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Jail program offers wake up call for women

At 27 years old, Samantha Ledford found herself addicted to prescription pills and heroin. Her daily life had become consumed with finding her next high and there didn’t seem to be a way out. 

“I started doing drugs when I was 20 or 21 and it just kept getting worse,” she said. “I was ready to get out of out it but it just gets you — I’ve never had something get control of me like that. I was so tired of it but it was easier to get it than to be sick.”

Drug use eventually led to getting arrested for possession and she’d spend a night or two at a time in jail only to get out and go back to the same old habits, but then the charges became more severe and her jail times longer.   

The last time she got caught, she was charged with possession of heroin, trafficking heroin and conspiracy to sell heroin because she was in a vehicle with the drugs and several other people who were aware of it. With a bond set at $500,000, it was clear Ledford was going to have an extended jail stay. 

She was incarcerated for six and a half months before she got released, but this time she was finally willing to make a change for the better. 

“I was arrested five times before, but I was just there over night. Even when I was there three months it didn’t help because it took that long for me to think straight again. You lose that on drugs — you get numb. I have so many emotions now I never felt before,” Ledford said. 

Because the Macon County Detention Center is often over capacity — especially with female inmates — Ledford served most of her time in Clay County. The first week she said she could barely get out of bed as she detoxed from the opiates in her system. She was then able to work in the kitchen preparing meals and took many of the classes offered. 

It was a weeklong “Prime for Life” program implemented by the Macon County Sheriff’s Office and Appalachian Community Services in the jail that finally got through to her. 

“You learn why you did it to begin with and that we do make choices, but once you’re addicted it’s a disease,” she said. “You learn that if someone in your family has an addiction, you’ll probably have an addiction too. The classes gave me the motivation to do better. You have to start somewhere and at least there I was with people who knew what I was going through and didn’t judge.”

Ledford was released a few days before Christmas last year — just in time to see her children, 7 and 3 years old, who she’d been away from for six and a half months. 

“That was the best Christmas gift I could ever ask for,” she said. “It was horrible being away from them. I wrote letters and talked to my daughter, but I didn’t want her to come see me, I didn’t want to remember that.”

Ledford said she was also fortunate that her parents stood by her while she was in jail and are now helping her stay on the right path. They helped take care of her children, visited her every week and helped her find a job when she was released. While she understands many women who’ve had difficult childhoods end up addicted and in jail, she said that wasn’t her story. 

“I had a great life growing up — my parents gave me everything and I still messed up,” she said. “But they have stood behind me through all of this — they’ve paid a lot of money for a lawyer, I’m still living with my mom and they helped me get a car and a job. I feel bad for people who don’t have that when they get out and have to start all over with nothing.”

Since being released, Ledford has maintained steady employment and disassociated herself from the people, places and things that aren’t conducive to her sobriety. Some of her possession charges have been dropped, but other charges are still working their way through the criminal justice system. For now, she is taking it one day at a time and hoping she won’t have to go back to jail.

“I don’t know if I’ll have to go back. I hope the courts see I’m doing good now since I’ve been out and doing everything I can not to go back,” she said. 

Since the Prime for Life program got started in Macon County’s jail a year ago, more than 56 inmates — male and female — have graduated from the program. 

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