Trio appreciate second chance from courts

West Point resident and recovering meth addict Riley Thompson says all he's ever done is work on cars. (Photo by Steve Rogers/DTL)
Staff Writer

In 17 years, Riley Thompson lost just one tooth. Not many people who spent 17 years doing what he did can say the same thing.

He was a meth addict.

He's been clean since his arrest on Oct. 3, 2016. He credits a second chance through a court pre-trial diversion program and the support of his family and a former employer with turning his life around.

"I had 22 grams on me when they caught me. I was facing from six years to 24 years. It was enough to get my attention," the 35-year-old Thompson said.

"The DA's office gave me a second chance. It was a good opportunity and I took it. I don't want to fail again," the West Point native continued, speaking of District Attorney Scott Colom and his staff.

The pre-trial program has taken some knocks lately because a handful of people who were given a chance got arrested again on drug charges within a few weeks.

"What we don't hear about is all the people who do make it," Colom said of the PTD alternative sentencing programs that demand regular drug tests, long-term treatment, and a variety of other standards in exchange for a chance to get their record cleared.

Thompson dropped out of high school his senior year. School wasn't a good fit for him and drugs were finding a way into his life.

All he'd ever done was work on cars and he got a job at George's Tire in West Point. His drug problems ended that after a few short years.

"I'd never been caught. I'd made it 17 years, but I always knew the chance was out there. I kept my circle small. The whole town knew what I was doing, they just didn't see me doing it. I told myself if I ever did get caught, that would be it," Thompson said, admitting his addiction caused him to "burn a lot of bridges" in the community.

After his arrest and the offer of a second chance, Thompson successfully completed the three-month faith-based rehab program called Home of Grace in Vancleave, Miss. He also earned his GED.
And he returned to his hometown.

"I used to have a house. I still do, but I've been staying with my parents. My dog went blind at their house so I haven't gone back to my house so my dog can still find his way around," Thompson explained.
That support system is critical to staying clean.

"You can't do it without it. It's a big part of it," he said.

"I still see some of the folks I used to hang out with, used to do drugs with. A lot of them have gotten clean, too. We sort of help each other," he said of that close bond, which he re-enforces through visits at Celebrate Recovery at The Mission.

And the pre-trial program wasn't the only second chance. George's Tire took him back, too.

"You just don't know what that means. I tried to go back a few times before, but it just got worse and worse. I know they keep an eye on me. I used to mind it when I was trying to hide something 24-7. Not now. I'm proud of what I am doing. And I'm making more money than I've ever made," he stated.

Zion Miller, a 24-year-old Ackerman native who is now a Starkville resident, also knows the value of the pre-trial diversion program and the motivation it provided.

He was arrested in October 2016 on charges of selling marijuana after a year-long investigation.

Although a traffic accident that put him in a wheelchair helped get him out of the business before his arrest, he still needed guidance.

"Everyone keeps telling you you can't do anything, you might as well give up. My mother was telling me otherwise, but everyone else wasn't. Then I got the chance in pre-trial, they told you you can do something, encouraged you," Miller explained.

He is now a long-haul truck driver for Knight's Transportation based in Memphis. He makes runs in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Driving is something he says he always wanted to do.
"I don't even know what it's like to be in the passenger seat now. I love it," he said.

He ran into problems in college and fell into dealing marijuana because he "always knew where to get it."

"I was just being crazy, not using my head," Miller said via telephone while parked at a truck stop on the road.

"I got a chance and you don't have to worry again. I learned my lesson. I surround myself with positive people," Miller concluded.

Columbus resident Nathan Mordecai sounds much the same. He first beat addiction in 2005, but then got hooked on opiates, especially oxycodone. He was stealing to support the expensive habit and a grand larceny arrest eventually caught up with him.

He got a chance through pre-trial diversion under Colom's office but relapsed last February. His father fired him from his construction job, his cousin kicked him out of the house.

"I lost everything I had," he said.

"I was basically homeless, living from couch to couch. I had to scrape up enough change to buy gas so I could get to the office to even have a shot at rehab again," the 32-year-old said.

Pre-trial counselor Melissa Cooper warned him, another screw up and he was done.

"She really cared. She could have thrown me out. It saved my life, it changed my life, just that one bit of encouragement. I can't thank them enough," he said of the court program.

His family backed him and he completed 90 days of rehab, bolstered by a list of goals -- to have a family, to one day take over his father's construction business with his younger brother and most of all, to stay clean.
"It's all attainable now," said Mordecai, who will turn 33 next week and leads a Wednesday night Bible study at a local church.

His advice to others echoes what doctors say of opioids, "Once you start taking them, in two or three weeks you are hooked. It happens that fast. And I've done a lot of drugs, but this is the hardest to get off of, the mental and the physical, by far the hardest," he stated.

If he'd gone to prison, Thompson thinks he still would have come out clean and been able to stay clean. But he's not as sure about his pride and self-esteem.

"My heart medicine showed up on a drug test at the pre-trial program. I felt so bad when I saw her (the counselor's) expression. I felt terrible for letting her down and I didn't even really know her. I don't want to do that anymore," Thompson recalled. "I'm still not used to living without it, but it sure does get better everyday," he added of the meth.

"And I only lost one of my teeth," he laughed, pointing to a gap in his smile. "Not many folks who did a lot of meth can say that."