ALEXIS SMITH (center) is the most recent graduate of the Shiawassee County Drug Court, which debuted in 2016 under the leadership of 35th Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart.
After battling severe depression and even contemplating suicide, Alexis has transformed herself over that short amount of time into a confident, affable, articulate, driven, happy person, and she has goals for her already bright future.
If completely turning her life around was not enough, Alexis also gained two meaningful friendships in the process. Drug Court volunteers Renee Flynn Brown (left) and Cindy Garber helped Alexis through her recovery, employing a tag team (and sometimes tandem) parenting style to ensure that Alexis knew that she was not alone in her struggle. In the end, the three women developed a bond that promises to stand the test of time.
“I have never had anyone in my life I could lean on, so it took me a while to let my guard down with Renee and Cindy,” explained Alexis. “I realized eventually that there are people who just genuinely want to help. They could see the struggle I was going through and wanted to help me through it. I truly believe that, if I had never met Cindy and Renee, that I wouldn’t be here right now, physically.”
“I think sometimes Alexis doesn’t realize that we didn’t just help her; she helped us,” added Garber. “I was a victim of abuse and I thought that no one could help me, but then I realized, if I can fight this hard to help Alexis, then I can fight for myself. The three of us together are stronger than any two of us. It has been empowering for me.”
“When I met Alexis I knew it would be a long road, but once I was committed there was no turning back,” Renee shared. “My family has experienced a lot of loss. I lost my mom, my dad, two brothers, my husband, I had breast cancer, I had thyroid cancer, and if there had not been people there to help me, I wouldn’t have gotten through it. She needed us, and I felt that helping her was the right thing to do.”
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Alexis Smith became the ninth graduate of the Shiawassee County Drug Court on Wednesday, Oct. 31, after more than 19 months in the program. Judge Matthew Stewart presented Alexis with her framed Drug Court diploma, and the accomplishment was celebrated by the large (and growing) Drug Court team, current Drug Court members and past graduates, and even Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement.
Also in attendance were Alexis’ volunteer navigators, Cindy Garber and Renee Flynn Brown, who have accompanied Alexis along her 19-month journey to sobriety. The two held back their emotions as best they could as they watched Alexis receive her diploma from Judge Stewart, who joined Drug Court team member and attorney Matt McKone and Shiawassee County Prosecuting Attorney Deana Finnegan in praising Alexis for being a mentor and an inspiration to her fellow Drug Court members.
Renee and Cindy were introduced to Alexis by Drug Court liaison Marlene Webster, who is the founder and executive director of Shiawassee Hope, after Alexis was accepted into the program in March of 2017. At the time of her sentencing, Alexis was pregnant, battling addiction and had lost guardianship of her son, Carter. She had no illusions of successfully completing the Drug Court program.
“When I was sentenced, I didn’t know Cindy or Renee yet,” shared Alexis. “I just kind of looked at it [Drug Court] as something I had to do for two years and then I could go back to my normal life.”
Alexis gave birth to Clarence on April 11, 2017, and Renee entered Alexis’ life approximately two months after that. Alexis was getting ready to move into a new home, and Shiawassee Hope was helping her locate the household items she needed for her new place. Renee had heard that a young lady with a newborn needed help, so she came to Shiawassee Hope with a bed and other items, and the two women were introduced.
“At the time, I was still not quite sure about the program or the people in it,” explained Alexis. “I have a hard time trusting people in general, so I wasn’t sure what the motive behind this was. I wasn’t very open at that point; I still had those walls up. That is when Renee and I connected and she became my navigator.”
In the ensuing months, Alexis would receive two reprimands for communicating with Clarence’s father, a known felon, which is strictly prohibited in Drug Court. Alexis was still mostly just going through the motions to complete her sentence and obtain her freedom. That would all change in September.
In September, Alexis was reprimanded for a second time and was punished with a nine-day stay in the Shiawassee County Jail. Following Alexis’ release, Clarence’s father was awarded full custody of their newborn. Renee realized she needed help with Alexis, whose outlook continued to decline with each traumatic life experience, so she reached out to Cindy.
Renee and Cindy had been friends for years and shared the unfortunate bond of having both lost their husband. The two friends had supported each other through their most difficult moments, and those shared experiences made them realize that helping Alexis through her recovery “was the right thing to do.”
“I was a mess when I got out of jail that September,” admits Alexis. “I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Renee took me to Cindy’s house that weekend, and I stayed for three days. One of those nights, as I was crying myself to sleep, Cindy came and sat with me and we talked for a couple of hours. After resisting for a while, I began to open up, and that’s when Cindy and I really connected.
“She promised me she would help me through this, and that it was going to be OK, that I was going to make it through. At first, whenever Cindy or Renee would tell me that, I would get upset and tell them ‘You don’t know that,’ but sitting here now, they were right. It is OK; I made it through it.”
For the ensuing eight months, Alexis fought for custody of Clarence. Although Alexis was skeptical of the Drug Court program from the beginning, this new challenge solidified her belief that she had no hope of turning her life around; that there was not a light at the end of her tunnel. Luckily, Alexis’ trusty navigators were again there to help her through.
They pushed Alexis to earn her GED, which she accomplished in a matter of weeks, and they encouraged her to complete a sexual assault crisis intervention class at Michigan State University and to earn her recovery coach certification. And although Alexis did not realize it at the time, her navigators were keeping her focused on improving herself as a way to distract her from her ongoing custody battle.
“During those eight months, there were so many days where I just wanted to give up,” recalls Alexis. “I was sad and depressed. Cindy and Renee would tell me, ‘You didn’t get in this situation over night and you’re not going to get out of it over night.’ I hated hearing that, but it was true; I just did not see it then.”
Now recovered from her addiction and finished with Drug Court, Alexis is enjoying life again. She won shared custody of Clarence earlier this year, she hopes to regain custody of her older son Carter before the end of 2018 and she has been hired on as a permanent employee at Allied Motion in Owosso.
Additionally, Alexis has been inspired by her Drug Court experience, and she plans to use her experience, and her certification as a recovery coach, to help others with substance abuse and mental health issues, a plan that was supported enthusiastically by McKone, Finnegan and Judge Stewart.