She’d always dreamed of being a nurse. Amanda Howard grew up in Town Creek, graduating from Hazlewood High in 2001. Afterward, she pursued her dream, earning herself a degree in Surgical Technology from Calhoun Community College in 2009.
She worked at a local hospital, now the mother of four young children, she was living her dream until she had to have surgery. That’s when her world, like so many other people before and after her, begin to shift and slide into addiction to prescription pain medication.
She managed to hide her addiction for 10 years, but as time went on her habit started to take over her life. She began to buy street drugs and stole from her employer. She lost her children, her job, and became estranged from her family.
Amanda wound up in jail more times than she likes to remember. But it was like falling off of a cliff, there didn’t seem to be any way to stop the freefall. Oh, she tried, she really did, sometimes on her own, sometimes with the assistance of a jail sentence.
It was while she was in jail that she went through detox the first time. “It was horrible,” Amanda recalls, shuttering. “There was little sympathy from the medical staff or the police officers. “They kind of looked at it as if, okay, I’d done this to myself and I could fend for myself, but there was so much compassion and kindness from the other inmates. They really showed me how to combat the sweats, fever, vomiting and the shakes. They had been there and they knew what I was going through.”
She was often in Judge Mark Craig’s court on both criminal and custody issues. He recalls her as being one of the most desperate people he’d ever seen. “People get so addicted to drugs that they lose their vitality, their zest for life, that’s how I remember Amanda,” he said recently.
Her attorney over the course of her addiction was and still is, Paula Bassham. “I really felt bad for her,” Bassham says. “She was addicted to opoids, she needed help, not jail.”
But, there was just nowhere in Lawrence County to send her for rehab. Even when Amanda realized she needed help and was ready to clean up her act, there was nowhere she could go and be near her children. Still, she tried rehab several times, and finally she found a program that worked, for a while, anyway. “I was there for 28 days and it got me sober for the first time in a long while.”
It lasted a year. “There was no good recovery place in Lawrence County at that time,” she explained. It seemed inevitable that she would die if she didn’t do something and quickly.
When Amanda fell off the wagon, she hit hard. It wasn’t long until she wound up in Judge Craig’s courtroom yet again. This time it was a bit more severe than her previous appearances. She was charged with conspiracy to sell drugs. If convicted she would serve some serious time.
It was during this point in her life that things seemed the most bleak. She overdosed and wound up in the Intensive Care Unit. “It was really bad for several days, but at the end, it was a wake-up call for me,” she said.
She missed her kids. She had no job, and while doing a stint in jail she missed the birth of her first niece.
At a court appearance she sat in silence as she heard Judge Craig sternly say, “You can go to prison or you can go into treatment.”
“OK,” she told him, “I’ll try one more time.”
As fate would have it, or maybe it was divine intervention, she turned around in the courtroom and there sat one of her old buddies from the drug days. “She looked so good that I almost didn’t recognize her,” Amanda laughed.
When Amanda approached her to ask what her secret to looking so young, the friend told her to try the Decatur Dream Center, “And it saved my life,” said Amanda emphatically.
Within a week Amanda was picked up by the Dream Center director and got a spot in their program.
Amanda told Paula, “I was apprehensive about it, but at that point I was just so tired of fighting, of living a lie, of trying to live out other people’s expectations of me, but the Dream Center showed me how to love myself and that I had to love myself so that I could love others.” Amanda recalls this time in her life had been undirected, and without any structure, but prison was about to change all that. But then one day she made up her mind to get well. She was going to kick the habit this time and that determination won out. She was in treatment for 16 months, but since then has been drug free and super for five years!
“In November 2016, I had stood before Judge Craig, charged with conspiracy to commit controlled substance crimes with the option to go to prison or treatment for substance abuse due to my addiction,” Amanda recalled vividly. “I chose treatment and this choice forever changed my life! I spent 16 months in treatment, regained custody of my children and mended relationships with my family,” she said proudly.
At this time in her life she has no charges against her of any kind and is in a long-term recovery program. “Not only do I continue to work a program every single day, I now work as a Certified Recovery Support Specialist at Aletheia House,” she said.
Amanda was in the courthouse in Moulton not long ago where she ran into her old nemesis, Judge Craig. “I didn’t recognize her,” said Craig. “There comes a point where people go through several re-hab programs and they either have a break through or they lose hope, but Amanda did extremely well. She got her children back and after a lot of hard work she is finally free of addiction. I wish I heard more success stories like hers!”
Amanda has had many long discussions with her lawyer and friend, Paula Bassham about the need for a place for Lawrence County people who have dependency problems. Both Judge Craig and Bassham have long been advocates of helping people to break free of the bonds of addiction by seeking help rather than locking them up. Paula was elated when Amanda came to tell her about the grant that would make it possible to have a recovery center available for Lawrence Countians who have issues with dependency, including pregnant women.
“Bassham LLC was created with my children, nieces and nephew and my sister to do the things that were so important to my mother, ‘to love the least of these’ as she did,” said Paula emotionally. “I’m very proud to announce that Bassham LLC and Paula McCreless Bassham Law Office are now associated with the beautiful people of Aletheia House Rehabilitation for Women and Children, Pregnant Woman and Adolescents ages 18 and under, which is now available and accessible in this area to those in need.”
Judge Craig says that he is impressed with the program at Aletheia House because, among other things, Its policy is not to separate women and babies.
Amanda is thrilled to be able to help others to find a life after drugs, the same way she did. “I’m proud to bring services to my hometown!” she said, glowing. Aletheia House provides treatment to individuals with substance-use disorders. Treatment includes group therapy, individual therapy, case management, transportation and peer support services. The organization recently received a grant to provide free services to pregnant women and to those women that are within twelve months postpartum in Colbert and Lawrence County and surrounding counties.
This program gives mothers and women hope for a future that otherwise would have included jail or worse, death due to drugs and/or alcohol abuse.
Aletheia House will be meeting with and accessing clients at 757 Lawrence Street, in Moulton. “If you or someone you love needs help, please call 256-320-5863 to get that help.
For more information or to schedule an assessment, please contact Aletheia House at 256-320-5863.