At age 31, I suffered an injury leading to chronic pain. I met a doctor who freely dispensed narcotic pain medication, and very quickly found myself addicted. I soon began doctor shopping to feed my high tolerance and eventually this led to altering my prescriptions. This resulted in two felonies in two counties. I received a five-year prison sentence and spent nine months in county jail and one year in prison. I was released on parole in October 2007. I learned of my release only four days prior, so “planning” for my release was not possible. I came from a 20+ year career in property management, but now was a convicted felon and spent two years unemployed after my release. Feeling helpless and hopeless from being unable to care for myself and my daughter, I was ready to go back to prison and serve my sentence there. That same day I asked my parole officer to send me back to prison, I heard back from a small 12-hour per week position with a recovery organization and took the position. In just over two years, I have almost tripled my beginning pay and have received four promotions. I am now celebrating almost five years in recovery and my daughter and I have been in our house almost two years. I was also married in May of 2011. I have shared testimony in my home group, Celebrate Recovery, in three services at my church, on behalf of the Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable for the Legislature, and at Offender Employment Specialist Training. I have become a Certified Peer Recovery Coach, a certified Offender Employment Specialist, and taken part in a reentry study done by a professor at the University of Texas. Through my job, I have been able to incorporate re-entry in to the recovery process with my organization and have helped in the proposal process to bring programming into the jails and prisons.
Reentry is hard and even with family support, there is a lot of hard work that goes in to making life changes. In February 2012, I will successfully complete parole and will strive to finally remove that label from myself and live free while knowing I might always be in need of others’ willingness to give me a second chance.
But, today, my past is a blessing, because it brought to light my purpose, and now, that purpose will be to help others find theirs.
Then: Heather Kess, ex-offender, opiate addict
Now: Heather Kess Coby, grateful mom, daughter, sister, and wife