Rebuilding His Life After Prison

It was raining the night Charles lost his life. He didn’t die, but part of him wished he had. On this December evening in 1991, Charles survived, but the life he knew was over as soon as his truck crossed the median.

For years Charles had been a functioning alcoholic. His love affair with the bottle began when he was just 15. He and his buddies would get drunk and watch Three Stooges movies. It was nothing for Charles to drink ten to twelve beers every weekend in his teen years.

When he couldn’t find someone to buy him alcohol, he’d steal it from the restaurant where he worked. In fact, all his life Charles would take whatever he wanted. Looking back now, he realizes this sense of entitlement played a part in his escalating criminal activities.

At the age of 21, Charles seemed to be on top of the world. He ran his own construction crew, he was lifting weights competitively, and he spent his evenings as a bouncer at a bar. It was there that he was introduced to cocaine and began trafficking the drugs and illegal firearms.

“I was drawn to cocaine for the money,” said Charles. “I only used coke myself intermittently.”

When a friend introduced Charles to a guy who wanted to buy a machine gun, Charles initially worried that he was an undercover officer. But the guy hung around for a year, partied with Charles and his friends and gained their confidence.

“I sold him the machine gun and some cocaine,” said Charles. “And guess what? He was a Fed. I went away for four years and spent three on parole.”

Charles’ wife had no idea of his illegal activities until he was arrested. It took him years after his parole before she allowed him to see their daughter.

He went through a drug program but basically substituted a growing dependence on alcohol for his former cocaine habit. Despite his increasing use of alcohol, the Christmas of 1991 was going to be special. He was finally going to get his daughter for an overnight visit, and she would spend Christmas with him.

That was before he climbed into his half-ton pickup truck filled with construction tools after drinking all day. As his truck swerved across the median, the cars on the other side of the road pulled onto the shoulder to get out of his way.

He never hit his brakes as his oversized truck rolled over the top of an elderly couple’s car. They had been Christmas shopping for their grandchildren. The husband was killed. The wife would need to be cut from the car and flown to the hospital.

“I don’t remember anything about the crash,” said Charles. “I remember waking up and running through the woods knowing I was in trouble and just wanting to get home.”

When the police finally found him at his girlfriend’s apartment, injured and covered with blood, it would be the last time he would see freedom for the next 15 years and the last time he would ever see his daughter.

Charles was sentenced to 40 years and sent to a maximum security prison. Twenty years for vehicular manslaughter, 10 for second degree assault and 10 for fleeing the scene.

It wasn’t until he had been in prison for nearly 8 years that he realized he had an alcohol problem.

“I managed to get me some grain alcohol. It was terrible stuff, but I needed it. I wanted something, anything,” said Charles. “It was later when I woke up with a real bad hangover and thought about my life that I realized I had a problem, and that I had better do something about it if I ever wanted to get out of jail and stay out for good.”

After two more years on a waiting list, Charles finally got into the prison’s newly formed Intensive Therapeutic Community, a Heartland Center program.

The Intensive Therapeutic Community was a tough program. There was no hiding from his disease and character defects any longer. It was there that Charles was able to confront his demons and leave them behind once and for all.

“That’s when the light bulb came on,” said Charles. “I didn’t like the person I had become. I felt like I was finally waking up from a bad dream, and I’ve been working hard to rebuild my life ever since.”

Charles was paroled in 2006. He is remarried now and again runs a successful construction business. And more than anything, he is determined to continue to rebuild his life.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the Intensive Therapeutic Community,” said Charles. “I certainly wouldn’t be a free man. Free from prison, and free from alcohol and drugs.”