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.