This story, originally published by the Bristol Herald Courier, appeared Sept. 7, 2017. Copyright 2017 Bristol Herald Courier.
BRISTOL, Va. — Jessica Henard struggled with addictions to alcohol and opioids for seven years, quitting cold turkey while behind bars only to return to using as soon as she got out.
In the past three years, the 27-year-old has given birth to two healthy sons.
She believes that Roman Henard, born July 8, and 3-year-old Gabriel Henard, would have been born with neonatal abstinence syndrome had it not been for the time she spent in prison and the help she’s received since last year from Highlands Community Services and Bristol Virginia Veritas Adult Drug Treatment Court — a drug recovery program for felons.
Prison is easier, but being out here and actually doing it — knowing that I could easily turn back to drugs, having that challenge every day — that’s what makes it the hardest,” Henard said.
Shortly before she was sentenced to 13 months in prison for theft, larceny and grand larceny convictions, she married William Henard, who was also using drugs. Three months before she arrived at the prison, she found out she was pregnant with Gabriel. For the first month of her pregnancy, she abused prescription pain pills but quit as soon as she found out she was to be a mother.
The day after she gave birth, she went back to prison. She described it as one of the hardest things she’s ever gone through. Her mother, Sherrie Houser, and her husband took care of Gabriel.
“There wasn’t really much I could do besides pray for her,” her mother said. “It broke my heart that she was [going to] jail and [had been in] prison. … That was hard, too, to take the baby from its mama and knowing it would break her heart, but he needed it.”
In November 2015, Henard’s husband committed suicide. The couple had separated.
Soon after losing custody, Henard began serving her six-month jail sentence. When she was released in July 2016, she was sent straight to drug court, which doesn’t allow treatment of drug abuse with Suboxone, and began treatment at Highlands Community Services. Henard regained custody of Gabriel in November.
“The first step is, honestly, reaching out,” she said. “If you don’t reach out, you’re not going to get any help. They [mothers] can all go down the same exact path I did.”
Henard, now a single mother, said if she hadn’t made the decision to turn her life around, she believes she would now be in prison. And once she was released, she said she would most likely have gone “straight to a clinic to get Suboxone or Subutex.” The drugs are commonly used to treat those withdrawing from drugs, but they also carry a risk of dependence.
“Jessica’s done phenomenal,” she said. “We’re all very proud of her progress. … That’s the piece that makes this job worthwhile.”
Henard has about three months left of drug court before she graduates.
“She has a family,” Houser said. “She’s stable. She just makes me proud. She really does. She’s an awesome mama.”
Lurah Spell, Bristol Herald Courier