A Dream behind Prison Walls

Oct 02 2017

A Dream behind Prison Walls

Patience, persistence and time are three highly-valued commodities to Jerome Herron, a resident at Standing Strong alcoholism rehab center in Baltimore, Md. He began to recognize their importance following a shift in perspective he experienced while serving a 20-year prison sentence for burglary charges.

“I saw not what I’ve lost, but what I could have gained and never did,” Herron recalls.

Alcohol had always been a problem for Herron, although he never recognized it as such. Growing up in South Baltimore in a working-class family, Herron says his daily drinking fit the norm in his family and community.

By the time he was old enough to sit at the bar, Herron was already racking up assault charges and DWIs. “Every time something bad happened, I was under the influence of alcohol,” he says. Yet he found a moral counterweight for his faults by holding a steady career as a carpenter and supporting his wife and kids.

Herron didn’t lose much to alcohol, but he didn’t gain much either. “For a long time, I wasn’t doing much of anything,” he says. That all changed when Herron’s doctor prescribed him opioid pain medication following an accident in 2007.

Within two years of his first prescription, Herron had spiraled into heroin addiction, which cost him his job, his family and his freedom. In prison, he could have continued down a path of self-destruction, he says. Drugs weren’t hard to come by, so he had to make a conscious decision to change.

“For a while I thought about giving up,” says Herron. “I was in my 40s with 20 years to go, so I was looking at the rest of the good parts of life in prison.”

But instead of giving up, Herron got busy. He started working in the library and studied law, poring over previous cases of sentencing modifications. He facilitated AA and NA groups, completed an 18-month rehabilitation program called Celebrate Recovery and took a six-month computer class. All the while, Herron wrote his judge to request placement in a probationary recovery program. He found hope in the way the judge phrased his rejection, “Not at this time.”

“I didn’t know if it would work,” says Herron, “I just knew there was a possibility that it might.”

With nothing left to lose and everything to gain over the next 20 years, Herron kept going on his path to self-improvement, and never stopped writing the judge.

Persistence finally paid off in his sixth year of incarceration, when Herron’s judge granted him conditional release into a 6.5-month inpatient treatment program. When he graduated the inpatient program, Herron found ongoing support at Standing Strong, and has continued to pursue the things he never could throughout his lifetime of drinking and his battle with opioid addiction.

Herron is nearing completion of a college degree, and discovering talents he never knew he had. “I’m a smart guy, I just never applied myself before,” he says.

He keeps a tight circle of support in his recovery and maintains a healthy distance from negative influences. As he pursues a future as an addictions counselor, Herron has reached a place where using drugs or alcohol simply isn’t worth it.

“I’ve got 9 ½ years over my head back behind bars,” he says. “That’s a lot of time for some instant gratification.”