Below is a three part series that printed in the Pilot News this year featuring Counselor Angie Harris on her journey through addiction, recovery, the death of her son, and her continued effort to help others choose a better, more beautiful life in triumph over addiction.
Her beloved son, Michael, passed away on Oct. 6, 2014. She wanted to share his story and make it available online to reach as many people as possible.
“I hear people say ‘If I only change one life.’ I want millions. Back in my addiction, people would try to challenge me and be like - look at what you are doing to your son. I didn’t understand that what they were saying was true. I didn’t understand that I was harming my son in my addiction. But when those people would say something to me, my typical personality is just aggressive, I would shut those people down. They would never tell me that twice.” Through education and experience working in the field she learned how traumatic Michael’s life actually was. “Honestly, I didn’t fully understand until I started working in the field. I finished my internship and was offered that job as a case manager at a residential treatment facility. Then as a counselor where I work now. Then in graduate school is where I learned the most about mental health disorders through the education of the DSM. As I continued to learn, the reality of how traumatic his childhood really was became more clear.”
Looking back on what she has been through and overcome, Harris focuses forward. “You just can’t lose. To find a sense of freedom and to find the place where you come full circle and you become okay in your skin and you understand all the things that you’ve done wrong; and you see all the things you’ve done right but you couldn’t see because all the things you did wrong - you know when you are able to come full circle to that kind of place — I think that person is unstoppable. I think that person is the cream of the crop. Those people are the world changers.”
Angie Harris three part series “Grow or Go”
In memory of her beloved son Michael Medlock
Counselor invited to speak to JCAP Participants: Angie Harris: “Grow or Go”
Part One: Don’t give up.
Director of Programs at the Marshall County Jail Facility Joshua Pitts invited a special guest to speak with Jail Chemical Addictions Program (JCAP) participants Wednesday. Counselor Angie Harris lives by “Grow or Go” as she advocates for individuals to heal from addiction. Through her own recovery and the loss of her beloved son Kevin Michael Medlock, Harris is a firm believer in hope. “I want to be a person who shows hope. There is something special God can do with someone who won’t give up. There’s nothing special about me other than I know who I am in Christ. I understand grace. I understand mercy. I understand what it’s like to overcome. I understand what it’s like to experience pain, and guilt and shame and to directly do some things to people that were very difficult to forgive myself for. I think people get hung up on forgiveness sometimes; that forgiveness is something that I don’t deserve. So I try to lead those people to understand what it means to have some acceptance of that. Because there comes a point in time when you have to put a period; a hard period from the past and create some kind of separation. There’s stuff that we’ve all done that we don’t get to go back and change. It just is what it is. So there’s got to be a way that we have to make a decision. So if you call that forgiveness, if you call that acceptance, I don’t care what you call it - just do it.”
Having been born in rural Kentucky and raised in an impoverished, “one stoplight” town, Harris didn’t know about mental illness, addiction or recovery. After her parents divorced, Harris moved for a time with her mother to Ohio but then returned home to Kentucky to live with her father. She had her first drink of alcohol at 12 years old the summer before 8th grade; provided by her father. “My dad was an alcoholic and drank all the time, so drinking was not an abnormal thing in our household. His thought was, ‘If she’s going to drink I want her to drink at home’.”
By 16 years old she was pregnant with her son Michael and stopped drinking. Even with the challenges of being a young mother, she graduated from High School among the top ten in her class with high marks. She attended college but didn’t complete that first year.
She was going through a divorce from the father of her son by the young age of 21. Paying her bills took priority over higher education. Though her father encouraged her to finish college and offered to pay her bills; she tried to manage on her own. It was during this challenging time in her life when she smoked marijuana for the first time during a New Year’s Eve party. “Then it all kind of started from there. The rest of the story gets really messy after that.”
She didn’t start using any substances regularly until she dated a man who abused pills. She started using and mixing Xanax, Opiates, Vicodin, Lortab and Oxycontin. She had no idea that those combinations were deadly. Her dad passed away April 11, 2001. “April 10th of 2001, the nurse had told us that he had 24 hours to live. I was like, no - he’ll be fine. And I leave to go get high and then he dies. So I get stuck in this moment for like five years basically.”
