At 32, Andrew Turner dreams of raising a family in a nice neighborhood and helping as many people as possible through his addiction treatment center in Florida, but a crime he committed at the age of 18 complicates his ability to achieve these goals.
It’s been 14 years since Turner, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, broke into the home of an elderly couple in Hampden and took an empty pill bottle and a mobile phone. He was charged with burglary, a Maine felony, and served six months in Penobscot County Jail.
“Once I got to a jail cell and realized what I had done, I felt awful,” Turner said.
After battling substance use disorders for years and overdosing four times, Turner entered a treatment center in Florida, got sober and turned his life around. He has since started his own drug addiction recovery organization in Florida, but as he strives to create a good life for himself and help others recover, he is haunted and embarrassed by his earlier felony charge. .
“I just try to help people and have a kind of regular life, but it’s almost impossible,” Turner said. “I recognize that I made choices that put me in this position. I just want to have a chance and I don’t know what else I can do to prove myself.
Turner’s story is one consequence of Maine’s years-long struggle to bring opioid addiction under control. The opioid epidemic has hit the Bangor area and Penobscot County disproportionately and has led to crimes like the Turner burglary. Turner says he no longer uses opioids, but today he can’t put his belief behind him.
Described as a sweet, shy and sensitive child by his father, Ralph, Andrew Turner was introduced to alcohol and marijuana when he was 13 years old.
Three years later, he started using crack cocaine and became addicted to OxyContin. At the time, Turner said he didn’t understand how addiction or withdrawal worked and that he used drugs to self-medicate untreated mental health conditions.
“I was playing doctor, trying to find the right medicine for me – something that made me feel good,” he said.
One night in August 2008, when he was 18, Turner said he was at a party when he and some friends decided to get into a few cars while under the influence. Although he doesn’t remember much, he said he entered the home of an elderly couple and took an empty pill bottle and a cell phone.
The following April, he was convicted of burglary, a felony, and 10 other misdemeanors, including burglary of a motor vehicle and robbery by unauthorized taking. He was sentenced to five years in prison for burglary, with all but six months suspended.
He ended up serving several stints in prison of 18 to 20 years. When he was last released at the age of 23, his addiction had never been treated, and Turner said his drug use had increased to the point where he used heroin and cocaine daily.
“When he got into drugs, it completely changed him and his attitude. He was angry and violent – it wasn’t him at all,” Ralph Turner said. did whatever he had to do to maintain his habit, whether it was selling drugs or stealing, and that’s what got him into trouble. He stole from us blindly, and I never noticed much until it was too late.
He sent Andrew to drug treatment centers in Florida three times, but to no avail.
Turner said he was finally determined to get help and stay sober after overdosing and being resuscitated with Narcan four times.
The first time he overdosed, Turner said a friend took him to the hospital and he was minutes from death.
“My oxygen had gotten so low and I wasn’t breathing,” he said. “When I finally woke up, the nurse was screaming my name, then said, ‘Welcome, Mr. Turner. Twenty more minutes and you wouldn’t be here.
He then had two more overdoses in gas station toilets and one last time at a treatment center, which immediately sent him to hospital.
“Every night I waited for the phone to ring to tell me he was in jail or dead,” said Ralph Turner.
Around the same time, Andrew Turner was watching several of his friends die from drug overdoses. That and his own overdoses convinced him to seek treatment again.
“I thought of all the people around me who didn’t survive,” he said. “I thought about my family, my nine nieces and nephews, and what I gave them. I realized that if I didn’t do something serious, I would die alone. For the first time, I was ready to do whatever it took.
He entered a small treatment center in Davie, Florida, began a 12-step program, and eventually sought treatment for his underlying mental health conditions. He also found motivation in the people who worked at the center as many of them were recovering and now had stable careers.
“Honestly, the most appealing thing was that they seemed really happy,” Turner said. “I wanted what they had and I was ready to do whatever it took to make it happen.”
Turner changed everything about himself and his life, including who he spoke with, where he spent his time, and his perspective. He has now been sober for 6 and a half years.
After six months of sobriety, he got a job at the facility as an overnight behavioral health technician, which he described as “the bottom of the barrel in the industry, but I was so happy to put the foot in the door”.
He worked there for almost four years and had the opportunity to learn more about addiction treatment and recovery, while maintaining his sobriety.
In May 2021, he opened Prevail Recovery Center, a 24-bed drug and alcohol addiction treatment organization in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, alongside people he had met at the recovery center. Today, he serves as the organization’s Director of Client Services.
“My partners and I are all recovering,” he said. “The goal has always been to save as many addicts as possible because we’ve been there and we know there’s another way of life.”
The organization plans to open another location in New Jersey next year and will then focus on adding a branch in Bangor. Turner said he knew there was a need for addiction treatment in Bangor and that many of the options there had long waiting lists. Carrying out that plan will likely be more difficult for Turner, he said, due to his criminal record.
“I’m still able to do my job and be a partner in the organization, but my criminal record makes it much more difficult,” he said. “I know I can make a difference, but with my record it’s a process and I have to jump through hoops.”
Besides his professional endeavors, Turner said his prior crime made it difficult to find housing and leave his dangerous neighborhood of Hollywood, Florida. He said he considered buying a house in Florida, but once the homeowners association learned of his case, he was no longer considered a candidate for the property.
“Where I live, gunfire in my neighborhood is commonplace,” he said. “I can handle it, but do I want my future wife and children to live in a neighborhood like this? Of course not. I want to start a family of my own. I’m 32 and I’ve worked hard to change everything in my life, but I can’t live in a nice place. On paper, I’m still a criminal.
Over the past year, Turner said he asked Governor Janet Mills for a pardon, which would clear his criminal record, but got no response.
Turner is not scheduled for the Maine Department of Corrections’ next pardon hearing in October, according to Susan Gagnon, director of the Department of Adult Community Corrections.
“At 32, will he pay for the rest of his life for a mistake he made at 18?” said Ralph Turner. “He’s a productive member of society, but that won’t let him go. It haunts him all the time.