It took $120 a day to pay for the heroin that Melissa Williams needed to satisfy her addiction.
The money came from solo shoplifting sprees at department stores across the metro area, stealing high-end purses and men and women’s Nike gear that she resold at half price.
After she was caught with thousands of dollars of Michael Kors purses at the Southdale Macy’s in 2015, Williams faced three years in prison.
That’s when Hennepin County Drug Court intervened.
“I didn’t want to be like this anymore,” she said, speaking at a drug court graduation ceremony in Minneapolis on Friday afternoon.
Williams, 42, was one of two keynote speakers and got a standing ovation after she tearfully recounted her road to recovery. She and 23 others who had participated in Drug Court graduated at the ceremony.
“We often say there are two paths out of Drug Court — graduation or prison,” Marta Chou, the presiding judge of the Hennepin County Drug Court, said before the ceremony at the Hennepin County Government Center.
“This is a difficult and long program, but as these graduates will tell you, it is worth it!” Chou said at the ceremony. “You’ve worked, you’ve found jobs, you’ve become productive. You are an amazing group of people.”
Williams said she’s been clean for two years and one month and works full-time in Bloomington as a marketing recruiter for a Bloomington firm. She gets up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays, drives her 4-year-old daughter to day care, takes her 7-year-old son to school in Minneapolis, and is at work at 8 a.m.
Their father is in Mexico, she said, having been deported for being in the United States illegally.
After her last shoplifting arrest and while facing prison, she said, her son asked her, “Are you going to be gone like Daddy?”
She resolved, she told the assembled graduates, to change. “This is my life. I have to take control of it,” she said.
Williams praised the support she got from Park Avenue Center, a treatment center for substance abuse, and Kateri Residence, which has provided housing and support for Native American women suffering from addiction.
“When you go into Drug Court when you are fighting this addiction, you know you’re not alone when you see the faces of everybody else,” she said.
“It definitely saved my life. It is a good program for people who really want to change their life around.” She said she is looking for some decent affordable housing because she is going to have to move July 1.
In the audience were a large group of people who have been part of the support network for Williams and other graduates: probation officers and volunteer recovery coaches, Drug Court and county court staff, prosecutors and public defenders, and chemical dependency counselors.
Christian Spearman, a probation officer who handed out some of the graduation certificates, praised Williams’ commitment to turn her life around.
“Her efforts at recovery were astounding.” he said in an interview. “She put forth the effort to get every program [she was required to complete] done right. She approached everything with grace with a humorous twist to it.”
According to the county, a study conducted in 2017 for 2011-2013 found that 59 percent of Hennepin Drug Court participants do not reoffend within two years and 63 percent have no incarceration within two years.
About half of the participants were from communities of color and 85 percent had a severe substance abuse disorder. The study reported that 43 percent graduated.