Editor's note: This is the fifth story in a series highlighting an individual's experiences on the road to substance abuse recovery on Guam. The series aims to shed light on Guam's need for resources to effectively administer its drug treatment programs.
Keilani Marie Simmons spent the last 6 1/2 years of her life locked behind prison walls. Initially sentenced to eight years, Simmons had been released on parole in August last year, but she didn't leave prison immediately. For months, Simmons waited for an opening at Oasis Empowerment Center. She got the call about a week before leaving the prison.
"When I got it, I was really scared," Simmons said. "I had been locked up for a while and a lot had changed. My family composition had changed. The outside world had changed. Shoot, even the governor changed."
For 20 years, Simmons was in and out of prison. To support her family, she would steal – but to steal, she needed to be high. Methamphetamine was her drug of choice. Simmons would also sell at times, but most of those proceeds went back into feeding her addiction.
She was rendered jobless and her family, largely homeless. For years, they slept in hotel rooms and on living room floors. If the catch was good, Simmons could house her children for weeks at a time.
Life was chaos.
'I would see them passing around a pipe'
Simmons was introduced to meth in the early 1990s. She remembers the day clearly.
"I walked into a room. My family was living with me, my cousins and stuff. It was my home. I always wondered why they gathered in a room. I would go in and I would see them passing around a pipe."
Simmons didn't use the drug that time, but the addiction would develop over time. It began recreationally – something to do on the weekends. Meth gave her the energy, Simmons said, to keep up with family life and with her job at the time.
She would hide her habit, mostly from her parents and in-laws. But her husband at the time had already begun experimenting with meth. He would show her how to cook the drug until she could smoke it properly.
The two have since divorced. Simmons filed the papers while in prison.
"I figured because he's still an active user that, when it came to that decision, that wouldn't be what I needed when I got out," Simmons said. "Actually, it was fear of coming back to prison – not my desire to be sober – that I didn't want to be with him."
But all of it, Simmons said, was necessary to set herself up for recovery.
18 months in maximum security
In 2012, Simmons was sentenced on burglary and identity theft charges, but the underlying factor was her drug use. Incarceration did little to curb the habit. Meth wasn't difficult to obtain, at least in the early years of her sentence.
She would test positive five times in prison and the violations would land in her in the maximum security unit. The experience broke her.
"I went almost 18 months with no phone call, no visitation, no nothing. No letters. It was hard," she said. "It was hard."
But violations also rendered Simmons ineligible for the drug treatment program at the Department of Corrections – a regulation that didn't make much sense to her.
"Maybe while in prison they want us to really want it for ourselves, so why would we be using in prison if we really don't want it. But what if we really needed it, is my argument," Simmons said. "But I'll never know."
In prison, inmates are also fed misconceptions about recovery by fellow inmates, Simmons said. But her faith was being built up at that time, and this would become the foundation of her recovery. Religion, Simmons added, is one of the few things they can't take away from you.
It helped that DOC had also reorganized at the tail end of her prison term.
"People were shifted. They put the real hard-asses in places where we needed it to be soft-asses so we could get the dope. They cleaned their house. They got rid of all the people that were assisting us."
'A coordinated effort'
Simmons was paroled in August 2018. She had been clean nearly a year by that time but knew that if she was sent outside without receiving treatment, she would relapse. Prison, after all, was "just a warehouse where they put you."
When Simmons went before the parole board, she asked them to help get her into Oasis. They agreed.
But there were complications. A bed would not become available for several months. In the meantime, Simmons would linger in prison.
"It was hard to stay there knowing I was already paroled and could have gone home. But I knew deep down that if I had gone out and went straight to my family, that I would probably use," Simmons said.
She left the prison in December 2018 and entered Oasis. The program has taught her and her family skills to manage her addiction and maintain sobriety.
"There's a lot of motivation here," Simmons said. "It's really been a coordinated effort with my family. They're really supportive. They really should have just left me, but they didn't."
Simmons has 11 children, five of whom are now adults. Two younger daughters were born with disabilities – both due to drug use during pregnancy.
"I really neglected (my children) and I didn't see all of that," Simmons said. "I can't make that go away. I can just try and do better."
Simmons has walked away from her past but now she is concerned that her children may walk the same path she had. Speaking to them, Simmons realizes that there are people in their lives who are active drug users and they may encourage her children to use as well. The prospect terrifies her.
"I've read that 80% of parents incarcerated, their children will also be incarcerated. That scares the s--- out of me," Simmons said. "There's a lot of things I'm terrified of. But where I had no hope when I was high, I have much hope now that I'm sober."
Simmons' children were sent into foster care during her incarceration. The younger daughters were adopted during that time.
When she left prison in December, Simmons hadn't spoken to her daughters in four years. About two months ago, she made some headway.
"The adoptive parents reached out through email," Simmons said. "They don't want a relationship with me, but they would like to allow the girls to know who I am. So I'm allowed to email (the girls) and have conversations with their supervision."
The journey continues
Simmons spoke to The Guam Daily Post in April. She had much to look forward to – a job interview was in process and she was receiving assistance with finding housing.
She was about 18 months clean at the time.
"But that's an arrested sobriety," Simmons said. "Nov. 11, 2017, was the last time I used. But when I knew my recovery was starting and my journey had begun, was the day I walked out of prison."