By Jordyn Grzelewski
Four years ago this week, Nicole Walmsley was on the other side of the podium from which she spoke at Community Corrections Association on Market Street.
Speaking at a CCA graduation ceremony Thursday, Walmsley recalled the circumstances that landed her at the organization, which provides correctional programs as alternatives to jail or prison.
“I got addicted to heroin after surgery when I was prescribed pain pills,” Walmsley explained.
In the years she was abusing drugs, she racked up a litany of criminal charges that eventually resulted in a court-ordered stay at CCA. Now a drug-treatment coordinator/law-enforcement liaison with nearly five years of sobriety, Walmsley credits that stay with giving her the foundation she needed to restart her life.
“By the grace of God, Mahoning County indicted me for a little bit of dope left in a syringe,” she said. “When I turned myself in [to CCA], I turned my life over to a higher power I call God.”
“CCA really filled in the cracks,” she said. “They taught me what self-worth was. They helped me get a job. ... They taught me how to manage a checkbook. Save money.”
The five people who graduated expressed gratitude for similar aspects of their programs.
One man who had been addicted to pain pills said CCA staff believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself. Staffers taught him there’s more to life than jail or prison. He said it was especially helpful that CCA helps people get their general educational development diplomas and jobs. He now works full time, he said.
Another graduate called the organization a “diamond in the rough.” She said when faced with a difficult family situation that previously would have caused her to use drugs, staff members at CCA provided support and helped her cope.
Walmsley offered graduates a glimpse at what life in recovery can offer. She told about how, after seeing her friends die of overdoses, she wrote to a police chief in Massachusetts who had started a program for police departments to help people get into drug treatment.
She helped bring that program to dozens of police departments in Ohio, which has helped hundreds of people get into treatment.
She told them, too, how she recently bought her first house and is now able to see her daughter, for whom Walmsley gave up custody due to her addiction. Now, she gets her daughter on weekends, and has educated her about addiction. The 13-year-old wants to be a police officer someday.
Walmsley wanted to come back to speak to graduates, she said, to show them “CCA is the foundation of who I am today.”