THE GOOD NEIGHBOR FUND
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Vincent Santarone, a volunteer with Helping Hands Hawaii, Community Clearinghouse, sorts through donated clothes and toys headed for a needy family this holiday season. CLICK FOR LARGE
Making a giant comeback
A former addict now helps others struggle to get sober, and she could use a hand, too
Julie will always have three felonies on her police record for running a crystal methamphetamine laboratory several years ago.
But since the former drug addict achieved sobriety on April 2, 1999 -- she remembers the exact day -- she has been driven to "make up for all the bad I did," said Julie, who wants to keep her identity anonymous.
"Maybe if I can help enough people, I can break even, so when I die, I can look God in the eye (though) I may not go to heaven," added Julie.
She is now a drug education instructor at a homeless shelter and a volunteer substance abuse counselor. She also directs two "clean and sober houses for women" in recovery on the Leeward Coast; the first opened in 2000.
Julie's family is just one of thousands seeking assistance yearly from Helping Hands Hawaii, which runs the Community Clearinghouse and the Adopt-A-Family programs. The Star-Bulletin's annual Good Neighbor Fund works with the agency to raise funds and donations of material goods during the holidays for people in need.
As the "only white girl in the school," Julie said her drug and alcohol addiction started when she was 14 as a way to cope with the physical and emotional abuse she received from other kids. By the time she was 21, she was being beaten by her husband, and had four children, the first of whom died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
"I had no idea how to make the insanity stop," she said.
One day some Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door, and she welcomed their message of hope.
"I'm an extremist. I'm either really, really good or really, really bad. I became a devout Jehovah's Witness for five years," even giving up swearing and cigarettes. But "I drowned myself in food and became very large. ... I was miserable," she said.
She eventually returned to four years of drugs and drinking, along with "one abusive relationship after another." Then the state's Child Protective Services took her children away. And when all of her parental rights were terminated in 1998, "I had no reason to live and I really started using crystal meth heavily. I was homeless, living on the beach in the back end of my truck."
When Julie was arrested for manufacturing the drug, "I was facing 30 (years) to life," and failing to make the bail, "got jail for six months until the trial. I was sentenced to 15 years' probation."
Her probation officer "scared the pee out of me" by reminding her that if she violated the conditions of probation, "I would have to spend 20 years in prison, the first 10 mandatory, with no parole," she said.
During the six months she had already spent in jail, "I lost my mind. ... I did not do jail well."
The fear kept her sober and she successfully completed a drug treatment program in 1999, Julie said. And "I found my own concept of a higher power, which I call God," who continues motivating her to stay off drugs.
By 2003, Julie was able to get her three kids back from her mother one by one. Her two sons were too difficult for her mom to handle after they started drinking or using drugs. When they came to live with Julie, she sent them to drug treatment programs and are now sober. Her daughter was the only one not affected.
Julie is remarried to an "excellent role model" for her children and this year has been "completely released from probation" because of her good record. She also earned two college degrees and received certification in substance abuse counseling.
Her message of hope to addicts: "It's OK to ask for help. The local culture, the pride, (implies) that to ask for help is to be weak ... But there is a way out and you still can have a happy life," Julie said.
Monetary gifts may be sent to:
Good Neighbor Fund
c/o Helping Hands Hawaii
P.O. Box 17780
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817-0780
Clothing, household items and gifts can be donated at the Community Clearinghouse, 2100 Nimitz Highway.
You may also participate in the Adopt-A-Family program, in which businesses, employee groups, social clubs, families or individuals can help a specific family.
Call 440-3804 for information about the program or to arrange for pickup of large items.