'My Heart Still Beats' Part 4: Mike (Transcript)
"You’re right, I probably do deserve to be in jail the rest of my life. Or I do deserve to give my life for hers. But since I can’t, let’s save somebody else’s life."
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MIKE LUCIER: I remember tears started pouring out of my eyes, I’m like “You’re lyin’! I could never hurt anybody like that. I’m not that type of guy. I’m not that type of person. I didn’t hit nothing. I remember a telephone pole. She was like “yeah. The telephone pole and the two girls.”
GARY MILLER, HOST: That was Mike Lucier, talking about the accident that took a young woman’s life, and changed his life forever.
I’m Gary Miller. This is My Heart Still Beats — a project from Writers for Recovery and Vermont Public Radio. My Heart Still Beats features conversation and original writing from the recovery community all around Vermont. People in recovery from substance use disorder. And people helping those in recovery rebuild their lives.
I met Mike Lucier in a Writers for Recovery group at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, where he was doing a long sentence for a serious drug-related crime.
Mike grew up in Newport Center, Vermont. His parents owned the general store, where he worked as a boy. Mike had a solid family, but he had some problems, too. He was overweight, and at one point, reached nearly 500 pounds. His weight contributed to deformities in his legs that made walking painful, and made it hard for him to participate in many activities other kids did. He felt like an outsider.
When Mike was 14, he had corrective leg surgery. Afterward, he felt something he never had before.
MIKE LUCIER: After the surgery, I remember having the morphine drip and just loving the feeling it took away. Made me feel like I didn’t care if I was fat, I didn’t care that my leg hurt or that I it just took all that feeling away and made everything better.
GARY MILLER: That new feeling was temporary, but later on, Mike discovered another way to get it: alcohol. He started at a teen graduation party, and soon it became a regular thing.
MIKE LUCIER: I would always overdrink, because the more you drink, the less you feel, and when I was floating and not caring about what my body looked like, what my legs looked like. I used to call myself “big fat worthless piece of crap.” I would be able to be me, I guess. Dance. Flirt. Be able to have a good conversation with people, not be intimidated or have anxiety. I always for all my life, even now, always looked for a way out of that.
I was on a lot of different pain meds because of my legs, so I guess you would say, when pain meds became available at parties and stuff, it wasn’t intimidating, because I already knew what they would do to me. I knew they wouldn’t kill me. I knew what they were, so I wasn’t scared like I would be otherwise.
GARY MILLER: From pain meds, Mike moved on to heroin.
MIKE LUCIER: I snorted my first line, it was probably as big as my fingernail. I remember getting sick, but then feeling great after I got sick. Floating, pain free. Anxiety free. Don’t-care-what-I-look-like free. It was what I needed. That’s all I can say about that. It was what I needed.
After that, I did as much as I could as much as I could. It just spiraled out of control. I got so bad, I was stealing money from my parents. They were asking what was going on, if I knew. “Oh, it must be a girl, it must be a different worker, Mom. What’s going on?” And finally I had to tell her.
GARY MILLER: Mike went to rehab, and he did pretty well. He vowed to stay clean once he got home. But that didn’t last long. He relapsed, and eventually his parents threw him out.
MIKE LUCIER: I remember I left, I went to my buddy Steve’s house. It was a dump in the middle of nowhere. Wet clothes. Holes in the floor, just nasty everything, you know?
GARY MILLER: In 2004, a friend told Mike about a new drug that might help him break free from heroin. Mike got a prescription for Suboxone, and later one for methadone. They enabled him to stop his heroin use, and he stayed away from opioids for four years. But in the summer of 2009, after breaking up with a girlfriend, Mike started drinking again, this time harder than ever.
On the afternoon of August 18, 2009, Mike was driving home in his pickup. He had been drinking all day, and he was also on methadone.
MIKE LUCIER: I remember blacking out. And then all the sudden I remember hearing “Bam!” And I had hit a telephone pole. I hit the telephone pole. I swerved back on the road, like bounced off the telephone pole. I had a big Ford F-150, and pulled out, and kept going.
I remember blacking back out, and waking up to a guy yelling, “Oh my God, he just come right at me, he come right at me, he didn’t turn.”
GARY MILLER: Then Mike blacked out again. He woke up in the hospital, handcuffed to a bed. He was transferred to the police station, where he assumed he would be charged with Driving While Intoxicated. He was right — but there was more.
MIKE LUCIER: So this woman come in, and she was an investigator type thing, and she says “Hey, I’m so and so. Do you know why you’re here?” And I was like, “Yeah, I was drinking and driving and I went off the road and I hit a vehicle.”
And she said, “Yeah, but do you remember being in Orleans County and being in an accident over there?” And I was like, “Kinda,” I said. “No, not really.” You know.
And she goes, “Well, you hit a telephone pole and two girls.”
GARY MILLER: In the crash, Mike hit two women. One was seriously injured. The other was killed.
MIKE LUCIER: I’m in a blur. I’m in a blur, they put me back in the cell. They got watch on me. I don’t know because I’m still high and I don’t deserve to live. I mean, what do I do? What do I do? What do I do?
GARY MILLER: Now Mike would have to go to trial.
MIKE LUCIER: How can I argue with anything they are gonna give me? If they told me they were gonna give me life and there’s no way I would get anything less, I’m would have to accept that because she, I took her life.
