Jennifer Clay holds her son Jaden while talking about her decade-long battle with drug addiction. KATIE WEDELL/STAFF
Photo: Katie Wedell
Photo: Katie Wedell

Local mom in recovery: Jail ‘best thing that ever happened to me’

Jennifer Clay managed for more than nine years to fool herself and others into thinking her drug use wasn’t a major problem.

Starting with pain medication prescribed after a car accident when she was 18, she quickly developed a habit and moved to illicit pills and eventually heroin.

“Almost the entire time I worked at a hospital,” the Springfield native, now 31, said. “I really didn’t think that I had an issue or a problem, because I maintained a job, my house, bills, cars.”

Eventually her need to support her habit turned into lying, cheating people out of money, and after she lost her long-time job, stealing from some employers and prostitution.

Chasing a high became her whole life.

“I woke up like, I’m going to get high. My lunch was, I’m going to get high. And I went to bed like, I’m only going to wake up tomorrow because I’m going to get high,” Clay said. “All of my self-worth, my self-esteem, everything I’d once lived for … I didn’t care about anymore.”

This story is part of our Path Forward project that digs into our community’s most pressing problems. That includes how the Dayton region can recover from the opioid crisis.

 

Both Clay and Cassie Wehrs are now in recovery, both having stayed at the same recovery house in Springfield.

Several times Clay reached out to family members for help but didn’t feel like she got support to change.

“It was never going to stop and I didn’t have the willpower myself,” she said.

‘Enough dope that I could die’

On Easter Sunday of 2015, Clay had had enough.

“I had it in my head I was going to go rob Walgreens on South Limestone (Street),” she said. “I was either going to get enough money to buy enough dope to die, or they were going to catch me and I was going to get help.”

She had a friend drive her to the Walgreens where they knew her as a regular customer. She asked for a pack of cigarettes as she always did, but then put her hand in her pocket, pretended to have a gun and told the clerk to give her all the money in the register.

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The clerk later told police she thought Clay was joking at first. But when she said she had a gun, the clerk handed over a stack of cash.

Clay confessed what she’d just done to her friend as he drove them away from the store. He dropped her off on a corner and went straight back to turn her in. He probably saved her life, Clay said.

“I got caught and went to jail, which was the best thing that ever happened to me, honest to God, because I didn’t want to die,” Clay said.

From jail treatment to recovery housing

Within two weeks of being in the Clark County Jail, someone from McKinley Hall visited and asked if she was interested in starting addiction treatment while incarcerated and she began attending group counseling sessions with other women in the jail.

McKinley Hall is a state-certified treatment center in Springfield that offers intensive outpatient counseling to inmates in the Clark County Jail through its Criminal Justice Program.

“It really helped a lot,” Clay said. So much so that she recognized she needed more help when she was sentenced in August of 2015.

Jennifer Clay, of Springifeld, talks about her experience with group addiction counseling through McKinley Hall while she was housed at the Clark County Jail.

“They wanted to send me home to outpatient treatment,” she said. “I knew if I got out at that point I was going to get high.”

Clay requested residential treatment but Clark County didn’t have any inpatient options for women at the time. She was sentenced to probation with a requirement of inpatient rehab at the Women’s Recovery Center in Xenia, where she stayed for three months.

When she got out, she received services through McKinley Hall and moved into one of its recovery houses for women, Wehler House.

‘I’m grateful for that house’

Cassie Wehrs grew up with substance abuse in her Springfield home and first tried drugs in high school.

“It got out of hand when I was about 20,” she said. “I got into pills, coke and meth.”

She was ordered to attend outpatient treatment at McKinley Hall after a disorderly conduct arrest, but said she didn’t take it seriously at first because she wasn’t ready to change.

“I had to want it for myself,” Wehrs said. “I was in McKinley Hall (outpatient treatment) for a year and still getting high and still doing what I wanted to.”

Cassie Wehrs, of Springfield, credits McKinley Hall's recovery housing for her success in beating drug addiction.

Real change in her behavior came when she went to 90 days of inpatient treatment at Sojourner Recovery in Hamilton. She, too, then moved into the Wehler House.

“If I would have come home from Hamilton and didn’t live in a sober living house, I wouldn’t have stayed clean,” Wehrs said. “It gave me a chance to meet other women, get a sponsor, work some steps before I felt I was able to move out on my own and I’m grateful for that house.”

She lived there for a year and four months and credits the support of the other women with helping her stay clean through the death of her father when she was five months into recovery.

‘There’s a meaning to life again’

Both women said their life after drug addiction is full of simple blessings.

Wehrs graduated from McKinley Hall about six months ago and is employed.

“I’ve got to work on getting my driver’s license. Other than that I’ve completed everything I wanted to in my recovery,” she said. “I’m on my 12th step. I share my story … I do service work and try to help out.”

RELATED: Montgomery County Coroner says local overdose deaths are climbing again

She and Clay both say they are closer with their families in sobriety.

“My life has been really good,” Wehrs said. “So far there hasn’t been a relapse in my story.”

“It’s a blessing to feel like there’s a meaning to life again,” Clay said.

Clay graduated from the McKinley Hall program more than a year ago and now has a job and a home where she takes care of her six-month-old son, Jaden.

“I’m happy just going to get a bag of Oreos and milk and eating on the couch and playing with him,” Clay said. “I don’t wake up to chase the high, I wake up to see him smile.”

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