It was September 22, 2000, when Bronna Miller received the news that the father of her son and the man she had spent 12 years of her life with had been murdered.
Drowning in her grief, four days later Bronna’s life shattered again; her sister had been killed.
“I turned to crack (cocaine). I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t attend either funeral,” she said.
From 2000 to 2007, Bronna smoked crack cocaine and then she injected it into her veins chasing that elusive all-time high. She tried to escape the crippling pain of tragically losing two people she loved within days, but before she knew it she was addicted. Shortly after, she lost custody of her two sons.
“I had a normal childhood. It was nothing like that,” Bronna said. “I ended up with a $1,000 a day habit.”
To support it, she did “whatever it took” to get the money for drugs. She went weeks without showering – barely changing clothes – her only focus getting drugs.
“From prostitution to robbing people, I did it all to get high,” Bronna said. She watched 12 close friends die from overdosing and she also went to prison six times on various theft charges.
“I would not have committed those crimes had I not been on drugs,” Bronna said. “Those you’re doing the drugs with and getting them from, those are not your friends. You will be alone because they will still be doing the same thing.”
Bronna was ordered to Drug Court or face more prison time; she chose Drug Court.
“Drug Court was my turning point,” Bronna said. “I was knocking on death’s door and I was welcoming it. But I learned I can be somebody and I can make it.”
“Everybody said `you won’t make it.’ But you know what, I was never late and I never failed a drug test,” she said with a proud smile. “If it wouldn’t have been for Drug Court I would not have made it. I prayed to die. That’s how bad it was for me. Everybody is out for themselves in that drug world. It’s madness, pure madness. I wouldn’t wish Satan or my worst enemy to live my world and the madness of drugs.”
After being sober for a while, Bronna went back to Freemont Road where she had lived for so many years. She only stayed two days.
“It was like I had pushed pause on everything. The same people doing the same things were there,” Bronna said. “I always got drunk before I smoked crack. If I’m not drunk first I’m not going to get high. If I stay away from alcohol, I stay away from drugs.”
Now, Bronna is a regular at AA meetings and she’s rebuilt her relationship with her two sons. She has also started her own business. She even took custody of her nephew because her youngest sister is going through an addiction.
Chris Hocker was a typical teenager, he thought.
In the eighth grade Chris would experiment with alcohol on the weekends. He moved to using marijuana by his senior year in high school.
At 18, he started working in the service industry and was introduced to cocaine. So he started to party harder.
Soon it was too much and the need for drugs outweighed any other priorities.
Chris lost his job and couldn’t keep one. He got arrested on charges related to his need for money to buy drugs. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was placed on probation.
Chris started working as a bar manager, and that’s when he was introduced to crack cocaine and heroin.
Soon, with not enough money to support his new habit, Chris began stealing and again was arrested. This time, he went to prison for two years.
“When I came home I always went back to the same lifestyle,” Chris said. “I was released in 2007 and I didn’t make it a day before I started using again. The amounts I was having to use [to stay high] kept increasing.”
The cycle continued.
Chris was arrested again and ordered to the Solicitor’s Office Drug Court program or face more prison time. He lasted a year in the program before he couldn’t continue. Instead of prison, he went to rehab.
“I did just enough to stay off the radar,” Chris said.
But he only made it a couple months before he relapsed again – worse this time.
It was May 6, 2010, and Chris was at his lowest point. He retrieved a handgun and felt the weight in his hand.
He put the end of the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
But nothing happened.
Chris was broken.
It was time to try again, so Chris went to another rehab program, but he had a probation violation and ended up back in prison.
When Chris was released, he moved to Columbia and another rehab program.
This time it worked. He worked the program and started his sober journey.
Stronger and better Chris moved back to the area to start work for his dad. He got his life back on track, and he got married. He also got a job helping others through recovery.
“The more education the better decisions you will make rather than peer pressure. Parents need to be educated. I wasn’t educated enough to make that decision,” Chris said. “I tell people to think about their decisions. A wrong one and down the wrong path you go. It’s a struggle to get out, but it’s possible.”
Cory Owens had a tumor on his face removed around the age of 12.
The doctors gave him prescription pain pills to help him. But that opened the door to his new obsession.
“I started selling and taking them and that led to a full blown addiction,” Corey said and noted he had a nearly $1,000 a day habit. “It completely changed me and all my morals. I got to a point where I would do anything to stay high and not be sick. I stole from anybody. I did nothing but lie and manipulate. My life was chaos and devastation. I wreaked havoc everywhere I went.”
The now 27-year-old went to rehab but didn’t apply anything he learned there.
