Elisabeth Guffey, 37
clean since October 6, 2015
They all called her Liz back then. The dealers. The police. The other addicts. The other prostitutes. Even the johns.
By the time she was 35, she had been in and out of either prison or jail 30 different times — drug charges, theft, prostitution.
But on October 6, 2015, the short brunette left the Vermilion County Courthouse, now as Elisabeth. She felt a thousand pounds lighter, filled with a new hope and confidence of a new life ahead.
The night before, she had found herself on her knees in her living room, begging God for help. Facing eight years for theft, a desperation had finally found its way into both her head and her heart.
“At that moment I realized I wanted nothing more in life than to learn to be a wife, a mother, and a daughter again,” she says. “And so I prayed to find a way to leave Liz behind and to find Elisabeth again.”
Her various stints behind bars had taught her nothing, she says. “Locked up, I was given no skills or opportunities to overcome my addiction. None. It’s no surprise I never once completed parole successfully.”
The next morning at her sentencing hearing, Judge Nancy Fahey saw something in Elisabeth, who had been using crack cocaine for 14 years.
“After you have served as a judge for a while, you develop a sense of the people who really want help and those that say what they think the judge wants to hear,” she said. “I felt Elisabeth was genuine in her desire for help and change. I realized that putting her back in prison would not help either her or our community.”
And so Judge Fahey sentenced her instead to Drug Court, an innovative partnership-driven program that does exactly what Elisabeth wanted and needed: provides people with substance use disorders with the skills and tools they need to find recovery and rebuild their lives.
On November 9, 2016, just 17 months later that life-changing court visit, Elisabeth Guffey once again heard her full name called in court. This time she stood with a broad smile and a full heart and approached the judge with anticipation, not dread. Now instead of being handed a sentence, Elisabeth Guffey was handed a plaque for completing all four phases of Drug Court with not one sanction or relapse, a remarkable accomplishment.
Sixteen years earlier, a boyfriend introduced her to crack. She was 23 then, watching helplessly as her step-father — her “hero” — died a slow and painful death from transverse myelitis. “I was stressed and depressed,” she recalls. “When he handed me that pipe he said it would calm me. I had no idea what it would do to me and my life.”
“I call it the day I met the devil,” she says of that afternoon. The drug quickly consumed her life and as her habit grew, she abandoned her four children and began prostituting and stealing. “Seeing prison walls was routine for me back then. The guards — they all knew me.”
In early October 2015, she was picked up for theft for the second time.
“I was certainly no stranger to prison walls. But that time something happened,” she recalls. “I realized I was finally tired of being tired. That I hated the person I was. That I didn’t want them to put me in a box again — I didn’t want to be thrown away any more.”
Today thanks to Judge Fahey, Drug Court, and caring and guiding staff from probation and Prairie Center, Elisabeth is reunited with her kids, has a home, is married, and dreams of cosmetology school. She’s also found faith: “Today my veins pump Jesus, not drugs.”
Her kids now look at their mother as a role model. “Mom is a survivor,” says her 16-year-old daughter, Lexi. “I don’t care about her addiction. I care about the changes she made. She said she could do it, and so she did. I love her more than anything.”
This October, Elisabeth will have completed everything she needs to finally be fully off probation.
“For the first time in 15 years I am 100 percent out of the judicial system. I am living proof that given the right tools and chances, recovery is possible.”