Her mother visited her in Kentucky from Ohio three times a year at Easter, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Harris had mastered the art of making her life appear somewhat stable for a few days at a time. When her mother finally found out about her substance abuse she said, “Baby Girl, it’s time to get a grip.”
Her mother travelled to Kentucky on August 18, 2001 while Harris attempted to quit “cold turkey”. She had been using between 40 to 50 pills daily and had been for some time. Quitting without the help of medical professionals could have been deadly, but Harris still uneducated about addiction though gripped by it, had no idea.
Though she experienced aching, pain, cold sweats and lack of sleep during her detoxification; Harris was determined to stop.
Her mother stayed with her until she thought she was stable. The night she left Harris had a seizure. Her uncle brought her to the hospital where they prescribed Paxil. After feeling no improvement she stopped the treatment.
From September 2001 to January 2002 she remained what she describes as “relatively sober”; using consistently but nowhere near the amount she had been using prior. “It was ‘status quo’ for a while.” Once that period of perceived stability ended; she experienced her condition getting worse. “Every time I thought I had reached ‘the bottom’, I would find a new way to get to a lower place.”
It was in January of 2002 that she got a visit from someone who offered her methamphetamine. From using methamphetamine she ended up selling drugs and was eventually charged with possession of a controlled substance [methamphetamine] that September. That charge was dismissed.
Over time she got additional charges. By the time she had her final sentencing in January of 2005 she had served her time between county jail and house arrest; so was not sent to prison. By this time she didn’t want any more trouble and determined to stay home. “But that lasted for two months. The fear of not wanting to get back in trouble - fear wears off. It’s not a strong motivator, right?”
She met another man in March of 2005. “So again - I got with another guy. It was my daughter’s dad this time. We got together in March. I really wanted out of the life. I really didn’t want to be in the life, but I didn’t really know how to get out of it. I didn’t know what to do.” There was no talk of treatment options for her, she had no car, and she was still grieving the death of her father. The only real stability in her life was the house she inherited from her father where she lived with her boyfriend and step-brother.
Harris got pregnant with her daughter Michaela Mahree in July, but wouldn’t find out until later that year. She was still using drugs and became increasingly overwhelmed with her situation. She decided to visit a friend, Katrina “Kat” in Indiana for a few weeks. Harris returned home to a raid by law enforcement within 24 hours.
She was informed of activity that had occurred while she was away. Even though she was out of state, she had drugs at the house which were confiscated. She got charged. “I didn’t know it at the time but someone had already snitched on me for selling drugs to get themselves out of trouble. So they were just trying to add all the evidence up and make it to where it was going to stick. They didn’t take me to jail at that time.”
Typically she would have gone to jail and her case would be processed through the courts. “They basically let me stay out to hang myself.”
Typically I would go to jail and then it would get bound over to the big court, to Common Pleas Court, and then the case works from there. But they waited until I got indicted to arrest me.”
October 6 that same year her house was raided again. “This time they were coming to serve a warrant on my boyfriend.” Everyone in the house, including her step-brother went to jail at that time except Harris. Nothing was found in the house at that time. “I used to call my boyfriend anti-money; because every time I would try to work a drug deal out he would mess it up because he was jealous. He didn’t want people talking to me, he wanted people talking to him. It was a blessing in disguise but I was so angry with him at the time. So because of him and how his behavior was, no one was really coming around anymore.”
Though she had never intended to leave Kentucky, with her father gone and her son living with his father in Tennessee, and having no money, no food, no vehicle and no provisions; nothing was keeping her there. She didn’t know what else to do, but she knew she needed to be with her mother. “My mom’s no joke. There was no way that I was going to do bad in her house.” Harris laughed.
She planned to meet her mother halfway and arranged for her cousin who had a truck route to give her a ride. “My cousin and I were really close. And he knew I needed to go but he didn’t have the heart to take me himself.”
He called Kat to provide transportation for Harris. Instead of going to Ohio, the women went south. “We go to Tennessee, we go to Georgia. I don’t know how many states we hit going to buy Sudafed to make meth. At this point, I know a lot of people. I didn’t make meth myself but I was involved with people who did. I went shopping for that stuff. That’s what we do.”
Instead of connecting with her mother, Harris went on another run. “I didn’t see a problem with it. The cloudy thinking is so tricky.”
