By AMANDA BEAM
CLARK COUNTY —
OVERLINE: LIFE AFTER PRISON
Editor’s note: By request, the News and Tribune has agreed to withhold publishing the full name of the subject of this story.
While curled in a corner of her solitary jail cell three years ago, 26-year-old Meghan found herself face to face with certain truths. Drugs had taken over her life. The retching and shaking she was experiencing from withdraw gave testimony to their powerful hold.
So did the fact that she was behind bars in the first place.
Along with her boyfriend, the Clark County native had held up and robbed three pharmacies in Central Indiana to sustain her hefty hydrocodone addiction. But at that moment in her cell, all she was trying to do was survive the cold-turkey detox from her $1,000-a-day drug habit.
Clarity of mind can be a curse and a blessing. After a while, the sickness stopped and the gravity of her situation began to seep in. Meghan had confessed all her crimes to the arresting officer. There was no going back, not that she wanted to return to that path anyway. For more than 30 months, she served time mostly at the state’s all female prison in Rockville where a program helped turn her life around.
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Looking at Meghan’s high school yearbook photo, you wouldn’t peg her as a future convicted felon. She marched in the band and made good grades. In college, she pursued a nursing career.
Before long, the girl that had always done everything right fell into the wrong crowd. Getting married at 19 to a recreational drug user didn’t help matters either. Her husband introduced her to hydrocodone. What at first was seen as some weekend fun gradually grew into a daily necessity.
“Over a couple of years, I went from being this straight-A student on a path to success to being a drug addict, a drug dealer,” Meghan said. “I started shooting up and things just escalated. My disease took over to where I couldn’t focus on anything other than the drugs.”
Consequences of her growing addition quickened. After dropping out of college, her marriage began to fall apart. Further and further down the rabbit hole she fell until little of her old life remained.
Too proud to return to her parents’ house, she lived in her car for a month while she figured out what to do. With no job, no possessions and no money, but still in need of a fix, she decided to move in with her drug dealer and began to sell drugs on her own.
“I’ve always said I never sold myself for drugs, but in a way I did,” Meghan said. “I guess that’s when things started to really spiral out of control.”
Trouble has a way of finding people who are already in difficult circumstances. Police busted Meghan’s apartment with a search warrant, causing her to flush $20,000 worth of product she had on loan from a bigger supplier down the drain. Drug dealers really have issues about not getting paid. So much so, this one threatened the couple with injury if the money wasn’t returned. A few days later, they went on the run from both the law and their supplier.
“That’s where we came into a big problem because both of us had such a habit and a dependency on this drug that we no longer had access. Our supplier wasn’t going to supply it to us. So we had to start trying to find new people and new ways,” Meghan said. “That’s when we turned to crime.”
First, the couple began stealing things and cashing them in for any drug they could get their hands on. Soon, they heard about the lucrativeness of robbing pharmacies and decided to give it a shot.
Her boyfriend started off their spree, netting more than 700 oxycodone pills. Every day from sun up to sun down, her life was lived solely for the drugs. Nothing else mattered. And with an unlimited supply, her addiction only worsened.
“Or so we thought it was endless, but guess what. It ran out. So once it runs out, it’s time to do it again. And this time, it’s my turn,” she said. “So roles are reversed. He’s going to drive the car. I’m going to go in. Looking back, I realized this man did not love me at all because if he did, he would have never put me in that situation.”
Using an airsoft gun, Meghan did her part and initiated the holdup. Again, the couple got away. Success made them hungrier and for several more robberies, the cycle continued. By now, Meghan began to feel untouchable. Plans including different escape routes to the local interstate were methodically made. She also said she became greedy with the ease of it all.
During her final heist, all these emotions and the years of substance abuse came in to play. Like always, Meghan pulled out an airsoft gun and demanded drugs from a pharmacy tech. But this time, the person responded back with words that resonated.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Honey, I don’t know what you’re going through but I don’t think you want to do this right now. Am I right? You don’t want to do this,’” Meghan said. “I put my hands on the top of my head, I shook my head at her and I turned around and walked out.”
Moments later, the police pulled over her car based on a description from the pharmacy employee. Instead of implicating her boyfriend, she took full blame for the crimes. Eight months later, after taking a plea deal, she found herself in a state women’s penitentiary.
JAIL AND BEING SET FREE
A common misperception exists that jail is easier than prison. Meghan learned quickly the advantages of being sent to Rockville. Here, mandated work took up her time. A library and exercise room was available. And best of all, the state provided a substance abuse treatment program for those who qualified.
Luckily Meghan did. Soon, she lived in a separate facility nearby with the other women enrolled in the Clean Living is Freedom Forever (CLIFF) program. At first, she joined the program only because it reduced her incarceration time — getting her out of prison sooner. But she quickly began to realize the benefits. At the completion of the program, she didn’t want to leave. For the remainder of her sentence, she became a mentor and counselor to the other women just beginning their treatment journey.
“I fully say it was the best thing that ever happened to me, getting sent to prison, getting into that program,” Meghan said. “I just really blossomed. I found this spark all of the sudden where I have these goals. I have these dreams that I want to do with my life.
“I enjoyed helping people and I enjoyed being that person. And for once I found this happiness and this peace that I had forgotten about.”
Upon her release from prison in November, Meghan returned to her parents’ Clark County home. Before anything else, she remembered that the program taught the importance of a support network. She immediately began to attend local alcoholics anonymous meetings.
Everything else has slowly been getting in order. Although it wasn’t easy, she eventually found a job. Starting in the fall, she’ll return to college with plans of becoming a substance abuse counselor and helping children whose parents are incarcerated for drug-related crimes. At times, Meghan visits schools with the DARE program and teaches students about drug abuse.
Life is different now. Each night, she deposits her tips money that she’s earned into the bank so she won’t have the temptation of cash on hand. People at time treat her differently if they know her past. But all and all, she said she wouldn’t trade what has happened to her.
“I truly believe I have been put through this for a reason and I have a story that can help somebody. I want people to see that you can come out on the other side and that it is possible,” Meghan said. “You can turn your life around. You have to want to make that choice.”