When it comes to the current state of Jennifer Erwin’s life, perhaps no one is more surprised than she is.
“I feel so grateful for things that most people just take for granted – like sitting here at this desk as the director of men’s intensive services,” she said. “Like, how in the world did that happen?”
Seven years ago, Erwin was leading a very different existence. After struggling through a traumatic childhood, she found herself hooked on OxyContin and doing whatever it took to feed the habit.
“I had a $700 a day drug habit,” she said. “I’d be out all night long, robbing places and trying my best to get enough dope to not be sick.”
At her lowest point, Erwin said she was willing to do anything for the next hit and was completely hopeless and desperate.
“I was a totally deplorable individual,” she said. “Nobody would speak to me. The only person I had left, who would even answer my phone call, was my grandma.”
It was June 8, 2009. Erwin was homeless and hadn’t showered in nearly a week. Hoping to spend another full day doing whatever it took for drugs, she showed up at her grandma’s house, where she could clean herself up and wait for her boyfriend to come get her that afternoon.
“At this time, I’d been running from the police,” Erwin noted. “I had all kinds of active warrants. I’d been running for one year and one day, because I’d escaped from a treatment center the court had sent me to.”
But what Erwin didn’t know at that time was that her life was hurdling headlong into one pivotal moment that would change the course of her life forever.
No more running
“On that day, the new preacher at my grandma’s church was coming around to meet all the little old ladies in Walkertown and just so happened to stop at my grandma’s house,” she said.
So, Erwin said she quickly shifted into playing “the perfect granddaughter,” determined not to embarrass her grandmother. She made coffee, she said, and she
and the preacher talked about Jesus and the weather, with no mention of the plans she had for later that day.
And she might have kept it up if not for the sheriff’s deputy who was quickly approaching her grandma’s front porch steps.
She wanted to run, she said, but didn’t think she could with her grandma, the preacher, and the preacher’s wife all sitting in the living room surveying the scene.
“I asked him not to put handcuffs on me and explained the situation,” Erwin said.
Surprisingly, Tony Eversole, the Perry County sheriff’s deputy, obliged, and carried on as if all things were normal.
Later, as Erwin prepared to step into Eversole’s car, her boyfriend pulled up, ready to take her out and make her do whatever was necessary to get what they needed that night.
“I have never been so grateful to be going to jail in all my life,” she said.
“I just thanked God that I didn’t have to go and do that anymore, that I didn’t have to go with him that day,” she continued.
On the way to jail, Deputy Eversole struck up a conversation with Erwin that, according to her, “cracked my chest open.”
“He told me that I didn’t have to live like that, if I didn’t want to,” Erwin remembered. “Up to that point, I’d probably had a thousand people tell me that, but I’d never really heard it until that day.”
“It felt like something just broke open inside of me, and I started bawling,” she said. “And I was done.”
Done with that life – the running, the stealing, and all of the hurt she was causing to herself and those she loved.
From that day on, she knew everything was going to change, even though she wasn’t sure how.
Like daylight and dark
While in jail, Erwin discovered that she was pregnant with her second child. She entered treatment, completed it, and then got to work on a list of goals she’d set for herself while in KRCC’s Project A.d.d.v.a.n.c.e.
“My recovery has been an amazing, painfully beautiful process,” she said. “It’s not fun to try to recover from addiction, to dig in yourself and look at all of these horrible things that you’ve done and all the people you’ve hurt.”
But without that pain, Erwin said, she would not have fulfilled her life’s purpose.
She worked hard, earned a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree, bought her own home, and raised both of her children as a single mother.
The last item on her list, the last thing she wanted to accomplish, was to see the iconic Hollywood sign.
“I was working at the Perry County Drug Court, and one day, they told me they wanted to send me to the Drug Court Conference in Anaheim, CA, about 20 minutes from Hollywood.”
She not only got to see the famous sign, but she saw it for free.
“I was there with the circuit judge and lawyers who’d argued against me and the police who’d put me in jail,” she said. “I just remember crying and being so grateful, because my dreams were coming true.”
Now, leading programs for the last two years in KRCC’s addiction services, Erwin gets to take what she’s learned, share the story of her life, and show others a way out.
“Our main focus is helping the client, meeting them where they are, and helping them grow their recovery process,” she said.
Her life’s mission, she said, is to put hope in people’s lives and help them get clean.
“She is an awesome success story,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Eversole. “I mean, she’s really turned her life around, and she’s in a position now to help somebody every day.”
“She is an example of what you can be,” he continued. “Talk about paying it forward – she really does. I’m so proud of her.”
Looking back on her life, Erwin said it’s like “daylight and dark.”
“I feel like I’ve lived two completely different lives,” she concluded.
“Who else gets to do that?” she said. “It’s like a do-over or something, and I feel like I’m going to make the most out of this one.”
Erwin leads KRCC’s New Directions program, an intensive outpatient program for men, but she also does outpatient counseling for men and women on an individual basis, specializing in substance abuse.
For those interested in scheduling an appointment, Erwin can be reached at KRCC’s Perry Outpatient facility in Hazard at 606-436-5761, ext. 7224, or call the 24-Hour Crisis & Information Hotline at 1-800-262-7491.
Mindy Miller is the multimedia writer for Kentucky River Community Care.