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 Reentry 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.