Jessica Walker was once a registered nurse in Columbus. She had a nice home, a husband and a daughter. She was living the dream.
But in 2007, “my life spun out of control before I could even blink,” Walker said.
Caught stealing hydrocodone and percocet while working as a hospital nurse, she went into a downward spiral that resulted in her losing it all — her marriage, custody of her daughter, her job, her home.
It all slipped away because of drugs, she said.
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Eventually, she ended up serving about half of an eight-year prison sentence on theft and drug-related charges, primarily methamphetamine, before she started a new path determined to be free of addiction.
But it wasn’t easy, and she wants others to understand the struggles of people who want to get clean and sober but face monumental barriers to staying in recovery and avoiding relapse.
Walker, 38, celebrated being four years clean on Jan. 18 but now is dealing with the cost of the decisions that landed her in prison.
“I have a lengthy record that will haunt me the rest of my life,” Walker said. “I served almost three years before my release. I needed this time to think and pull my thoughts together — to realize this isn’t me and this isn’t the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life. As sad as this is, my prison time wasn’t the hardest part of my journey.”
The most difficult part, she said, was starting over with nothing but the clothes on her back and the constant “Catch-22s” that people in recovery face trying to restart their life and find a home and a job.
When in recovery, individuals need a job to get money to get their driver’s license reinstated, and they need a driver’s license to obtain a job.
Without the job, housing is difficult to obtain, Walker said.
Housing complexes she contacted in Columbus would not rent an apartment to her because of her criminal and drug-abuse record.
“Every apartment complex I applied to in town said no,” Walker said. “What do people do if they have nowhere to go? I even wrote letters to rental agencies explaining myself and how long I’d been clean and I was trying to rebuild my life. I didn’t get a call back.”
Many people in recovery for opioid abuse, or other types of drug problems, don’t have the family support or resources to begin building a new life. Without that resource, they revert back to the drug-abuse lifestyle that they know, Walker said.
Walker was released from the Rockville Correctional Facility in Montgomery County last year after completing the CLIFF program. The acronym stands for Clean Lifestyles is Freedom Forever.
“That program changed my life. It’s nine months and it makes you look at the past and examine it,” she said. “I had a lot of guilt. I used people. I stole from people. I walked out on my daughter. The program made me focus on what I had done and look the past in the eye.”
Even while in prison, her family noticed a change in her before her release.
“My mom, she let me come back and live with her in Columbus,” Walker said.
After she ended up filing bankruptcy, her mother paid to help get Walker’s driver’s license reinstated, with the agreement that Walker would pay her back. While on house arrest wearing an ankle bracelet, Walker decided to begin a job search.
She wasn’t having much luck until she met an employee at Ditech Inc. in Edinburgh who told her the company was open to working with people in recovery.
Walker found a manufacturing line job there at $10 an hour and spent six months in the job before being offered a promotion to material planner and team leader after supervisors learned she had a college degree.
She is one of the employees that Tim Dillingham, one of Ditech’s owners, hired as part of its continuing effort to give people in recovery a second chance — an opportunity to have a job and rebuild their lives.
Walker has progressed at the company so far that Dillingham said he no longer considers her a nontraditional hire.
“She’s very smart,” he said.
“These workers, like Jessica, they found a reason to stay here and move forward,” Dillingham said. “I want them to know they are appreciated.”
Walker’s job has led to a new lease on life.
Eyeing the future
Now engaged, she met her husband-to-be at Ditech, where he also works, she said. They have an 8-month-old son.
Since Walker’s return to the workforce, she also has restored trust and her relationships with her 9-year-old daughter and ex-husband, and now has visitation with her daughter each week.
“I’m content where I’m at now, but I now know that recovery has to come first in my life for the rest of my life,” she said. “It has to come even before my family. They know that now, too.”
Even as she has found herself in a more stable life, she worries about all the individuals who are being released from jail or prison who have nowhere to go and no help being offered as they try to begin their recovery outside of incarceration.
“What resources do we have that not only help addicts get clean and sober, but stay clean and sober?” she asked. “I would stay clean for periods of time, even up to 18 months, before I relapsed. Once probation was over or intensive outpatient treatment was done, I would start using again.”
Walker said that without her family’s support, her recovery would not have been possible. And her message to those who are facing recovery is that it is not easy, but it is possible.
She attends Celebrate Recovery meetings and is working through a faith-based recovery book to keep herself on track as she continues to piece her life back together.
Walker eventually would like to try to get her nursing license back and return to that career, but that is sometime in the future, and she is unsure if it can happen.
Walker said her solution came when she decided to approach recovery not because she had to, but because she wanted to.
“No matter what your hopes are for the future, or whatever you go through, you will always find a better place when you are in recovery,” she said. “Everything isn’t always great, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
What: Outpatient or partial hospitalization mental health facility
Address: 720 N. Marr Road, Columbus
Offers: Programs for individuals with mental health and substance-abuse disorders
Information: 812-348-7449 or visit https://centerstone.org/
What: Faith-based 12 Steps and 8 Recovery Principles program to help individuals work through issues with alcohol, drugs, pornography, food addictions, gambling and unhealthy relationships.
9 a.m. Mondays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., coed meeting for adults; 1 hour in length, no child care available.
6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road, Columbus; two specialized groups for men and women, child care available
11 a.m. Wednesdays, women-only group at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., Columbus; no child care available
12:15 p.m. Wednesdays, men-only group at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., Columbus; no child care available
11 a.m. Fridays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., Columbus; coed meeting for adults, about one hour, no child care available.
No registration necessary.
Information: 812-348-6257 or visit cccolumbus.org/communitychurch/celebrate_recovery
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Intensive Outpatient Program
What: Evidence-based 16-week outpatient treatment program for addiction to alcohol, drugs or prescription medication. Includes therapy, recovery, relapse prevention, family education, social support and drug testing, includes group therapy and 12-Step programming. Fees based on ability to pay, has contacts with Community Corrections and county probation department for the Recovery Works program.
Where: 719 Fifth St., Columbus
To learn more: http://stpeterscolumbus.org/ministries/life-works
Note: St. Peter’s also offers Celebrate Recovery sessions from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays;participants do not need to be a member of the church to attend. For more information, visit stpeters-columbus.org.
Free Indeed Addictions Ministry
What: Faith-based addiction ministry offering support group meetings and programming.
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays for food and fellowship in the Who So Ever Will Community Church Fellowship Hall, 623 Eisenhower Drive, Edinburgh
Information: Pastor Lewis Burton, 812-350-7026
To learn more about efforts to fight the opioid crisis in Bartholomew County, visit the website for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County at asapbc.org
Opiates are derived from the poppy plant. Examples of opiates include heroin, morphine and thebaine. Examples of opioids are perscription pain medications Vicodin, Percoset and Oxycontin.
— Provided by Healthy Communities, Columbus Regional Health