By Natasha Purnell
My name is Natasha Purnell. I began using drugs at 12 years old. As an adolescent, I would run away from home and stay gone for weeks. I had always felt different or out of place when I was young, and I was using drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd in order to change the way that I felt. Eventually, I began partaking in criminal activity in order to stay high.
My criminal behavior related to my addiction resulted in serving time in prison on two occasions. I spent around 5 years behind bars. Prison kept me off the street for a while, but did not provide me with the tools that I needed to live a life of recovery.
I was facing prison for the third time when I was offered the opportunity for rehabilitation and treatment through the ReMerge program. This program gave me the necessary tools to understand my addiction and learn to live a fulfilling life without drugs.
My sobriety date is April 30, 2013. I have been clean and sober now for 3 years. I now hold a full-time job as a peer recovery support specialist at NorthCare. I have been reunited with my son and my family, I give back to my community by helping others struggling with addiction, and I am a productive, tax-paying citizen.
Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate for women in the country, many of them struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues that go untreated while incarcerated. State Questions 780 and 781 will reverse that trend, and invest in rehabilitation and treatment services to give people an opportunity to address underlying issues and become productive citizens. I urge you to vote yes on State Questions 780 & 781 this November in order to provide individuals like me with the opportunity for treatment instead of prison.
Editor’s NOTE: Purnell spoke Thursday outside the office of Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge. She was part of a delegation of Oklahomans that turned in more than 200,000 signatures on statutory initiative petitions, to secure a place on the November ballot for State Questions 780 and 781.