One morning she had a bad feeling. She warned her friends. “I don’t think we are going to go to jail or nothing, but I have a bad feeling about today’. And I’m going out to commit crimes basically, like - you know. But I don’t think I’m going to go to jail. By that night all of us were in jail.”
They had gone into several retail outlets to purchase Sudafed; and one of the stores alerted local authorities. Harris noticed a police vehicle parked at the Target. “I knew we were busted.” Kat went in to make a basic purchase to try to throw them off. It didn’t work and as they were leaving the parking lot the law enforcement officer followed them.
Because of how many people were in the vehicle, and the legal allotment of Sudafed products per individual, technically there was no crime. They were released after 48 hours. Kat ended up signing her vehicle over. “By that time I was just so disgusted with myself. I was so disheartened.” She had been in and out of jail for years at that point. She had so many possession of marijuana charges that it would be considered a felony if she got more.
She felt defeated. “My mindset had already deteriorated to wanting to get to my mom’s and wanting to do better. I was giving up again.” She decided to stay with her friend in Indiana. Her mother called and said, “What’s the address?”
Harris reunited with her mother on November 18, 2005. She got in her mother’s car and went home with her, fell asleep on her couch and woke up safe November 19, 2005. “That’s my recovery day.” November 19 was also her father’s birthday. “That was a special way that God had made that better for me.”
Part Two: Michaela and second chances
Angie Harris reunited with her mother on November 18, 2005. She got in her mother’s car and went home with her, fell asleep on her couch and woke up safe November 19, 2005. “That’s my recovery day.” November 19 was also her father’s birthday. “That was a special way that God had made that better for me.”
She found out ten days later on November 29 that she was pregnant with her daughter, Michaela Mahree, named after her son Kevin Michael Medlock, whom she called Michael. “I found out I was pregnant and I had been using the whole time. I hadn’t been using as much, but I had still been using the whole time.” After an ultrasound revealed that her infant was not deformed or impacted in any negative way from the substances, Harris’s heart broke with joy, relief and gratitude. “I went and had my ultrasound and my baby was healthy. She had ten fingers and ten toes and her organs were good. I was like, all right God, you got me. Whatever you want, I’ll do it. I knew that He saved her.” she remembered with tears. One step at a time Harris continued to work toward her recovery.
Michaela was born on April 5, 2006. Two days later Harris got a call from her step-brother that the Drug Task Force visited to serve a warrant on her. “So remember, when my house had gotten raided, they left me out so I could hang myself.” she laughed while wiping away remaining tears. “Well, in the mean time I’m basically saving myself, not knowing that that was what I was doing but that it was the direction I was going.”
She contacted Sheriff Tim Fee to explain her situation and confirmed that she wasn’t running from her charges, but that she had moved forward to try to heal. She wanted to try to get Michaela prepared for her time away because her mother worked and would be the one taking care of her daughter. He told her to call him when she was ready to turn herself in and agreed to go to the judge with her and said they would get through it together.
Harris returned to Kentucky for Thanksgiving and planned to appear before the Grand Jury on the first Tuesday of December when they met regularly. Sheriff Fee went with Harris as promised. Since she was not on the docket she had to wait for an opening that took most of the day.
Sheriff Fee advocated for her; he explained her situation and that she was making better choices. He confirmed that she had been in contact with him. They were hoping she could just get a bond and keep living her life.
Instead the judge ordered her to be booked to the jail at a $25,000 cash bond. “At that time my grandfather had never put up any money for me to get me out of jail. He bonded me out of jail but he never put up cash. He’d put up property or something. He couldn’t do that this time. So I went to jail probably about 4 o’clock that day. I just remember thinking, ‘Lord, I am going to serve you wherever I’m at. Wherever I’m at I’m going to serve you. If that’s where He put me, I don’t want to be there, but if that’s where He put me I’ve got a purpose there.”
She spent the whole might sharing her faith with other people who were incarcerated at the jail and with some of the jailers. “We talked about God all night.” One of the chaplains she had met before met with her and prayed for her. She was anointed with oil and they prayed through a migraine headache successfully that night. “So that was like this miraculous thing that literally I was healed by prayer.”
