Stories of Reentry: Heather Schimanski-Lee

15 years ago, Heather Schimanski-Lee did not have a very good relationship with the Juneau Police Department. Today she is the Juneau Police Department’s first Re-Entry Hero to be nominated by one of the officers who used to take enforcement action against Heather. Officer Kevin Fermin was on light-duty at the time of this interview, having been injured arresting a suspect. Officer Fermin provided Heather with her JPD challenge coin and could not suppress a spontaneous hug because he is so proud of how far Heather has come.

 

Heather manages seven of Juneau’s coffee shops and is a world away from the former drug addict and criminal she was in the 1990s and 2000s. As of this posting, she is just two weeks away from eight years of sobriety. Her probation officer has gone from someone supervising Heather to attending Heather’s wedding as a guest.

 

Heather did not feel like she fit in with other kids when she was in school. She was in junior high when she found acceptance with hard- partying high school age kids. After being in and out of Juneau’s

 

juvenile facilities it looked like Heather would be fine once she made it to her late teens.

 

That positive time did not last very long. Heather found cocaine and toxic, abusive relationships. She started a downhill spiral where she lost her job, home, and two children. Heather went into treatment six times but did not stay sober.

 

The lowest part of Heather’s life had her living on the streets of Seattle and her mother thought she was dead. Once Heather was arrested in Seattle she ended up being sent back to Alaska and to Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. Heather remained defiant about addressing her problems. Heather says her mind and body were so damaged by drugs, it took six months of prison sobriety before she could even think clearly.

 

Once the fog did clear, Heather embraced treatment at Hiland Mountain, and in a big way. She became a leader in her treatment program and very hard-core with others who had excuses and lived in denial. She needed a strong commitment because coming back to Juneau, with all her old associations and triggers, was a challenge.

Heather used church and 12 step supports to stay on track. She also decided to go a year without a relationship to make sure she stayed focused on her sobriety.

 

Heather had overcome so much to re-enter the community she expected life without substance abuse would somehow be easy. What she found is she now had the same issues to handle as everyone else. Heather needed to work hard to have a good marriage, relate to her children, and to develop professionally. Heather sees herself as a   work in progress. JPD couldn’t be prouder of how far she has come already and we look forward to her being a productive member of the community for a long time.

Stories of Reentry: Michael VanLinden

Michael VanLinden is the Juneau Police Department’s August, 2016 Re-Entry Hero. He has decided to make supporting recovery from addiction not only a personal goal, but his new profession. VanLinden has recently taken a job with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). He will help provide alcohol screening, referral services, and compliance monitoring for the court.

 

VanLinden will also help NCADD develop a group of ‘Recovery Coaches’ who can respond to speak with people wanting assistance to stop abusing substances. VanLinden is very focused on his future and when he met with a JPD officer to do this interview, he did not want to talk much about his past. VanLinden thinks the darkness of an addict’s life story can distract people from the contributions that person can make in the present and future. We ultimately settled on the past being an important part of the story, but certainly not the whole, or most important part, of the account we would be sharing.

 

VanLinden grew up as the youngest of six children of divorced parents. He ran the streets of Chicago mostly unattended and started smoking cigarettes at 10 years old. He quickly graduated to alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, and meth. He did not finish high school and was sleeping on friend’s couches when he was in his late teens.

 

VanLinden wanted a new life and knew the drugs were a dead end so he tried what addicts sometimes call ‘Geographic Treatment’ by moving to Alaska when he was 20 years old. VanLinden had a job on a fishing boat. He soon learned that there is a hard-drinking element to the fishing culture and he found himself spending a lot of time in bars. The DWIs started to rack up, first one in Dutch Harbor, then one in Juneau.

 

Van Linden went to college in Indiana. He met his wife and became a father. Van Linden thought it was time to go back to Alaska and fishing. Once he returned to Juneau, he got his third DWI in 10 years. He was facing a felony. That arrest did scare him into sobriety for a couple of weeks, but it didn’t last.

 

VanLinden was assigned to Juneau Therapeutic Court, a court designed for addicts. VanLinden stayed away from alcohol but was using marijuana heavy, a quarter ounce a day. That is enough marijuana to fill about a third of a plastic sandwich bag. He read a book about beating drug tests. He drank huge amounts of water when he would receive notice to come in for a drug test. VanLinden lasted a month before he was caught violating his Therapeutic Court conditions. He was arrested in the courtroom and taken to jail.

