Mum transforms from jailed heroin addict to university graduate

·3-min read

A mum has detailed her harrowing transformation from a heroin addict living in a “drug vortex” to one of the top students in her graduating university class.

Ginny Burton was born in Tacoma, in the US state of Washington, in 1972 to an addict mum with a mental illness who also dealt drugs, local publication KATU reported.

While her dad was in prison for armed robbery, Ginny said her mum introduced her to marijuana at the age of six and to meth at the age of 12.

At 14 she was smoking crack and three years later attempted suicide after being raped by one of her mum’s buyers.

By the age of 23, Ginny said she had given birth to two children, was in an abusive relationship and had become a heroin addict.

Ginny is seen (left) in a mugshot from 2005 during the peak of her addiction and on her university graduation day (right).
Ginny (left) in a mugshot from 2005 during the peak of her addiction and on her university graduation day (right). Source: Ginny Burton/KATU

The now 48-year-old said she funded her habit by robbing Mexican drug dealers at gunpoint and stealing cars.

Eventually, her kids were taken away.

“When you're stuck on the street and you smell like faeces and you haven't showered in forever, and you can't make it into a social service during working hours because you're too busy trying to feed your addiction, and your addiction is bigger than you...," she told the publication.

"And you've compromised your integrity a number of times over and over and over again, and you're starting to be victimised by the people on the street... you're hopeless."

“You can't stand your life. You would rather be dead than alive. I spent most of my addiction wishing that somebody would just blow me away.”

Ginny see in one of her many mugshots. Source: King County Jail/KATU
Ginny said she had 17 felonies. Source: King County Jail/KATU

Prison stints allowed ‘fog to clear’

Ginny admits she was “the person you used to clutch your bag” when she walked by and ended up with 17 felony convictions.

She was sent to state prison three times, allowing her time to sober up.

But it didn’t take long for “the beast” to wake up.

"This beast that was so much bigger than I was. I would tell myself, ‘I am not going to use tomorrow. I am not going to use', but at the latest by 2pm the next day I was always using,” she told KATU.

Ginny said it wasn’t until her final arrest in 2012 when she crashed a stolen truck into a tree during a police chase that she realised “that was the end”.

Sitting in the back of the officer’s car, she said she made the decision then she was going to turn her life around.

Ginny on her graduation day from the University of Washington
Ginny was later accepted at the University of Washington and was awarded the prestigious 2020 Truman Scholar for Washington. Source: Ginny Burton/KATU

From prison to university graduation

After completing a court-ordered drug program, Ginny began taking classes at South Seattle College.

“It made me recognise how much time I had wasted in my life. And I also recognised that I was actually good at learning, something I enjoyed,” she told the publication.

She was later accepted at the University of Washington and excelled so much in her chosen field of political science she was awarded the prestigious 2020 Truman Scholar for Washington.

Students are nominated based on their academic achievements and public service.

She graduated at the age of 48 and is now living with her husband Chris, who is also now clean from drugs, outside of the city.

Ginny said she hoped her story inspired those who were battling addiction and they saw they could change their lives too.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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