Though she had experienced God’s presence with her through this ordeal, she felt free in a way she hadn’t felt prior. “I just knew how I had felt so different and so much better. I felt free. I told my mom I remember being 120 pounds and feeling like I am so heavy that I could barely walk around. At this point I’m 180 something pounds and I feel like I can blow away in the wind. I just felt so light and so free.”
Her grandfather bailed her out the next day; less than 24 hours after she was booked. She hired an attorney and began to fight her case. “I was looking at 40 to 50 years in prison at this point. I was charged with 10 or 12 felonies; trafficking, possession, just some crazy charges; an explosive device - just some crazy stuff.”
She traveled back and forth between Ohio and Kentucky. They started talking about plea options in July of 2007. They offered her a plea of 10 to 15 years in prison. Her attorney advised her to go to trial. The judge hearing her case knew her previously from Common Pleas Court. As she entered the court room she smiled at the judge. He asked her if she could pass a drug test for him. She responded that she could and submitted one. He asked to see both attorneys in his chambers. When the judge returned back to the court room he noted that she had turned her life around and recommended five years of probation. As the judge continued to speak, Harris began to weep with gratitude and relief.
When she returned back to Kentucky in August of 2007 for court it was determined that she could not comply with the legal conditions of probation so she was placed on “conditional release”. She needed to remain pro-social, be a productive member of society and take care of her family. She was also required to stay out of Kentucky for five years.
In 2008 she returned to college. She needed to be off probation to complete her internships and was released from conditional release.
In July 2010 Harris’s grandfather passed away. By this time, her grandmother had Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia and was bedridden and non-verbal. She had been deemed “failure to thrive” and was placed on a feeding tube. “Just no will to live.” Her uncle took over the administrative responsibilities for the estate; and put people in place to take care of her grandmother.
He then passed away on November 6, 2010 leaving Harris as her grandmother’s caregiver. She was in her next to last semester of college and put everything on pause to take care of her family’s needs.
Though she was met with a pessimistic outlook on her ability to close the estates efficiently and be granted permission to relocate her grandmother to Ohio with her, Harris beat the odds again. Her grandmother’s energy was revived during her stay at Riverview Nursing Home in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Working with a speech therapist for six months restored her ability to communicate. She started to feed herself again and learned to walk again using a walker. “She literally came back to life.”
Harris graduated with two Associates Degrees by May 2011. In July of 2011 her grandmother moved in with her so she could be cared for at home until she passed away on April 10, 2014. She started working toward her Bachelor’s Degree in 2012. During this time Harris was also trying to take care of her son, Kevin Michael Medlock.
Part Three: Kevin Michael Medlock and coming “full circle”
Kevin Michael Medlock was four years old when his mother Angie Harris started using drugs and he was 13 years old when she stopped. He had been living with his father in Tennessee. He moved in with his mother the summer of his 8th grade year when his father could no longer handle him. He was in trouble with the courts. “He was in trouble all the time. By this time he’s had such chaos and what I know now to be trauma in his life. He’s not healthy mentally, he’s got all these issues, but I don’t know anything about mental health still so I’m not understanding what all is going on with him.”
His mother sent him to Teen Challenge. He was there for three months; but wanted to leave. Harris initially refused but was called by staff making it clear he refused to stay; so she went back for him.
Michael would come and go; sometimes being gone for days. His father warned Harris that he was observing chaotic behavior. Though in denial at the time, she knows now he was using and selling drugs during this time.
Michael brought drugs and had paraphernalia at her home; which was discovered by one of the caregivers assisting with Harris’s grandmother in 2013. She returned from school late one night exhausted after 10 p.m. Even when she told Harris that Michael had drugs in the home she didn’t believe her. She asked her to prove it. When Michael and his girlfriend were putting her grandmother to bed, the caregiver brought Harris to his stash of drugs, paraphernalia and scales. “This lady takes me to where his drugs are hid. I go get them. He’s got scales back there and I just start freaking out. I started ripping all of his stuff apart, destroying it. I had this little sledge hammer and I’m just beating his stuff. My son is like, ‘What are you doing?’ He sees me and I’ve got the scales in my hand at this point and his face was just like [gasp] at this point. He had a friend there that was out in the garage. I start chasing my son with this sledge hammer. I hear the kid in the back say something and I run after him. Next thing I know I hear my son, he goes out the front door. I just end up calling the police and press charges against him. What I didn’t know was that he had a felony amount of mushrooms; which I had never done those so I didn’t know anything about them. I think there was probably marijuana and stuff but that was the big thing.”
