that he was “losing it” without his medication, Snyder, the former employee, recalled.

Basford ran away and was found dead inside a car in a church parking lot a few weeks later, according to an autopsy report. Medical examiners found no drugs in his badly decomposed body and weren’t able to determine Basford’s cause of death.

Other CAAIR men who had mental breakdowns or manic episodes were kicked out, according to former employees, opening the door for them to be sent to prison.

“You just don’t do that to people who obviously need some kind of help,” Snyder said. “It’s not right.”

***

When the Oklahoma Legislature created the state’s drug court requirements 20 years ago, it was part of a growing realization nationwide of the costs – both financial and human – of handing down long prison sentences for drug-related charges.

In drug court, judges are required to put defendants through treatment rather than prison. Follow the rules, and defendants can have their cases dismissed.

Lawmakers wanted to ensure the quality of treatment, so they wrote an important provision into state law: Drug courts must use treatment providers inspected and certified by the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

But affordable treatment is in short supply. Drug court defendants have waited up to nine months for a bed in a residential treatment facility, meanwhile relapsing or languishing in jail. As a result, some courts turn to uncertified programs such as CAAIR, even though it might violate the law, according to the law’s authors.

“That is insanity gone to sea,” former state Sen. Dick Wilkerson said when told of Reveal’s findings. (He is not related to CAAIR’s founder.) “That’s illegal. They can’t do that. That is the law, and it has to be followed.”

In Pontotoc County, Judge Thomas Landrith sometimes uses CAAIR in place of certified treatment. He said there’s never a wait list, and it costs the courts and state nothing.

“We tried to get residential treatment programs down here, but we never could really pull it off,” he said. “So recovery programs kind of fit that niche.”

Other judges said they were unaware of the law or have found ways around it.

Tulsa’s drug court, which sends the most defendants to CAAIR, said the law permits judges to use uncertified programs, as long as it’s not for treatment.

“The referral is to assist the participants in developing good job skills, life skills, work ethics and personal care skills,” said Vicki Cox, court administrator. “Participants are not sent to CAAIR for drug or alcohol treatment.”

But Reveal found that Tulsa’s drug court staff repeatedly described CAAIR as treatment in court records. Cox dismissed that as a record-keeping error.

Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services funds and monitors drug courts. The agency knows that judges are using uncertified providers such as CAAIR, but officials say there’s little they can do. All they can do is cut some of the funding to drug courts that use those programs. But that’s little disincentive to judges.

No drug court judge has ever been disciplined for using uncertified programs, according to the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.

***

Brad McGahey went straight from CAAIR to a Marshall County jail cell. Because he failed to complete the program, he had violated the rules of his probation. The judge sentenced him to a year in state prison.

McGahey was released after two months due to prison overcrowding.

His injury had not improved. One minute, his hand throbbed with pain. The next, it tingled and went numb. Sometimes it turned blue.

He found a lawyer and went to court for workers’ compensation. The process was slow, and CAAIR fought him every step of the way. In court in 2012, the program’s attorneys argued that McGahey’s recurring symptoms weren’t the result of the accident in the chicken plant.

“If you want to get a lie detector test up here, I’ll pay for it,” McGahey blurted in the middle of his testimony. “I know what happened. … I ain’t no liar, and you’re calling me one.”

The judge sided with McGahey. “Sounds like you’ve succeeded successfully in delaying the treatment for this person, counselor,” the judge told CAAIR’s attorney.

Three years after the accident, McGahey finally got his surgery. But it didn’t help.

“I believe that we got to Bradley so late in his treatment … that Bradley is going to have a permanent problem with his hand,” the doctor wrote in a status update to the court in September 2013.

McGahey grew depressed. He sold his four-wheeler to pay off his $500-per-month child support debt. He tried welding for two weeks, but his hand injury got in the way. He sought out other opportunities, such as trading and selling used cars, junk and metal. But something always went wrong, and he got into more trouble with the law.

When CAAIR’s attorney offered a settlement, McGahey took it. In 2014, he got a lump sum of $11,000.

But today, the pain persists. All that seems to help, McGahey says, are pain pills.

Every morning and throughout the day, McGahey chugs a can of Dr Pepper with hydrocodone pills. When his doctor cut him off from his various medications, McGahey found another doctor to write a prescription.

Before CAAIR, McGahey had no interest in drugs. Now, he says he can’t live without them

“I’m addicted to them pills,” McGahey said. “I have to take them.”

Brad McGahey had surgery on his left hand in 2013, but today, the pain persists. All that seems to help, he says, are pain pills.

As McGahey sat on a plastic chair in front of his mother’s house, littered with items scavenged from garage sales, he remembered when he still had the use of two hands, when he was good at rodeo and could work on his family’s farm.

“When you can’t do something you love and it’s the only thing you ever known, then it’s taking part of your life away from you,” he said. “I’ve accepted it now and learned how to do with what I got. I just don’t want to see it ruin somebody else’s life.”

