Life-altering events can happen in an instant. Michalle Sanderson can attest to that.
It was when a radiator erupted in her face 22 years ago this past Father’s Day that sent her to the emergency room. It was there when she took the pain killer Lortab.
“I knew that minute I was hooked,” Sanderson said.
And while the journey from that time to now spanned more than two decades, there were other moments over that time frame she can point to that sent her path in a different direction. Those eventually resulted in the positive outcome she and her family experienced this past Friday when Sanderson graduated from the 52nd Judicial Circuit Specialty Drug Court.
Sanderson’s graduation was held virtually over a teleconference video with Graves County Circuit County Judge Tim Stark, who presides over the Specialty Court, and the program’s coordinators and supervisors lauding her work to achieve this milestone.
Started in Graves County 13 years ago, Specialty Courts offer those eligible an alternative to jail time in order to complete a substance abuse program and establish a more productive life. That, Sanderson said, was what she needed and wanted.
Sitting outside the Graves County Courthouse, she admitted she likely wouldn’t be at that spot in her life had it not been for Drug Court.
“Drug Court holds you accountable long enough for you to get the right mindset to be able to make the right choices,” she said. “I knew I needed Drug Court and not just a probation officer.”
Sanderson shared how she had been to rehabilitation twice after her initial addiction to painkillers. She was convicted of 21 counts of identity theft for using her husband’s checking account to buy groceries and sold a gun she bought him to also pay bills, she said. After that, she went to rehab three more times.
On probation, she fled law enforcement, was caught and spent time in jail. After shock probation and living in a women’s halfway home for seven months, she relapsed, absconded again and was arrested and spent a month in jail before her husband bonded her out.
After realizing the cycle she was in, Sanderson went to see Dr. Jeff Carrico, who put her on Naltrexone, a medication to prevent drug and alcohol relapses, and then asked to be part of the Drug Court program.
“I told my husband before I went before the judge, I said I’m going to try to get Drug Court because either they let me out or put me in jail. If he lets me out, I’ll be right back in here with something else added to it,” she recalled.
But the prospect still frightened her.
“I’d always heard Drug Court was impossible; that they set you up to fail. They didn’t want you to succeed. They just wanted to lock you back up,” she said. “Then I went before (Judge Stark) and he wasn’t that bad. (Program Supervisor Kim Brand and Recovery Coordinator Jeanie Carson), I love to death. They’re down to earth, relatable, normal people.”
She began to take more and more responsibility for herself. In order to make sure she didn’t miss calling in to see if she needed to submit to a drug test, she set seven alarms on her phone. She also avoided places, like bars, for the temptations they held.
“They showed me how to play the tape all the way through. (Carson) would give a scenario (and) pose a question to you. You understand the consequences. I’ll break into the pharmacy and I’ll go to jail later. Nah,” Sanderson explained. “You truly think about it and you break into the pharmacy, you’ll go to jail. I won’t get to see my kids, don’t get to see my husband, my father-in-law passed away and I wouldn’t get to go to his funeral. You think about everything involved in it, just not your part of it.”
Over time, her fears began to subside with encouragement from within the program.
“I was talking about one of my kids and I said something like it was because I was an addict. (Stark) said, ‘I know you were that, but I don’t see that in you anymore,’ ” she recalled. “When he said that, I thought if he can see it, then I can do it.”
That respect and the respect she earned from others, including her mother-in-law and late father-in-law spurred her on to another point in time — the present — where she feels content with the normalcy of having a job, a paycheck, bills and responsibilities.
“I’m finally happy. I’m content with my life. I don’t want anything to change,” she said. “It’s a good place where I’m at.”
With her certificate of completing the program and plaque, which she was able to pick up after the video graduation, Sanderson offered encouragement to anyone else who may have an opportunity to make a life-altering decision through the Drug Court program.
“If they have any doubts they can’t do it on their own, they need to give Drug Court a shot,” she said. “They want you to be happy with your life. They really want to help you.”