My name is Marshall and I grew up in Hamilton, MA with my mom and my sister. It’s small town on the north shore of Boston. A beautiful area surrounded by swampland that my friends and I enjoyed exploring while we were kids. Hamilton is a rather affluent area but we were very poor. My parents had divorced while my sister and I were still quite young. Even though we were no longer exposed to the intense fighting that happened regularly between them, it really affected me and I struggled with my feelings about it. I was lonely and seeking attention.
I began to act out in school. Always, trying my best to be the class clown, so I could get that attention I craved. My grades were spiraling down and this only made things at home worse. My mom was an alcoholic. She was working full time to support my sister and I and she was getting worn thin. Most dinners were had in silence and the stress was heavy on all of us. She had been brought up in a tough environment and used what she knew to discipline us. This was only compounding the problem. When nothing worked, she brought me to a psychologist.
The psychologist gave me the typically diagnosis for troubled kids. He has ADHD, and did what is done way too often. I was prescribed Adderall. You weren’t going to get any complaints here! I was off and running, this stuff was great. Even better, I had a friend that had an older brother that used Adderall. My friend showed me how to crush the pills up and snort them to feel even better!!! I was 11 years old at this time…
My mom began dating a man named Peter. Peter was a giant of a man, standing 7’1”. He was a demolition worker, who liked to come home and relax with a 30 pack for beers every night. So there was always plenty in the fridge. I would wait until he and my mother went to bed. I would grab a few beers and head to my room. Alone in my room, I would drink the beer and it felt like the big warm hug I was looking for. Knowing I could take beer and no one noticed, I started dipping into his wallet. This is where I was at, 12 years old.
Moving into the awkward middle school years was not easy. Although I surrounded myself with others who had “issues at home”, I was still insecure. I was attending school in an upper class area in cheap Payless store shoes and I was overweight to boot. I was extremely insecure. This only intensified my desire to fit in and be accepted. I was offered weed for the first time and I immediately said yes.
It actually made me feel sick but that in no way would deter me from trying it again. This time was different. I felt free of my stress and conflict at home. So I continued to do it. The funny thing is that even though I was feeling “stress free” while high, my behavior was escalating the friction at home. I was lying about where I was, who I was with, and what I was up to. I did not trust her (my mom) or anyone of authority that could take this new found freedom from me.
But, she had enough. She threw me out of the house. So I went to live with my dad. He had since remarried and his new wife had two kids of her own. Fresh start, new town, new kids… I don’t think so. I found friends just like the ones I had, into the same things I was. But now being at my dad’s house, I needed to find a way to get money for weed. No worries. My new “friends” helped me get into selling it.
Eventually my step mother kicked me out. So I bounced around staying with friends for a while. Then my dad and step mother divorced. My father was now living in an apartment. He was alone and was more than happy to take me back, no questions asked! My father wasn’t much of a disciplinarian. He believed I could just learn my life lessons as I went along through life. This was a perfect! I could continue to make bad choices without parental consequences. I didn’t mention the other side to my dad. He suffers from bi polar disorder and he has “episodes”. So throw that on top…
By this time I am 15 and my weed dealing is evolving. I was introduced to some guys that were touring with the band, Phish. They introduced me to LSD and a few other drugs. I began to attend raves while this new kinship provided me a connection to have LSD sent to me from Colorado. By my senior year of high school, I had dropped out and got a GED.
After I was done with school, I spent most days sitting on my couch smoking and dealing weed. I guess I started to become bored. So one day I went down to the waterfront to look for work. I always loved being outside with nature. I accepted a job on a fishing boat and found I really liked fishing. I found a positive outlet. At 20 years old, I had a steady job, making good money, and had a girlfriend.
Things were going really good. I shipped out on a trip and the captain got a call telling him that there had been a death in my family and I should head home. Instinctually, I assumed it was an elderly person. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I got off the boat and my girlfriend was there waiting.
She informed me that my little sister had died. She had gone to Florida to visit her boyfriend. They were not getting along, fighting and arguing. At some point she ingested enough alcohol and pills that put her into a coma and she slipped away. Her and I had been through so much together growing up in such a dysfunctional environment. Just two years younger than me, my sister was gone at 18 years old.