Courts still send defendants to CAAIR, and the program is expanding. Simmons Foods even donated funds for a third dormitory to house dozens more men.

“I was walking in the parking lot of the Simmons plant, and (Chairman) Mark Simmons told me he needed more men,” Wilkerson told a local reporter at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2015. “I told him to build me another dorm.”

CAAIR is now planning a fourth dormitory. It’s supposed to be the biggest yet.

This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

Motorcycle Gangs, the CIA, and Psych Wards. My Crazy Addiction Led Me to Peace in Recovery.

Born in Athens, I grew up in Greece, not knowing what my father did for a living. It would not be until several years after we had moved to the United States that he would tell us that he worked for the CIA, and that he had moved us from Europe when political turmoil threatened our safety.

Moving was a constant in my life. At school I would end up in the principal’s office. I got involved with a crowd that liked to skip school, get high and drink. I would go and drink whiskey with the janitors. It was my way to cope with the discomfort of adolescence and transition to the States. My parents put me in a psychiatric ward when I was fifteen. Everyone else was an adult.

My mother and father tried to discipline me, but it made me more angry and rebellious. I eventually started running away from home. I just wanted to get high and drink. The police would pick me up and take me home. I would just run again. I slept in cars, the woods, abandoned houses and hung out with a motorcycle gang. It didn’t take long for me to pile up some serious legal charges and I became incarcerated in Baltimore for almost a year.

I went from one detention center to another. The judge tried to get me in to a long term therapeutic group home but I was unwilling to accept help at the time. I drank hard liquor, snorted cocaine and smoked weed for 20 years. I ended up in relationships with abusive men. My parents had divorced and I became estranged from my sisters. One of my boyfriends started dealing cocaine which became deadly for both of us. I had no aspirations or goals. I placed no value on myself or those around me. I felt worthless.

My family did an intervention when I was in my early twenties. I was willing to give up drugs, but not the booze. Then my black out drinking started. I would constantly put myself in dangerous and precarious situations. One of the positives was that I was going to college. Unfortunately the drugs called me back. I met the man that became my husband. We liked to drink, smoke weed and do cocaine.

I became pregnant and was able to stay sober. My husband wanted to drink so he left. Emotionally I was not well without drugs and alcohol. This happened with my second pregnancy as well. I had two beautiful sons. After each of them was born, I returned to alcohol and drugs. It was not until the end of my marriage when my boys were still very young that I decided to completely give up drugs and alcohol.

My mother threatened to take my boys away if I didn’t get clean and sober. My sons were 1 and 4 years old. I went to outpatient rehab. My house was in foreclosure. I became a single mother. I returned to work full time and took in renters. That was July 10, 1995. Things didn’t get better right away. But I was able to practice acceptance and gratitude, slowly.

I have an incredible, abundant life today. I have reconnected with my family. My friends are people I have deep, genuine relationships with. I returned to school and finished my degree, then got my professional addiction certification in Maryland. I have a Higher Power that has always watched over me.

The future is bright even on dark days. I cannot experience joy if I don’t know pain as well. I have learned that through the growth of recovery my life can be rich and fulfilling. I went from being a rebellious, out of control teenager who had no sign of going anywhere in life, to a loving, nurturing mother, whose whole focus was raising two boys in a healthy way to be incredible young men.

www.trishearnest.com

A Recovery Program in Prison Helped Me Change My Perspective and Heal My Past

I started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol at the age of 9. Thinking it was “cool” because it was what all my older friends were doing. I got sick and didn’t drink or get high often, just when I was hanging out with friends that were also doing it. My life was pretty normal aside from my little experiment, until I was 13. My best friends grandfather would invite me to his house to swim, often asking me to show him my private parts while he touched himself. This gave me a false sense of being wanted and feeling attractive so not long after this started I began to hang out with boys more often and became sexually active. This also led to my increased use of alcohol and marijuana.

By the time I was in high school I met who I thought was the love of my life, we had no boundaries and spent every waking minute together. Eventually we were introduced to cocaine at a party and instantly fell in love with it. Coke led to crack, crack led to heroin, heroin led to bath salt, bath salt led to dealing and the entire lifestyle that comes with the “fast life”.

Over the years I’ve been raped numerous times, I’ve sold my body for the next high, I’ve been kidnapped and left for dead, been in beyond abusive relationships, broke the hearts of my family and friends that cared about me, lost custody of my son, and the list continues.

In 2014 I was indicted for conspiracy to possess and deliver alpha PvP aka bath salt and sentenced to 3 years in federal prison. While away I participated in an intense, 9 month treatment call RDAP, and this program helped me change my way of thinking and pin point why I did what I did.

Since being released in October 2016, I have seemed out the Certified recovery specialist training program and after 2 years and still going of being sober, I get to use my story to help other people suffering through addiction and giving them hope that they can change their lives around.

It’s amazing to be where I am in my life right now and I am more than grateful to those that helped me get here.