Faces of Heroin: Reentry program helped turn former inmate's life around

Faces of Heroin: Reentry program helped turn former inmate's life around

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The Lucas County Jail in downtown Toledo is home to some of the most violent criminals in northwest Ohio.

Each inmate has a personal story about their past. Many are repeat offenders whose lives spiraled out of control because of drug addiction.

"Many at an early age get addicted to gateway drugs or pain pills," said Marc O'Neill, a counselor at the Lucas County Sheriff's Office. "They end up getting into a situation they cant get themselves out of."

There is a major push underway to help inmates sober up and put an end to Ohio's growing heroin epidemic.

Former inmate Jacob Spellis knows all too well about the dangers of heroin addiction. He is now an activist and a member of the Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio.

But before his reformation, Spellis was in an orange jumpsuit with his life headed toward a dead end.

"I started smoking marijuana at the age of 11.  I started doing heroin when I was 16, 17-years-old," Spellis remembered. "At the age of 18, I was facing 10 years in prison for drug trafficking."

The high school drop-out spent much of his teenage years walking around Toledo's east side using and selling drugs.

"I never got into pain pills, I went straight to the heroin," Spellis said. "And I started selling it, and then I started using it. Before I knew it, I was hooked. I was gone."

Spellis's addiction left him isolated and homeless. He would sleep wherever he could, including on public benches or behind bars at the Lucas County Jail.

"Everyday I woke up and said, 'Man I don't want to do this no more,' but it just hijacks you and all of your pleasure seeking abilities," Spellis said. 'Its like the best and worst feeling at the same time."

For seven years, this cycled continued. He says even his mother expected to see him die from his addiction.

When Spellis was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to nine months behind bars, his life finally began to turn around.

"I was on the fourth or fifth floor of the county jail, I remember looking around and thinking, 'This is going to be my life.' And I remember thinking 'I can change,'" said Spellis.

With help from jail counselors and reentry programs, Jacob began to turn his life around. He acquired his GED and then graduated with honors from the University of Toledo with Toledo with a degree in social work.

"I knew he had it, and they he knew how to put his nose to the grindstone as soon as you showed him the path," said Celia Williamson, Professor of Social work at University of Toledo.

The path toward redemption did not stop at UT.

Spellis earned his Master's degree from the University of Michigan before authoring a motivational book: More than a Statistic, Stop Being Average.

"I think his story proves, that we really can do whatever we set out to do," Williamson said. "If we are given the tools, that we can achieve whatever we want to achieve."

Life for Spellis is much different than when he was buried in his addiction.

"I have a beautiful daughter, I'm married - wife Nicole, son Jerimiah. He is about to be two. I cant wait to wake up every morning," Spellis said. "I wake up early, get my positive meditation, read and go to work."

His job? To help those in the community, even those behind bars, to overcome addiction to heroin and other deadly drugs.

He says he does not see an end coming to the epidemic, but that has not stopped his motivation to fight it.

He says addressing the drug is part of the solution. Instead, he says state and federal money should be invested into reforming low-income areas and offering more reentry and prevention programs.

Those lifelines have saved hundreds of lives, including his own.

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