A couple who spent decades battling heroin addiction have tied the knot after getting clean and are now helping others to do the same.
Shay and Richard Walters, from Parkersburg in West Virginia, began using drugs as teenagers and bounced in and out of jail before meeting at a fundraiser for recovering addicts after becoming sober.
Earlier this month, Ms Walters, 29, married Mr Walters, 40, with her AA sponsor and their combined three children by their side.
“Rich and I are both felons, we were thieves, manipulators, and bad parents,” Ms Walters, who founded from Prison to Purpose, told Yahoo News Australia.
“I want every single person in the world to know that they too can recover.”
Gateway into drugs
The 29-year-old mum said she began experimenting with drugs at the age of 15 with her older boyfriend.
At the age of 17, she fell pregnant with her son as her then-partner progressively became “extremely physically abusive”.
Ms Walters said she became addicted to prescribed pain pills after giving birth, which escalated into a IV heroin and crack cocaine use three years later.
“My addiction was a side effect of me not knowing how to deal with my emotions,” she said, noting her father was imprisoned as she began high school.
“I was a very emotional teenager, very sensitive. I always thought the world didn't understand me. I guess I just never thought I would become a junkie ... I never thought I wouldn’t be able to stop or that it would continue to get worse,” she said.
“I didn’t see the direct connection of experimenting to addiction. I was a straight A student, varsity basketball and volleyball player, and I was in the national honour society. It does not discriminate.”
Ms Walters said her family eventually took her son away from her and urged her to seek treatment.
‘Wake up call’
In 2015, the 29-year-old was charged with nine felonies and facing 22 years in prison for possession of a drug, trafficking and tampering with evidence.
“That was my wake up call. I had lost everything,” she said.
While behind bars, Ms Walters said she began attending AA meetings, ultimately changing her live.
The woman who hosted the meetings became her sponsor as she served a two-year prison sentence.
She celebrated four years sober this year.
Ms Walters said Mr Walters, who she met at an annual Walk Against Heroin, has now been sober for six years.
“He had been an addict for 20 years prior, using everything from research chemicals to heroin,” she said, noting he at one point had been jailed for possession with intent to deliver and malicious assault.
Mr Walter is the father to two young kids, both of which lost their mothers to overdoses just nine months apart.
“When we got together he was doing his best, but he was broken. He said my smile made him ask me out, because I seemed genuinely happy. I get to help raise those babies who are now three and four. I also have my son back today,” she said.
The couple work at a treatment facility and Ms Walters was the first felon hired by her town’s court to teach a “thinking for a change” class for recovering addicts.
“I have found my purpose today. It is my passion to help others overcome addiction, see their worth, bring families back together, spread hope, and be the voice for the ones who aren’t usually heard,” she said.
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