“I was injecting everything from cocaine to crystal meth to LSD, to – oh you name it, whatever I could put in there I was doing it.”
For Tanya Sayer, that was her life about three years ago.
Now she cuddles her smiling seven-month-old son Michael and explains that she has been clean for more than two years. He is one of five babies born drug free to women who have graduated from the Regina Drug Treatment Court.
Drug treatment court is an alternative to jail time for people whose crimes are fueled by addictions. After opening in October 2006, it became one of several therapeutic courts across the country based on the philosophy that justice and treatment can coincide.
Sayer said without the support of the people in the court and Kate’s Place – a secure home for women in the program – she doesn’t think she would be here right now.
Stories like Sayer’s were the highlight at a national conference and training symposium for the Canadian Association of Drug Treatment Court Professionals last week in Regina. But the conference is about more than the cross section of addictions and crime, it also examines the underlying issues of mental health, domestic violence and childhood trauma or abuse that are often part of the stories of addicts like Sayer who turn up in court over and over again.
Looking back, Sayer believes the root of her addiction was a troubled childhood. Born to parents who were too young to raise her, she was raised by an alcoholic grandfather and a grandmother who used to scream and drag her around by the hair. She remembers the head rush of smoking her first cigarette at the age of 11 – a head rush that eventually consumed her life as she moved on to smoking pot and drinking ,then dropping acid as a teenager fore moving on to harder drugs. It was around the same time that she was first arrested on an assault charge.
Eventually she became a ward of the government.
“I ran from every place. My first experience in a foster wasn’t a good one,” she said. “You’re not even a teenager yet and you’re put into a foster home where the father is trying to sexually abuse you and you tell your social worker, and they call you a liar. So I ran and I ran and I ran and I found myself in Edmonton.”
A prostitute on the streets of Edmonton
Lost in a cycle of abusive relationships and drugs, Sayer said her life spiralled more out of control after having her daughter when she was 17.
“In one of the relationships I was in, I was introduced to cocaine,” she said. “It started with just a few lines then it progressed into crack cocaine where I dragged my daughter a lot of places and did a lot of bad things.”
With no parenting skills or family, Sayer says she stole to support herself and her daughter, who she also abused. When her daughter was taken away, Sayer said she was desperate and even more lost, and wound up homeless on the streets of Edmonton.
“Here I was – a crackhead – and I started turning tricks, working the street,” she said, noting that as soon as she got any money it all went to buy drugs.
Sayer had another child, a son who is now 10, and eventually returned to Regina. But her life didn’t get any better. She was given a first chance at drug treatment court about five years ago, but she failed.
Behind bars and coming out worse
“I didn’t last long, I lasted a couple of weeks and then I went on the run for about nine months and I racked up over 80 charges and I found myself doing my first sentence,” Sayer explained.
She described her time in a the Pine Grove Correctional Facility in Prince Albert as a horrible experience, saying there was a lot of bad stuff happening with the other inmates and no real support.
“How do you help yourself in there? So when I got out of jail, I came out worse,” she said, adding that she started using drugs again immediately.
She found herself arrested once again around Christmas three years ago. She describes being shackled a hospital bed with Hepatitis C, bleeding kidneys and horrible jaundice – she thought it was her death bed. But then the guards left and told her to report to Kate’s Place and Regina Drug Treatment Court when she was released.
One more chance to change her life
“I had a morphine drip in the hospital and I was still injecting morphine in the bathroom,” she said, explaining that she had to go through detox again after her first day of drug treatment court.
At that point, Sayer remembers a doctor telling her that as an opiate user, she would always go back to using and she would always be a statistic. She says that helped give her the drive to really change her life, but she wouldn’t have made it without the support of the people in the drug treatment court program and Kate’s Place.
The power of addiction
“I was in rough shape already before I came into their program. I was pretty much on my death bed, so I don’t think I would have lasted any longer out there,” Sayer said. “I even tried overdosing just to take myself out because I couldn’t handle addiction.”
During her time at Kate’s Place, she was able to regain custody of her 10-year-old son. When she graduated, she became pregnant again. She even works next door to Kate’s Place, although she’s on maternity leave right now. Tears come to her eyes when she describes the support of the people there who sat with her through the worst times, especially Amanda Carlson, who can still calm her down from the worst places.
Sayer says her kids are a blessing, noting that her 10-year-old son is a really good boy and her baby Michael is softening her up inside and teaching her how to love again.
“We need solutions. Jails (aren’t) working, it’s just making things worse. We need solutions and we need to learn to be human and help one another.”