Patrick B. McGuigan
The largest graduating class ever for the Women in Recovery (WIR) program held a joyful commencement ceremony in the state Capitol Blue Room this morning (Wednesday, April 18). The 18 women heard from state political leaders and from two of the program’s coordinators, but the real stars of the event were the enthusiastic graduates themselves, including three who shared their stories.
Melissa Martin was the first of the trio of WIR graduates to talk. She called the graduation a “memorable day” in the lives of each of the women. Martin recalled that in August of 2010, “I was arrested for attempting to manufacture meth, child endangerment and possession of a controlled substance.”
Martin was, she said, fortunate to be diverted out of incarceration, and given the option of entering Women in Recovery, a project of Family & Children’s Services and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Tulsa organizations who sponsor WIR.
Martin described herself as “a changed woman. At the age of 28, I finally have my license and am now driving legally. I have now opened a bank account, have earned my GED diploma and am working two jobs. All of this did not matter to me in my thirteen years of addiction but, now means the world to me.”
Christy Satterwhite, another graduate, had one of the day’s most searing narratives. She told a spellbound full house in the historic venue, “I am 29 years old and I was an opiate and methamphetamine addict for 5 years. My addiction started out by taking opiates after I had my appendix removed. I liked how they made me feel and started finding every reason I could to get more from my doctor.
“At this time in my life I was a Certified Medication Aide in a nursing home so if I couldn’t get them from my doctor I would steal them from the medication carts at work. When I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter I went through rehab and was clean for the rest of my pregnancy and for 1 month after my daughter was born.”
But then, “my husband introduced me to crystal meth and I liked it. I felt that it made me a better mother to my two children and a better wife because I now had more hours in the day to get everything done that I needed to do.
“Little did I know that I was destroying myself and everything around me. After 2 months of using I had asked my dad to take my children, separated from my husband, and had started hanging around with people that knew how to make meth only so I could learn how to do it and support my own habit.
“Within the next year I had met a new guy and moved into an apartment with him and was working around the clock to keep up with my habit. It felt like I was a prisoner in my own home at times.
“On September 2, 2010, Tulsa police department knocked on my door to serve me with an eviction notice and found the meth lab in my apartment. I stayed in David L. Moss [a Tulsa County criminal justice holding facility] for 2 weeks until I was bonded out and while out on bond I still continued to use. I went back to jail on November 17, because my bond had been revoked due to non-payment. This time I didn’t get back out.”
She believes her break, positively speaking, came when “Women in Recovery came to my rescue and I was accepted into the program on February 22, 2011. This program has changed my life.
“Today I think things out and don’t act on impulse. I make sure that my needs are met before I meet the needs of someone else. I have healthy boundaries with all my friends and family. My children and I are able to spend quality time together today and I can actually be the mother that they need me to be.
“Over the last 14 months, Women in Recovery has helped me with getting assistance from Eastern Oklahoma Donated Dental Services for the beautiful smile I have today.”
Satterwhite went on to than various organizations WIR arranged to assist her: “Mental Health Association of Tulsa for helping me with housing until I was able to move home. Vocational Rehab for providing me with bus passes, clothing assistance for work, car repairs, and doctor’s appointments for annual exam and eye care. Today my life is structured; I am responsible, honest, and trustworthy.
“I don’t worry about who is knocking on my front door. I can laugh and cry and truly feel my feelings. I no longer feel the need to stuff them or try to hide how I feel. Today I have real friends that love me for me, not for what I have and my family can count on me for anything.”
Satterwhite described herself as “happy with who I am today -- which she described as “the most important thing of all.”
WIR ceremonies are always leavened with passion and emotion. While patterns of life are often similar among the women who enter and complete the program, each woman’s personal narrative is distinctive and reflective of their individuality.
Brooke Larson, another graduate, spoke near the end of the program, after attendees had heard from Speaker of the House Kris Steele. She spoke directly to the Shawnee Republican, telling him she and fellow graduates, “can’t thank you enough for all you do to make sure we get a second chance at life.”
Larson is 32, and, she said, “a mother of four wonderful children. My story is very much like that of other addicts, full of tragedy and trauma leading to addiction, but mine along with my fellow graduates, ends in joy and with triumph.
“I had a ‘normal’ life, or so I thought. I graduated from high school with honors, went on to college on full scholarship, got married, and was a stay-at-home mom of our two children. That was the normal part. After almost 8 years of marriage, I discovered that my beloved husband was a drug addict.
“Never having known anything about addiction, I was completely caught off guard and had no idea what to do. I urged him to go into rehab, but he always refused.
“The day before Thanksgiving, after 8 1⁄2 years of marriage, my husband died of an overdose. And that is where my story really begins.
“I remarried a man who seemed to be a wonderful step-dad to my children and a loving husband to me, but after being married for 6 months, he began abusing me. After two years of marriage, two babies, and countless hospital trips, stitches, and broken bones, he was incarcerated for Aggravated Domestic Assault and Battery.
“Unfortunately, during this time I had begun to use drugs with him to cope with the loss of my first husband and the abuse of my second. By the time he went to prison, I was a drug addict and had also become a drug dealer alongside him.
“A year later, I too went to prison, but mine was for Drug Trafficking. I was doing a 10-year sentence for Drug Trafficking, a 5-year sentence for Distribution, and had just completed an 8-month federal sentence when I requested a year judicial review, and when my judge granted the review and agreed to look at my case, he referred me to Women in Recovery for an evaluation.
“After I was interviewed and it was determined that I met the criteria, Judge [Kurt G.] Glassco allowed Women in Recovery to take me into their program. From start to finish, I did 16 months in the custody of Department of Corrections before Women in Recovery accepted me and began to help me change my life.
“I have learned so many wonderful, vital tools that I will use forever. I know how to put boundaries in place, and how to enforce them without feeling guilty. I have learned a plethora of valuable parenting skills and am a far better mother now than ever.
“I have gained insight into myself and why I do things the way I do, and have become empowered to make decisions based on what is safe and healthy for my children and me. And I am equipped to share with my children all the information I have gained, so that hopefully they can learn to make healthy decisions now, rather than have to experience the things that I have.”
Other speakers a the event included Governor Mary Fallin and Speaker Steele, advocates of increased use of supervised alternatives to incarceration, and WIR administrators Amy Santee and Mimi Tarrasch.
Note: Aran Coleman provided the graduation photograph accompanying this story.