Ripley, TN

Judy: My mother moved us a lot. I was a welfare child. I think a lot of times we moved because of finances. I had a stepdad that drank a lot and beat her and beat us. He would take the money and go get drunk. We wouldn't have rent money so we'd have to move.

I know that I had a lot of traumatic experiences growing up and that's the reason why my memory is so sketchy. I think I blocked a lot of it out. My stepdad and his family was very abusive. Physically, sexually, mentally. It started when I was probably five. It happened with him, three of his brothers and his father.

My older sister has the mentality of a seven or eight year old now and she just turned 46. I remember they would try to go at her and I would try to step in and take her place, so they wouldn't harm her.

BW: Did your mom know what was happening?

Judy: Yeah, she definitely knew.

BW: Did she participate?

Judy: She didn't participate but she definitely didn't stop it. I remember my mother saying, "I don't have to worry about you, because you can take care of yourself." I was seven maybe... I tried to commit suicide when I was eight years old, the first time. I had a nervous breakdown not too long after that. The doctors had her take me to the psychiatrist. Well... you know... you don't tell family secrets, so I only went one time. 

She was mentally abusive to us too, because she didn't know any better. She had a rough life growing up.  Her dad and two stepdads were all very abusive alcoholics. So that's kind of how she grew up. 

BW: Do you resent her?

Judy: I did... I think she done the best that she could at the time. Even if it was bad, she did the best she could do. That's not how she is today. She had a lot of fear. She didn't have any coping skills. She didn't know because she was never taught. 

BW: How long did the abuse last?

Judy: Until I moved here when I was 12.

BW: What was life like here?

Judy: I hated it because it wasn't Chicago. I was always being picked on. I had to fight because I was an outsider. 

I got pregnant at 14 and had a baby at 15. Got married at 16 and was getting divorced at 19.  I had already seen so much and done so much that I wasn't scared about raising a child. The thing that got me the most is that my mother was happy that she was gonna be a grandmother. 

BW: What was your drug of choice?

Judy: Any ole more and whatever you got [Laugh]. Speed was a big thing. I was a cooker. Now, my first drug of choice was alcohol. It was always accessible. I took  my first drink probably around five. I remember getting my stepdad's beer and going behind the couch one time. He pulled me out and beat me. I always heard that insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I didn't care. 

I was still beating myself with a belt when I was 19, because that's what I knew. I self mutilated as a child, pulled my hair out. I was very bulimic. I had a lot of mental issues. I mean bad. 

BW: Do you know why you hurt yourself?

Judy: Because it's better to feel that pain than the pain that's on the inside. It's what I was used to. I was used to being pulled by the hair and being thrown around and being hit with belt buckles and extension cords. I think that's why... I used really hard and I used a lot for a long time. I was shooting almost a gram of dope at a time. Me and my ex-husband could go through 8 cases of beer from Friday night until Sunday morning.

BW: Damn. What brought you into the  [12 step] program?

Judy: Charges  [Laugh]. I was always in trouble. The last time I went before the misdemeanor judge he said, "If you come before me one more time, I'm gonna see that you spend the rest of your life in prison." Then I caught felony charges... My minimum sentence would have been 50 years.

BW: How did you get out of it?

Judy: Drug court.

BW: I hear drug court is tough. How'd you get through that?

Judy: One day at a time. A lot of prayer, a lot of doing something different. But drug court's not going to stop you unless you want to quit.

Prison alternatives, like drug courts, produce far better results for the addict, their families, and society

  • Drug Courts significantly reduce crime as much as 45 percent more than other sentencing options.
  • For every $1.00 invested in Drug Court, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone.
  • Drug Courts are six times more likely to keep offenders in treatment long enough for them to get better.
  • Family re-unification rates are 50% higher for Family Drug Court participants.


I was in treatment and it was at dinner time. We were all sitting in the dining hall and it was my birthday. They brought me a cake out. I was looking around the room and I said what the hell am I doing here? I'm 40. I should have some stuff. I should have cars. I should have a house. I realized I had to do something different.

They kept telling me how great it could be in recovery. I thought that it was bullshit. My whole life I'd always heard, once an addict, always an addict. In my mind I was never gonna get any better. Never... I wanted things to get better, but I never knew I could live life without using dope, because I'm an addict. 

I've been off of drug court for two years now and I just celebrated five years clean. 

BW: You had a lot of stuff happen when you were a kid. How did you heal?

Judy: I've had to grieve a lot of stuff. There's a lot of things I still haven't finished grieving. There's still a little girl in there that is lost. I don't remember ever, ever being happy. Ever.  Through the step work, I was able to learn something different.

When I was in treatment I did my fourth and fifth step with the woman who would become my sponsor. I was sitting there telling her all of this stuff and she was crying and I said, "What the hell are you crying about?" She said, "I'm crying for you." and that touched me, because nobody had ever cried for me.

When I got in treatment they said, "if you want to get better, you're gonna have to feel." My first three years in recovery was hell. I'm very proud of where I've come from. I'm grateful. If I had not learned to be grateful for even the bad things, I probably would have already used again.