 

VanLinden’s wife brought his child to prison. His five-year-old son saw him in an orange jumpsuit. What was even more compelling was what his wife said and he knew she meant it. She was done with being married to an addict. She was going to take their son and move back to Indiana.

 

Jail gave VanLinden 14 days off drugs. He did intensive outpatient for another 30 days then entered Rainforest knowing that this was his last chance to keep his family together. VanLinden thinks sobriety before treatment is what allowed him to think with a non-addicted brain. He was able to think about being a good Dad and a good husband.

 

Van Linden came out of treatment and cut ties with people who use substances. He got a job but couldn’t make nearly the money he used to make. There were some hard financial times. Still, he took comfort in seeing his son develop through sober eyes instead of avoiding the boy and smoking marijuana, which was his prior habit.

 

Now it is part of Van Linden’s new profession to help organize, train, and deploy volunteers willing to assist others in recovery. JPD has partnered with NCADD to use recovery coaches in the future. The need is overwhelming. Five days ago a woman addicted to meth asked a JPD officer if she could have help with recovery. The recovery coach system is not in place yet so the JPD officer had no place to take the woman and no one to call. She had to walk away with no choice but to do the best she could on her own, likely to continue to use and stealing to support the use. JPD is counting on VanLinden to help us provide options for those who want to quit drugs.

 

For more information on becoming a recovery coach or requesting the assistance of a coach when one is available, please call NCADD at 463-3755.

Stories of Reentry: Karmen Moreno

Karmen Moreno McVey is the Juneau Police Department’s Re-Entry Hero for July, 2016. This new program is a way for JPD to acknowledge and show appreciation for those Juneau residents who went to prison and are now living productive, healthy lives. Karmen has come a long way. We were impressed, we think you will be too.

 

At the height of Karmen’s drug abuse, she was injecting drugs 30 to 40 times a day. More than once an hour she would push a needle into her body. That habit was expensive and she had to steal $200 to $1200 a day just to fund her drug addiction.

 

Karmen is now 40 years old and has used drugs most of her life, starting with marijuana when she was 7 years old. She used cocaine then went hard into alcohol. The alcohol ruined her hip joints by the time she was 26. That medical development turned out to give her almost unlimited access to oxycodone, hundreds upon hundreds of pills, increasing in potency, until her hips were replaced. Karmen wasn’t done yet, and began shooting heroin and meth together.

 

Even going to prison for selling drugs did not initially stop Karmen’s drug use. Drugs do get smuggled into prison and she was able to continue using. It wasn’t until Karmen ended up at Highland Mountain Correctional Center near Anchorage, serving three years, and on the brink of losing her home, her son, and facing parents who were finally done with enabling and ready to cut her off that Karmen decided she had to stop using. There was a residential program for

 

Karmen, in prison, but she says the program wasn’t the key. What got Karmen’s attention was that if she kept using drugs, she was going to be alone and homeless, living on the streets.

 

Karmen has six years off drugs. She has two years off alcohol, having relapsed while on probation. Her probation officer and family got her back on track without her going back to prison and she has been completely clean for two years. Karmen works for the Department of Corrections now, the same agency that incarcerated her. She does limited bookkeeping, earning more trust as time passes and she proves herself.

 

During Karmen’s interview at JPD, she got a phone call from her husband. He wanted to know where the shovel was because he wanted to dig up one of their bleeding heart plants to give to a friend. It was a slice of suburban normalcy inserted into a story of a life of crime, drug use, and manipulating people. Karmen works every day to keep getting phone calls about domestic chores and prevent herself from cycling back to her past life. She attends a support group meeting every morning with a group of older former addicts who are committed to their sobriety. Karmen doesn’t volunteer to help people in recovery because she wants a hard boundary between her current life and her old life.

 

There were some profound and touching moments during Karmen’s interview. First, Karmen believes that anyone can look at his or her friends and see his or her future. That is why she encourages people leaving jail to completely cut off people they know from using and from jail. They should not even be Facebook friends according to Karmen. There was an emotional moment when Karmen received her JPD coin as an acknowledgment of her accomplishments.   She took her two sobriety coins and slipped them into the sleeve with the JPD coin, an honor that had a visible impact on the JPD employees in the room. One of the photos accompanying this story was taken just a minute later and has Karmen showing all her coins. The black and white photo is an early booking photo. The picture with the fish shows Karmen’s life as it is now.