I testified. My mom testified on my behalf. That was hard. And I wanted to just jump up and be like “Mom, it’s not your fault. I’m sorry for you. Why, Mom? You raised us the right way. You brought us up with everything we needed. Everything we had. It weren’t enough. I was a selfish pr---. I needed to be high to block out that I was a fatso. You know, I was going through all this crap.”
GARY MILLER: Mike was sentenced to eight to 17 years. But as part of his sentencing agreement, he negotiated a deal. He wanted to tell his story to others, so they could avoid his mistakes.
MIKE LUCIER: So I went up there to my high school, North Country Union High School, where I went to school.
They bought me in, they asked me, “Do you want to be in handcuffs? Or do you just want to go in?” I was like, “No, I think the handcuffs is good.” So we actually did, I guess you’d call a “scare straight.” But I walked in there with handcuffs, I told my story. I told them what jail was about. How terrible it was. That it’s a place you never want to go. That accidents can happen to anyone.
And you know what? Afterwards, the kids asked a lot of great questions.
GARY MILLER: As the years in prison passed, Mike continued to do speaking engagements outside. Inside, he worked his program. He attended AA meetings, and focused on avoiding drugs, which, even in prison, could be easy to find.
In 2017, Mike was released from prison. He felt happy about getting out, but he had a lot of worries, too.
MIKE LUCIER: You asked how I felt, I felt, did I do enough time? Are people gonna think I did enough time? Is there any amount of enough time for killing somebody like that? Will I relapse, because I can’t find a job and the only way I can do it is by talking to people who use, because that’s who I know?
GARY MILLER: Instead, Mike found support at the Journey to Recovery Community Center in Newport.
MIKE LUCIER: At first, you know, I just volunteered, I went to some groups. Brandon said, “You really should volunteer, and you’ve got a good story. You need to tell your story, and you know what? I want to send you to get your recovery coaching certificate.”
So I did it. And I started working and I was answering phones, Checking people in and out. Meetin’ and greetin’ people. And then finally, Brandon made me the Recovery Coach coordinator. It’s helped my recovery, and I’ve never been happier in my life.
GARY MILLER: Still, despite all the progress he’s made, Mike hasn’t forgotten the past.
MIKE LUCIER: It’s a day-to-day process. I’ve learned to forgive myself, you know, but I still think about it and I still feel about it, you know, every day.
I always will remember the accident, and what it did and how it affected a lot of people.
GARY MILLER: Mike says one of the hardest things is the pain he caused to the mother of the woman he killed.
MIKE LUCIER: It’s a very hard thing to forgive or to accept somebody who takes your child’s life, you know. I did that to her.
GARY MILLER, ON TAPE: And what do you say to someone that would say you don’t deserve to be forgiven, that you should just be locked in and throw away the key?
MIKE LUCIER: In some aspects you might be right, but then again why would I be sitting there for $75,000 a year when I can be out here helping people to not let it happen to them? You’ve gotta look at both sides of the situation. Yeah, you’re right, I probably do deserve to be in jail the rest of my life. Or, you know, I do deserve to give my life for hers. But since I can’t, let’s save somebody else’s life.
GARY MILLER: At Journey to Recovery, the community center, Mike has plenty of opportunities to help people get their lives back on track.
MIKE LUCIER: I have had people come up to me and tell me I’ve changed their lives. I’ve given them a new way to look at things. And I’ll tell you just like you know, my mentor told me, I didn’t change your life. You changed your life. I was able to show you how. You made the decision, and you’re the one working your program.
I want to meet you where you’re at. I don’t care if you’re in the midst of your worst addiction, if you’re at rock bottom and you’re still gettin’ high. If you walk through them doors, I’m meeting you where you’re at. You’re obviously ready at some level, you know. Whether it be just to get some information. Whether it be just to get a cup of coffee and sit down and listen.
GARY MILLER: Now we’ll hear Mike Lucier read his poem “A Morning Clean and Sober,” written in Writers for Recovery, a series of workshops for people recovering from substance use disorder.
A Morning Clean and Sober, by Mike Lucier
WOW! It’s a year later and he can finally say that this is a morning his stars have aligned. This is a morning he can wake up with no bright lights in his face. No loud toilet flushing and no waiting for the doors to unlock so he can get out of his cell and start his day. This is a morning he can wake up and not have to fear the unknown. Not to have to fear whether he will ever get a job. Will he ever find the right person to share his clean and sober life with. Will he get to take his future child on vacation with him and his beautiful wife, whoever she may be? Will he ever walk down the street without his hood over his head and without his head hanging down with shame in his heart? Yes!
A year later, and look at him now. He’s waking up to a morning clean and sober. Waking up to go to the job he loves, the job he has always dreamed of. Look he’s waking up to the girl he loves, the girl he’s dreamed about spending his life with since a boy could dream about a girl. Look, he’s going to school. Quick, look, he’s actually doing it everybody! He’s on his path to fight the disease that once was not even a thought, but now a mission, a vision, no a conquest.
GARY MILLER: That was Mike Lucier and this is My Heart Still Beats.
My Heart Still Beats is a production of Writers for Recovery, made possible with support from Vermont Public Radio and the VPR Innovation Fund. Producers for this series are Bess O’Brien and me, Gary Miller. Erica Heilman edited the series and Angela Evancie is VPR's managing editor for podcasts. The music in this episode was by Brian Clark. Writers for Recovery is made possible through major underwriting from the Vermont Department of Corrections, The Rona Jaffe Foundation and Nat and Martha Winthrop.
For more information about Writers for Recovery and how to join a workshop go to www.writersforrecovery.org
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