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The Journal Gazette

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Addicted to heroin, Alicia Hart nearly died while in jail. At 21, she’s sober, working and pursuing her high school equivalency diploma.

  • Tattoos on Hart’s forearms are hard to miss and remind her of where she has been and where she hopes to go. A key to her recovery has been time spent earlier this year at Redemption House.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Alicia Hart wears a necklace that her mother gave her. After graduating from Redemption House, Hart now holds a full-time and a part-time job.

Monday, October 24, 2016 4:56 pm

Her route to recovery began in jail

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

The last time Alicia Hart detoxed from heroin in the Allen County Jail, it changed her life ... for the better.

"That was a bigger time that kind of snapped me," she said. Twice in 2015, Hart said, she "flatlined," or technically died – once in jail and then at the hospital.

Although she recalls jail guards coming by to make sure she moved a limb, it was her fellow inmates who watched her and became concerned.

Hart, 21, was rushed to the hospital, suffering from dehydration. She had tried to eat, she said, so she’d have something to vomit. She remembers the sweats, her body rocking from extremes of hot and cold. Her whole body tensed up, her fingers locked in a cramped position. When she tried to move them, it was as if rigor mortis had set in.

When she tried to stand with the help of a jail guard, she blacked out. "I fell to the ground," she said.

She remembers waking up to the jail chaplain leaning over her in the hospital.

"We didn’t think you were going to make it," he told her. He had called her mother as a precaution, but then called her mother back to say she’d be OK.

That detox experience, and what Hart called "the blessing" of being ordered to a halfway house by Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis, helped turn her life around.

"She saved my life," Hart said of the judge.

Now Hart works at a factory full time, a job she loves, and she has taken a part-time job to help pay bills, which include $90 a month for court costs. She’s hoping to move off probation to lower that cost, she said.

Her road to addiction followed a typical path.

Hart’s first drug was marijuana, which she smoked at age 8. She got it from the kids on her street, she said. Her mother, a single mom who worked third shift at a restaurant, was against drugs and didn’t know her daughter was smoking weed, as marijuana is sometimes called. Her father lives in another state.

Hart never used alcohol, she said.

"Riding bikes, that’s how it all started," Hart said. "It was a big, huge group, and you’re going though this cycle together," Hart said. Hart said she did not live in poverty and summered at a lake.

Around 14, she tried painkillers. Her friends, who lived in north Fort Wayne and went to Concordia, Snider, Carroll and New Haven high schools, were all trying the same drugs.

The street drug at the time was Opana, an oxymorphone-based opioid prescribed to older folks for conditions like back problems, Hart said. But Opana became hard to get and basically disappeared from the street.

It was then that Hart switched to fentanyl patches. She ate the drug before she started shooting it into her veins.

When the street price of fentanyl went from $50 for 100 milligrams to $200, Hart turned to heroin. She had previously avoided it, she said, because it scared her.

Meanwhile, she was stealing from her mother, her sister and other drug users. She got caught stealing from Wal-Mart. She’d swipe her mother’s or sister’s car to drive to pick up her drugs. She also lost interest in life.

"You don’t even care what you look like in public," she said, an interest that returned after she spent a few months at the Redemption House, a rehabilitation home on Fairfield Avenue for women addicted to drugs.

Picked up in a drug raid at a cheap motel in October, she was sentenced to a probation alternative called HOPE probation that includes random drug and alcohol testing. Those who test positive are subject to immediate, brief incarceration.

On Jan. 7, Hart was ordered to Redemption House. She’ll never forget what Judge Davis told her when she appeared in court that January day: "You don’t even look like the same person."

The Redemption House gave her structure, something she craved. She graduated from the Redemption House in July and is working on her high school equivalency diploma, which requires a test that will cost $90 to take. So, Hart said, she is studying hard.

One of her biggest worries now that she’s clean is running into someone she stole from, she said. There were times when she ran home quickly to erase a voice message on her mother’s landline phone complaining that Alicia had stolen from them.

And she is content living on Tillman Road on Fort Wayne’s south side.

"It’s actually a relief," she said. "You don’t feel as much judgment."