I met with Mandee to talk about her son who had recently been arrested for charges stemming from an addiction to opiates. 

Photo taken by Mandee of Kel to show him what he looked like when he was using.

Photo taken by Mandee of Kel to show him what he looked like when he was using.

Mandee: Kel was very close with his Papa. My dad died from COPD and for the last year of his life he lived with us. Looking back it was probably not the best thing for Kel. That's how he remembers my dad now and not all the awesome things that they used to do together. They were really close. He now remembers having to take care of him when I was at work. Having to put up with him in the middle of the night when he woke up. That year was so pivotal because of my father's death and because of the in home hospice. Kel was made responsible for my dad getting his pills during the day and that's when he first started using.

BW: Was he taking your dad's pills?

Mandee: Yes, he was taking my dad's pills. My dad wasn't all there so he was able to take a pill here and a pill there without my dad realizing it. He was 16 at the time and doing online school.

I think it was a responsibility I should not have put on him. Just too much. He had to sit and watch his grandfather die for a year. Somebody who had been his best friend. I think he saw what the pills did to my dad, the Oxycodone and the Oxycontin, and said God that would be amazing. Can I get some relief from this everyday? Let me be as high as he is and maybe I can deal with this a little better and that's where it started. 

He had access to pills for a while so he had no need for street drugs. It wasn't until my father passed away and all the pills went away. It was probably 6 months after that when I found out he was doing heroin. It came to me via rumor. One of his friends told me. Because one of his friends did heroin. He used to say how disgusting it was and how he would never ever put something in his arm like that.  

BW: How old is Kel now?

Mandee: He's 19. He'll be 20 in December. He got locked up last July. It was 4th of July weekend. He had cocaine on him that time. He got caught for possession with intent to distribute. He got arrested in Dekalb County. Then they transferred him to Coweta for violation of probation. He was in Coweta for 3 weeks before we got them to do a conditional release. He had to go straight to rehab. It took 3 weeks to find a rehab that would take him. 

I called them everyday for two straight weeks. Eventually they had an open bed. They released Kel and I took him straight down there. He was there from October until January. He was supposed to be there until April to finish out what the court had ordered him to finish. 

The first week of January he started school at West GA Tech down in Lagrange. He'd only been in rehab for 2-3 months at that point and it was just too soon to give him the freedom to go out and make his own decisions again. He met somebody at school and started using again and by the 25th of January he came back to the rehab from school and the guy at the rehab knew he was messed up. He said he was going to drug test him. Kel said that there was no point and packed a backpack and left. Just walked out that night. We begged him to go back. The rehab said they would take him back and he wouldn't go back. He was afraid of going to jail. 

He wouldn't talk to me at all. When he uses he's ashamed and I'm the last person he talks to. The night he got arrested I messaged him. He told me that he was sleeping in a tent. I had a weird feeling around 5 A.M. and I got up and checked my phone. I saw I had missed like 4 phone calls from a local number at 2 in the morning. Before I even checked the voicemail I knew he'd been locked up. 

Apparently the investigator had been working this case since Easter. There had been multiple home break-ins and multiple auto break-ins in kind of the same area. One of the girls who ran with Kel got arrested and told the investigator everybody else's names. He knew where Kel was gonna be and put a sting together. The initial charge was possession of heroin. 

Once he had him, he was able to question him about all this other stuff. Kel came clean about all of it. He was done. The investigator said that they sat together for 3 days because he just kept talking. Told him about stuff that the investigator didn't even know about. 

BW: Did they give him a break at all?

Mandee: I mean... not yet. We're still waiting. But it is noted that he's the only one that cooperated with the investigation and the investigator told me that he would make sure the judge knew that Kel was the only one that helped and from his point of view was ready for help. 

BW: Did he have a lawyer?

Mandee: No, he didn't even ask for one. I think he was just rock bottom at that point. He'd been living in a tent and stealing from Walmart and people he knew and breaking into cars and houses.

He detoxed in jail. They gave him some type of medication to help just to help with the jitters. It was bad. He went through DT's for about 2 weeks. He couldn't sleep at all.

He's got 6 felonies. He's got 1 charge for possession of heroin, 2 burglaries, and those are violent felonies because they were forced entry, and he has 3 entering autos and he has violation of probation.

BW: Do you know how much time he's looking at? 

Mandee: [Deep sigh] From what I understand, both violent felonies are 10 years each. 

BW: Were they considered violent because he broke in or because he was armed?

Mandee: Because he broke in. He wasn't armed. 

BW: What was he like as a kid?

Mandee: He was a straight A student until 6th grade. He's got the biggest heart. He was always bigger than the other kids in his class and never a bully. He was always the one to take up for the kids [who got picked on].

When he was still seeing his dad, we would meet half way at the Varsity. We would go up there on Saturday mornings around the time homeless people would start waking up, looking in the trashcans for food. Kel always wanted to give them money and food. On Sunday we would stop by Arby's and get a bunch of $1 roast beef sandwiches so we could go give them out. He started bringing cases of bottled water in the summer. He would handout bottles of water. We brought blankets in the winter time because he was afraid that they were all gonna freeze to death. This is a 12 year old kid. He was just the kindest person. 

BW: You know, those are the kind of people who do the most good if they get sober. The ones with the big hearts tend to get them broken the worst. The pain cuts deep, so we checkout. 

What are your hopes for him in 5 years?

Mandee: That he's clean and strong enough to be able to be a productive member of society. He wants to weld. He wants to be a welder because he's super artsy too. When he started school he would call me and say, "This is amazing! I did this and I did that!" He would tell me about the lines that he was doing, "My instructor says [my welding is] really good and that it's like I have done this before!" 

What if the police existed to help addicts rather than punish them? The police chief in Gloucester, MA is doing just that. Not only is this the kinder, more compassionate approach, it's also the most effective and fiscally responsible approach. Treatment delivered in the community is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent drug related crimes and costs approximately $20,000 less than incarceration per person per year. A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community yields over $18 in cost savings related to crime. In comparison, prisons only yield $.37 in public safety benefit per dollar spent. 


"I'm not arguing that crimes like robbery and burglary shouldn't have consequences. They should.  I just think that the consequences should be educational and allow for redemption. Data shows us that the criminal justice system is not the best way to impose these consequences."

"Teens that were incarcerated were three times more likely to be incarcerated as adults compared to those not incarcerated for similar offenses.  Being locked up hadn't deterred them. rather it had forced them to spend time with criminals and possibly taught them more about how to commit different types of crime and ultimately set them up to be re-incarcerated. "

- Excerpts from High Price by Dr. Carl Hart