As I tried to starve off the pain and grief, I turned back to partying. Anything, to kill the pain. Anything, to just feel good again. So I slipped back into my comfort zone, smoking weed, drinking, selling whatever. Back into the swing of things and now I get involved with cocaine. Not a drug of choice for me but other people seemed to love it. It was easy to get your hands on it and you could make a lot of money selling it.
But even more enticing to me was the ability to barter it. As I said, cocaine was not my thing. But I had been introduced to opiates and I was in love. I give you cocaine, you give me Vicodin. The next six years, I back on the fishing boat but manage to keep the bad behaviors going strong. I lose the girlfriend, Vicodin turns to oxy which turn to heroin.
I have a $2K a week habit that is manageable because I am moving a lot of drugs to feed this addiction. I have taken that one positive thing (fishing) and used it to produce drug connections in various ports. I am dealing on a much higher level and my sick brain is dreaming about becoming a big time drug dealer.
I get involved with a few people and use my connections to grow this. I don’t think I ever considered what happens when it goes wrong, until it went wrong. One of my partners skipped town and left me responsible for a large amount of product from some pretty dangerous people. My other partner and I were stuck. We had to move all this stuff. Trying to get rid of it brought a lot of attention.
My partner was unaware that she was dealing with a government informant. One afternoon, she called and told me she needed me to come to the house. I arrived in the driveway to nine federal agents with guns drawn. They pulled me out of my car and threw me on the ground and cuffed me. This was a federal case. These were serious charges. It has been six years since my sister died and now I am headed to prison.
Maybe… I am sick enough to believe it was not over, I get bonded and flee to California. My brain convincing me that we can just get back to business. It doesn’t take long for the law to catch up. I face the music and get handed a 12 year sentence. In hindsight, it was a gift that I wasn’t sent away for life.
Most people might think that is where the story ends, but not for me. I would love to say that I went to prison, got sober, and everything was better. Well, I did for a while. I read a lot of books about self help. I took college classes and got an associate degree in psychology. I had the support of my family. But the truth is, that didn’t fix me. I was still looking for the answer to a question that I may never get, “Why am I like this?” Then, I relapsed. I was transferred to another prison and found people into the same things as me.
The same story as when I was 13, still trying to fit in, still trying to feel good. I relapsed with home brew, weed, and eventually some K2. I got back in the hustle selling cigarettes. I got a job that gave me the ability to part of a smuggling operation. An operation that I thought was just tobacco, but I soon learned it was more than that. I don’t know if it was the paranoia from the drugs or if I realized I hit rock bottom but what I knew for sure was that getting caught for this would give me a life sentence.
For the first time, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of shame and regret. I was in deep and I could not see any way out. Prison has different rules. I was physically sick. Then I caught the luckiest brake of my life. I got fired. I no longer had access to be part of the hustle and I was out. This was my moment. This is when I was truly ready to accept treatment and make sobriety a way of life.
I was again transferred. This time to Devens, MA. Here, I took advantage of the positive opportunities available to me. This place was a different environment for me. It was low security, actually considered a prison camp. I attended meetings. I worked my program. I took responsibility for my actions. Once I had found my peace, a social worker there got me involved in the outreach program.
I used my education and my experience to connect with people. We visited various high school and colleges. We talked about decision making and the consequences of your decisions. I told my story to many people. I could see that my education and experience could help people who are suffering. And I realized… I may never understand why I was the way I was, but I know who I am know and I like this person. This person can make a difference. The most amazing part, I learned that helping others is the best treatment for me. I had found my purpose.
After serving 11 years of my 12 year sentence, I was released. I now have over 7 years of sobriety. I jumped right into getting myself involved in the amazing sober community. There is so much out there above and beyond meetings from rock climbing to yoga to art. But I found that it could be a little challenging to find things in my area.
It was difficult when you didn’t know where to look or didn’t have people to ask. So I started North Shore Boston Recovery. A Facebook page, that is a place to share information. From daily lists of available detox beds, to available meetings, to sober events, anything positive to help people stay engaged with their sobriety.
I am also the house manager for Sober By The Sea. A sober house for men located in Manchester by the Sea, MA, and I work for Aware Recovery Care. It is a blessing to have a career helping others as they navigate their journey to recovery. I am so grateful for my recovery and the ability to be of service to others.