One man told his story of a splintered spine, broken relationships and a fractured life on Friday to a group of Washington County High School freshmen.
Mike Fenwick, a paint contractor, prison chaplin and associate pastor spoke to the students as part of the first-time program called Truth and Consequences.
It was sponsored by the Washington County Heartland Youth Coalition to help students see the consequences for choices that involve drugs and crime.
The program originates in Clinton County. It is a proposed solution to a high number of deaths due to prescription drug use, according to Issac Frye.
The guest speaker was added by the Heartland Youth Coalition, but one aspect of the program is being used as a model for the rest of the state.
Over 60 scenarios are distributed to students. Each scenario describes an infraction that differs in degree of severity.
Different agencies from the county and the region were on hand to give students a realistic look at what it would be like to stand before a judge, a policeman, or an attorney.
Paige Hall was given a scenario in which she was caught with prescription drugs.
“We went to the state trooper and he took her, because he had no tolerance for people on prescription drugs,” Deonza Hall, Paige’s mother, said. “So he took her straight to the holding cell and put her in jail, handcuffs and all.”
Paige said the officers didn’t give her the full treatment, opting not to put her cuffs on tight. Still, the exercise made an impact.
“I think it’s great,” her mother said. “It might teach her something. I love it, I love it.”
Parents were encouraged to go through the steps with their children. However, with work schedules to plan around, volunteers were made available.
“We don’t want any child to go through unassisted,” Frye said. “We want them to experience being with an adult. It’s to help them understand that there is a cost and a penalty to pay for whatever the infraction may be.”
With Fenwick’s presentation, the students learned even more about the price paid for consequences of using drugs.
Fenwick gave his testimony about his addiction and recovery.
It started, he said, with the discovery of homemade wine in the basement of his house when he was young.
“I can remember, I took a drink,” he said. “And I felt different. And it changed me. I was so full of fear, anxiety, I couldn’t seem to fit in. I liked the feeling that it gave me.”
After a while, he said, the feeling the wine gave him went away.
“You could say I outgrew it,” he said. “Next thing I know, I was drinking beer. Same thing there. I got wore out on it. So, it turned into whiskey. Hard alcohol. That phased out. Next thing I knew, I was smoking pot. Next thing I knew, I was taking pills. Before I knew it, I was on cocaine.”
While fighting addiction, Fenwick said he fell in love with a girl, got her pregnant and moved his growing family to Louisville so that he could better support them.
“I got a good job. It was paying good money,” he said. “But see, I had to support my habit. Brown and Williamson’s paycheck wouldn’t cover my addiction, so I ended up dealing dope. I turned into a drug dealer. At 18 years old, with a beautiful little healthy daughter at home.”
Fenwick said he grew, smoked, sold and stole marijuana. He ended up in jail three times, once at the old Washington County jail.
When his daughter was 14, Fenwick got a call that rocked him.
“(The caller) said, ‘Mike, your daughter is up town. We just saw her with a bunch of grown men,’” he said. “She was 14 years old. She’s up there snorting coke with a bunch of grown men. She had snuck into my stash at home and gotten hooked on cocaine.”
Heartbroken and numb from cocaine, Fenwick found himself watching a preacher on television.
“I ended up listening to the TV preacher, and that night I kneeled in a puddle of tears, and I cried out to Jesus Christ with everything that I had,” he said.
At the end of the show, there was a phone number to call.
“They said if you prayed this prayer, call this number,” Fenwick said.
It was only a close encounter with recovery for Fenwick, as he refused to call the long distance number.
“I was a drug dealer. I had all kinds of money, but I wasn’t going to make a long distance call,” he said. “They were going to tell me what to do, how to come out of that addiction. I just flat didn’t understand it.”
Fenwick later lost his brother and his father, but felt numb each time. With his brother, he never went to see him as he died of leukemia.
“I knew he was dying and I never went to see him,” he said. “I never went to him at his bedside and said, ‘I love you, Jerry.’”
Eventually, his daughter would drain his business account to support her drug habit.
“I got tired of it,” he said. “I packed her bag, put it on the sidewalk out by the road, waiting for her when she came home from school. I said, ‘There’s your stuff. That’s as far as you’re going. You’re not coming back in this house.’ I kicked my own daughter out of the house.”
His daughter found a man to support her habit, but the wrong man.
Fenwick got another call about his daughter, this time more serious than the first.
At the hospital, he found his daughter had suffered a splintered spine. It resulted, he said, from a fight with her boyfriend over drugs.
When she recovered, he and his wife set her up in a furnished apartment. His daughter still returned to the man that shattered her spine.
It took the death of his mother for Fenwick to hit rock bottom.
“I had a mama that loved me even when I was in jail,” he said. “My momma loved me when I come in so drunk that I couldn’t know up from down. My momma loved me in a puddle of puke.”
When she passed, that was all Fenwick could handle.
Thanks to some friends, he found himself reading the Bible, attending church and cleaning up his life.
“That first (drink) in that basement led to 37 years of nightmares,” he said. “Constant torment.”
He cautioned the Washington County High School freshmen, a group that was roughly his age when he took his first drink.
“Some of you have already tried it, I really believe that,” he said. “Some of you might already have a little pattern going on. I’m telling you, if you do, lay it down, get away from it as fast as you can. And if you’re not, if you haven’t started, don’t. N-O is a big word. All you got to do is say no.”
Wilma Sorrell, project coordinator for the Heartland Youth Coalition, said Fenwick made an impact.
“So far we’ve had a lot of students ask several questions about some personal issues,” she said. “We’ve had one student actually go up and speak with (Fenwick), which is very thought provoking on how students need the help.”
While students were upstairs going through scenarios and on the first floor listening to the possible outcomes of substance abuse, downstairs in the sally port they were learning about some of the realities of being treated for substance abuse by emergency personnel.
Brian Carpenter, an EMT, spoke in blunt terms about the comfort of a stretcher, the taste of various medicines and the discomfort of procedures used on patients that are suffering effects from substance abuse.
Planning for the program began in early July and required around 60 volunteers from the community and agencies in the region.
Having it in the judicial center was the perfect setting according to Sorrell.
“We will keep doing this year after year,” she said. “I think this is the first of many. We’re hoping to show that it’s needed and in this setting with the courthouse, I don’t think it could have been any better.”
Parent involvement was important, Sorrell said.
“They’re inspired by making sure that their children have someone to talk to now,” she said. “I’ve noticed that. They never thought a lot about it before, but when a parent takes their child through this, I think something clicks and says, ‘I may need to start asking more questions.’”