There was a time Brittnee Turner could not see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Over several years, the Montrose woman was, in her words, hopelessly addicted to amphetamines and painkillers. The addiction led to arrest and felony convictions — and, in 2017, a community corrections sentence.
The Advantage Treatment Centers Community Corrections (or commcorr) facility in Montrose is a sentencing option that can keep people out of prison; help them reintegrate into the community; attain treatment, and gain employment.
But it’s work.
“There wasn’t any light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like I was stuck and couldn’t change. When I arrived at commcorr, it was very hard for me to change,” Turner said.
“I had countless write-ups. It was a struggle for quite a while. ATC was extremely patient with my stages of change. They didn’t give up on me. When I felt like there was nothing to fight for, they would still fight.”
One day, Turner decided to fight for herself.
“I say I woke up and it was like a lightbulb turned on. It wasn’t working for me anymore and I needed to change,” she said.
“I started to take my pen back and started to write my own story.”
Turner not only engaged in the programs available to her and became a commcorr success, she transformed her experience into something that could help others. Where she once attended therapy and treatment groups, Turner now runs eight as a facilitator.
She is a certified addictions technician and peer recovery support specialist, as well as a certified MRT (moral reconation therapy) facilitator.
According to published literature, MRT is structured around the basic treatment issues of confronting beliefs/attitudes; assessing relationships with others; reinforcing positive behavior; positive identity formation, enhancing self-concept; decreasing the extreme pursuit of pleasure at any cost; developing frustration tolerance and developing higher stages of moral reasoning.
The modality addresses thinking errors, Turner said. “It really helps with that positive behavioral growth.”
On top of facilitating groups, she is a treatment administrator who handles referrals from probation, parole and the community.
Turner is further part of the Problem Solving Court, originally known as “drug court.” This diversionary program allows offenders to avoid a conviction if they successfully complete specific, rigorous requirements.
Turner’s turnaround also benefitted her family. She was able to regain custody of her daughter. She married a man 15 years into his own sobriety and they have purchased a home, as well as welcomed a child, now 2.
“I never thought I would see myself where I am today, showing my daughter that, ‘Mommy made mistakes, but she figured it out.’ She now knows if she ever struggles, she can come to me. And she knows not to give up. Because anything’s possible,” Turner said.
The journeyTurner was hired through a waiver and screening process with the commcorr board and the Division of Criminal Justice, Office of Community Corrections.
ATC’s clinical director Sarah Stangebye said Turner is not the first former client to volunteer, but is the first to be hired on staff and to receive certification to treat substance use disorders.
“When you have someone like Brittnee, what you do is, you prove that recovery is possible and that you can get better,” said Stangebye. “I think for clients, especially in the criminal justice system, who are deeply affected by substance abuse, it can feel bleak and very dark.
“And Brittnee has walked that journey. It’s possible.”
Commcorr is a sentencing option; prospective clients must be approved by the board if a judge deems them eligible for such a sentence. Commcorr can also be ordered for parolees transitioning back into the community from prison.
“Commcorr is more treatment-oriented, but it’s also a much more structured environment than, say electronic home monitoring, probation, sober living or parole,” ATC’s CEO Doug Carrigan said.
“Those all have important places in the system, but for a lot of clients, they need to learn how to go out in the community. That’s built in a professional, structured environment. I think that’s the level that’s needed in the criminal justice system sometimes,” he added.
“It’s very much an environment where our clients can succeed, but it is more structured than most other alternatives. … It’s beneficial for our clients to see somebody like Brittnee succeeding.”
ATC for fiscal year 2020 had a 75% success rate among its clients; the state average for commcorr is 65%, ATC’s program director Tyson Berry said. In 2019, the local commcorr had a 76% success rate, compared to the state average of 71%.
“Every year, our numbers continue to improve. A huge part of that is the treatment team we have in-house and Brittnee being part of that team,” said Berry.
“What I like about commcorr and ATC is, it puts you back into the community so you can make those choices to use or not to use,” Turner said.
“It was definitely my choice, participating in all these groups, to learn those tools to not go back, to learn tools to cope with triggers … and to identify what those triggers are. You typically don’t understand what the triggers are until you get sober.”
A trigger can be a certain place, or certain people — for instance, people who are also substance-use disordered or engaged in criminal conduct. A criminal defendant, like anyone else without sound support systems, tends to gravitate toward the familiar.
“It (treatment) really brings to light what causes that behavior and how you can cope with it in a positive manner,” Turner said, speaking of triggers.
“Commcorr and ATC, they were a lifesaver for me. I probably never would have gotten sober if it wasn’t for being sentenced to commcorr.”
‘How do I be like Brittnee?’Among situations that can motivate commcorr clients, few likely compare to having a counselor or facilitator who has lived a similar experience.
“It’s my chance to give back to others actively struggling in addiction,” Turner said. “It also helps to know I can meet a client where they’re at. I don’t know their life, but I know what addiction feels like and what hopelessness feels like, and I can help support them in their journey, their up and downs, their all-of-the-aboves.”
Her clients have a certain level of understanding, but they can’t plan on a walk in the park — Turner expects them to put in the work.
“They understand I get it, but they understand what my motivation is, and I hold them accountable,” she said.
“But there’s a little more trust that I see when they find out. They really open up and there’s an amount of respect that I see from that.
“I think I’m definitely the hardest on them. I see their potential and I will definitely push them to that. I let them know they can do it, but they’ve got to stay focused, know what they want, and have realistic goals.”
Commcorr administrators know people working for their second chance aren’t able to change immediately, Turner said, but they will help change a client’s direction for the better and guide reintegration.
“It really helps them getting back to the community. In active addiction, you don’t know what it’s like to work a full-time job and do those things,” Turner said.
Commcorr is a better option than prison, where the wait list for therapy and treatment programs can be enormous.
But how a person does in a structured environment isn’t always a predictor of ongoing success.
“The real test is when you’re no longer involved in the justice system. A lot of people find it easier for them to ‘be on paper’ (to still have an active case) and have that structure,” Turner said.
The commcorr option, though, enables people to be out in their community, to work, to interact with family — things not allowed in the prison system — and so, the commcorr client has to navigate the daily tests and triggers someone imprisoned is unlikely to encounter, or be prepared for.
Turner is an inspiration, not just a personal success story, Berry and her colleagues at ATC said.
“It shows what ATC and commcorr offer to the judicial system and the community,” said Berry, who also said current clients see what opportunities are possible and have begun showing an interest in doing what Turner does.
“It takes a team approach to working with clients and making the big changes that they make in their lives. Having a peer they can relate to and seeing that they can make a difference, can change their life,” Berry said.
“Since integrating Brittnee into the program, we have had multiple clients who have come and asked ‘How do I do that?’ How do I be like Brittnee?’” Stangebye said.
“It’s been eye-opening to see the change,” said Carrigan.
“We get to see clients change when they’re in the program, but we don’t often get to see the finished product. To see somebody not become just a professional, but really as a healthy human being — I can’t speak highly enough about her work skills and how lucky we are to have her. It’s been an honor to watch,” he added.
Turner is eager to see more of her clients make the same turnaround she has.
“I came from a really troubled past, no light to be seen, but I hear all the time, ‘If Brittnee can do it, I can do it.’ I hold them to that standard. Not everyone is able, but recovery is possible,” she said.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.