Trapped by the grip of 20 years addicted to drugs and alcohol, Tim put a gun in his mouth and tried to think of a reason why he shouldn’t pull the trigger.
“The world would be better off without me in it, I thought,” he shared during a sit-down meeting in Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn’s office Monday. “As an addict, things were bad. My life was bad. I wanted to stop but I couldn’t.”
Being a drug addict, living the life of drug addiction, Tim, whose last name is being withheld in this story, said he broke laws, hurt people, stole money and dealt drugs. He pawned his marital television to Glouster’s Derek M. Gyure, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last August after being convicted on charges related to being the area leader of a prescription pill drug ring.
That’s how Tim got on Blackburn’s radar in early summer 2014. Tim had gone to Sumter, South Carolina that April to enroll in the Any Length recovery program.
Before he enrolled, he borrowed a couple extra thousand dollars from his father, a retired police officer from Illinois, and threw himself one last big weeklong binge.
“I love my dad but that’s what addiction does. You hurt the people you love,” he said.
When Tim heard the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office wanted to talk with him, his first reaction was the desire to flee.
“It sounded crazy to me, to sit around and wait for law enforcement to come from nine hours away to come see me. That can’t end well,” he said.
The staff at Any Length acknowledged that it sounded crazy but told Tim it’s what he had to do. The wait was made worse when Blackburn’s office delayed the visit for a week. But sure enough, 10 days later, Tim was still around at Any Length, waiting for their visit.
“All my experiences told me I’m going to jail,” he said.
And well he could have, Blackburn said, as his office was ready to charge Tim with first-degree felony racketeering. But first they would talk.
Any Length Recovery is a no-nonsense place, but it isn’t a lockdown facility. In fact, the residents are required to work and learn self-sufficiency, Tim said.
The days of leaching off of others were over, he said.
“That’s where drug addiction takes an addict,” Tim said. “It takes you to a place where we’ll let everyone else do everything for us.”
Despite his family wanting him to recover years before, Tim said he hadn’t gone through enough pain.
“To get there you have to go through pain,” Tim said, and for that there is no substitute. “An addict or alcoholic has to go through their own pain.”
And when that pain becomes unbearable, that’s when recovery can begin.
Tim experienced a lot of pain. After growing up in a Chicago suburb, he moved to Athens County in 2003 and by 2004 he had gotten multiple citations for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
He was married in late 2004 but by 2011 his drug and alcohol addiction had undercut that relationship and he was divorced, having traded the couple’s television to Gyure for drugs.
As for the drugs themselves, Tim would do almost anything: opiates, Benzos (benzodiazepine), weed, cocaine, ecstasy and Molly. He would work here and there, but at some point or another he would show up to work messed up and get fired. He turned to selling drugs, and stealing.
In April 2014, Tim’s life was at a low point, the pain had gotten to him.
“I would stick guns my mouth and want to pull the trigger and kill myself because I didn’t see any other solution,” he said. “I don’t know how I lived through that but I did.”
When he entered Any Length Recovery, Tim began to realize that addicts will go to any length to use, and must be willing to go to any length to get sober.
Blackburn said he went to Sumter, South Carolina, to talk to Tim, but what he saw of his recovery convinced him to allow him to continue on that path.
So after their talk, Blackburn told Tim he would be an unindicted co-conspirator in the Glouster drug-ring case – unindicted as long as he stayed in South Carolina and finished his recovery.
“The impossible just became possible,” Tim said. “I thought for sure I was going to jail, and all of the sudden here was this law-enforcement official giving me a chance.”
Blackburn explained his approach.
“I think we have to treat each person and case differently,” Blackburn said. “I decided to give him an opportunity because he was in a position to change his life.”
And that Tim did, graduating from the recovery program and going on to be hired by Any Length himself, where he works today as an outreach coordinator.
Blackburn said in combating the drug epidemic, policy needs to move beyond the war on drugs and drive deeper than “Just say no.”
“If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got,” he said. “We need to have real conversations with kids. We need to have better employment opportunities for folks so they have hope. We need to have better mental-health facilities for those who are in trouble. That’s what we need to be devoting our resources to.”
He said it’s never too late to get help.
“Even if you have to be held accountable for what you’ve done, getting help today is better than getting help tomorrow,” Blackburn said.
To that Tim testified an “Amen.”