Law enforcement put out a warrant for his arrest. “I had been praying for him one day. My son was always this 11:11 person. When it’s 11:11 you make a wish, and I don’t make wishes, like I pray. So I just remember praying for him and I just heard the words, ‘Save the ones you can.’ I just stopped praying…” tears started to fill her eyes. “I looked up and I said, ‘I hope that you’re not telling me that you are gonna take him.’ But, I knew, I just knew in my gut that that’s what that was. So, I didn’t know when or anything, of course.”
One night while her mother called to tell her that Michael came to the house. “I told her I had to call the police, they’ve got to come get him. At this point I am afraid he’s going to die. He’s that bad that I just knew.”
Harris wiped her tears and continued, “So I had come home, my mom left, and I called the police. He came and got in bed with me and just laid there for a minute. Then we heard the knock at the door and he knew that it was the police. So they took him to jail and he served six months.”
During that time she completed her Bachelor’s Degree Program; which included an internship at Lucas County Community Correctional and Treatment Facility; where she was also offered and accepted a job.
Michael was released from jail in October after serving his time and died a day and a half later on October 6, 2014. Harris got the call that her son had overdosed at 1:30 in the morning. She was devastated. “My whole world just stopped.”
After trying to get in touch with her mother, she had a friend go over to tell her he was gone. “I just sat there and it was like my whole world had just stopped. And I knew that life was still going on outside of my house, but my world had stopped. I knew, I lived next to Route 2, which is not an interstate, I don’t know what it’s called but it’s Route 2 and it leads to the interstate. And I knew that people were still on Route 2 driving. I knew that people were going to be going to work and I wasn’t. Like my world had stopped.”
After two funeral services, one in Kentucky and one in Ohio, Harris took time off work. When the thoughts in her head became overwhelming she determined it was time to go back to work. “There was no benefits or paid holidays or insurance or anything like that, but it was a job.” If she didn’t work, she didn’t get paid and the lot fell to her to work the Thanksgiving Holiday. “It was the coolest thing. At Thanksgiving, I’m the one that’s on the road. No one else was moving. Everyone else was home. It was just me on the road and it was like this full circle kind of feeling. Because even though that night when I felt like my whole world had stopped, I just knew that it would be a minute, but I would catch back up. So I had this moment of driving in to work when the roads are literally empty and it was like God saying, ‘It’s going to be okay’.”
Little by little Harris continued to overcome tragedy with triumph. She completed her Master’s Program from 2016 to 2017. She was eventually offered a position at Bashor Counseling where she continues to counsel people recovering from addiction and trauma. It was there she met and worked with Joshua Pitts, who invited her to speak with the Jail Chemical Addictions Program Participants at the Marshall County Jail Facility where he now serves as Director of Programs.
Harris has committed to spending more time with her daughter Michaela now that her life is more stable. “I promised that I wanted to be there for her more. That I didn’t want to make the same mistakes. What I realized at one point was that I was away from my son selling drugs and being in that life. He couldn’t be where I was. He just couldn’t. It was not safe. It was not good. So he spent a lot of time with my grandparents.”
“Then with my daughter I’m still missing a lot of time with her. I’m working. I’m doing homework. I’m exhausted.” Now that her life is more stable she feels more present for Michaela. “Everything is just more stable. I feel like God spoke to me and was like, ‘You need to be there. You’ve got four more years, make it count.” They travel together and Michaela is in sports.
Through addiction and recovery, facing multiple charges that could have resulted in five decades behind bars, burying several family members including her own son, and managing her own mental health issues with medical and professional help, Harris emphasized, “Life is good.” She admits that she has made mistakes including poor relationship choices; normal mistakes compounded by the challenge of addiction and recovery; she focused on lessons learned. She overcame almost a decade of addiction and criminal behavior and charges. “I’m still here to say that I have an amazing life. I have such an amazing life.”
She is thankful to her mother, Vickie McWhorter and her mother’s partner Joyce Woods. She is thankful for those who have helped her along the way. “It hasn’t always been the same people, but there’s always been people there who can help me in the ways that I’ve needed to be helped. God just provided these things. I’ve done the work, but I couldn’t have made it without this support team.”