He continued with his addiction and stealing to support his habit. He was arrested on two counts of second-degree burglary – his third offense. He sat in J. Reuben Long Detention Center for a year and was facing 15 years in S.C. Department of Corrections, or he could accept the Solicitor’s Office Drug Court program.
Cory chose Drug Court.
“The program is amazing. It’s definitely saved my life. To me, this is an every day battle and I try to study to know the enemy,” Cory said of his addiction. “I’m not supposed to be here. This was set in place by no man but God alone. I had burned every single bridge. The people I really hurt, have trust in me and now have faith in me.”
Now, Cory is sober and active in recovery programs and desires a life full of recovery. He runs his own business, and he’s purchased property to build a home.
“This program has not just given me my life back, but a life of abundance,” Cory said.
At 15, Hilary Noles was using alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
“When I was 15, I didn’t think I was going to be a heroin addict,” said Hilary Noles, now 29. “We are who we hang out with. I wish I’d listened to my parents and followed the rules.” Her drug use continued, but she managed it.
At 21, Hilary gave birth to a boy and she was sent home from the hospital with some pain pills. When those pills were gone, she started using heroin. By 23, Hilary was injecting it.
She went to detox and a couple months later she was arrested and sentenced to the Solicitor’s Office Drug Court program. She graduated the program and has been sober for two years.
“A connection with God is keeping me sober,” Hilary said and noted she does the 12-steps from AA. “The 12 steps teaches us the true meaning of why we are powerless to drugs and alcohol. When you are struggling, admit it. We think it’s a sign of weakness, but it’s really a sign of strength.”
She has now gotten custody of her son and recently gave birth without any pain medicine, to a daughter.
“Now, decisions I make are not about me anymore,” Hilary said. “It’s really amazing when you are in the mix of it, you think there’s nothing you can do and that’s not the case. I knew I could do it – a life other than drugs and alcohol.”
If she could go back to her 15-year-old self, Hilary said she’d tell that girl to “try to enjoy life in the moment and not try to grow up so quickly. Stick with the winners, people doing better than you are because the person you hate today, could be the person you admire tomorrow.”
For her future self, Hilary said she hopes she’s still sober, has another child and the ability to purchase a home.
“I hope I can say I’ve got 10 years sober. I hope that I have helped more people out of being addicted to drugs and alcohol,” Hilary said. “You are capable of doing it. You can be whatever you want. You have to work hard for it. It’s never too late. There’s life out there besides drugs and alcohol.”
At 17, Jenna Hughes met a man she thought was the one for her and she moved to Myrtle Beach.
Within three months, Jenna realized she was wrong.
The man was using drugs and soon Jenna was smoking crack cocaine. He also became abusive to her.
A month later, “I had lost everything,” Jenna said. “I robbed people. I sold myself. I did whatever I could to get high.”
Jenna got pregnant, but because of the drug use, she lost custody of her son. She got pregnant again with a daughter and again lost custody.
Jenna was now 20 and in jail on drug charges. But in October 2014, she was accepted into Drug Court.
She finally got sober.
She has custody of her son, and faced the difficult position of giving her daughter up for adoption to ensure her future.
“I got my family back and got a job and my license. I got married, bought a house and had a baby,” she said in March 2017. “It made me a person again, going through Drug Court.”
If Jenna could go back to her 17-year-old self, she said “I would listen to the people that love me. . . . take their advice, and think about the consequences.”
For more than 40 years and through several prison sentences, Mike Stanley’s life revolved around every major illegal drug available.
“I was 11,” the 53-year-old said describing the first time he drank alcohol and then it progressed.
“I was smoking weed, drinking, using pills, meth, coke, crack, heroin. I was in and out of institutions, prisons, and jail,” Mike said. “I always thought I’d never get caught, but then you do. I got tired of my kids and parents coming to see me in prison. You don’t realize all your actions have a ton of impact on people. It was eye-opening to all the pain I caused other people.”
The Solicitor’s Office Drug Court program was Mike’s turning point.
“I passed 274 drug tests. That’s a major accomplishment at my age,” he said with a smile. He graduated in November 2016 and remains drug-free.
“It’s good because I don’t worry about chasing dope or money for dope. Life is good, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles,” Mike said. “Everybody has problems, it’s how you deal with them that make you who you are.” He started his own handyman business and built it from working on trailers but has expanded to multi-million dollar homes.
“Now, I have more work than I can schedule. The byproduct of addictions is being a perfectionist,” Mike said. “It’s a good feeling to not have to live like that. I’m happy for today. It’s an awesome program. You get out of Drug Court what you put into it. I feel eternally indebted.”