EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a periodic series of articles examining the lives of people who have battled with addiction to drugs.
HUNTINGTON - Driving down 3rd Avenue on Tuesday, Nicole Hammonds saw smoke rising into the clear blue sky.
"I thought someone was grilling," Hammonds said. "I thought, 'Wish I was.'"
But as she continued down the road, she realized the smoke wasn't coming from a grill - it was coming from the roof of Dr. Friday Simpson's doctor's office.
Hammonds whipped her car around at a red light, inspected the smoke and alerted the seven people in the office that the building was on fire.
But had it not been for Cabell County Drug Court giving her a second chance, Hammonds would have been in jail Tuesday instead of being a good Samaritan.
Hammonds' struggle with addiction began after she lost her mother, father and sister in the span of six years. She said it was her mother's death when she was 21 that started the spiral and her sister's that finally put her over the edge.
It started with heavy drinking and cocaine use and progressed to heroin.
"I was down to 98 pounds in 2011 and I was doing heroin every day, living at hotels," she said.
She also lost custody of seven of her eight children.
She lost her job, and in 2012 she started getting in trouble with the law, picking up charges for shoplifting, stealing and prostitution.
"Jail time never fazed me," Hammonds said. "Every time I got out, I would hit the streets straight up. As soon as I walked out of the jail, I would go straight to a dope house until I got arrested again."
The final time she was put in jail was for a felony charge. It was her birthday.
She was offered drug court or home confinement.
"Sitting in jail, everybody was like, 'Oh, you're not going to make it in drug court,'" she said. "'Nobody makes it. It's set up for failure.' Josh Parlier, a (probation officer), had come to see me at the jail. He was like, 'Haven't I seen you before?' and I was like, 'Yeah, at a recovery house the year before.' He told me how drug court was and if it was something I would be interested in. I said yeah and they found me a candidate."
When she first entered the program, Hammonds said she just wanted to get out of jail. She said she knew she wouldn't be able to succeed without guidance, so she entered a 30-day treatment program.
Still, she ended up back in jail once after a relapse, but she was given a second chance.
When she got back out of jail, she was sent to live at the Huntington City Mission. Hammonds said it was her turning point.
"A lady from Christ Temple (Church), Liz Rudd, knew me since I was a child, would pick me up every morning and take me to the church and keep me occupied," Hammonds said. "The ladies at the church would feed me lunch, take me to my classes or to screen and in the evenings back to the mission. I remember the day I walked into that church after getting out of jail, and they were starting the Judgment House. I asked them if I could still be in it. I didn't know if they would still let me. The lady working the desk said, 'Why wouldn't we let you?' And I said, 'I just got out of jail.' And she said, 'Oh, honey,' and she got up and gave me a hug - and I was bawling my eyes out at this point - she said, 'It doesn't matter.'"
She said by pairing God with drug court, she was able to make it.
"I dropped to my knees during that Judgment House and said, 'OK, this is it,'" Hammonds said. "My life has only gotten better ever since."
Hammonds' change allowed her to keep custody of her eighth child, her daughter.
"Child Protective Services stepped in and put a lock on her when I had her," Hammonds said. "I can remember being in the hospital bawling my eyes out and calling my PO. He said he would find out what happened. They said I couldn't take her home because of my past. I had just gotten an apartment two days before I went in to have her at Project Hope. I remember this voice in my ear saying, 'If I gave you an apartment for two, why wouldn't you be taking her home?' I still remember that. I used to think people were crazy when they said they heard a voice from God, but I literally heard that. The CPS worker walked in the next day and said, 'We have to open a case, but you are taking this baby home.'"
She also has been able to meet and talk to three of her other children who were adopted. She said she tells them nothing but the truth about what happened to her and subsequently them.
"I told them addiction had me so strong that I love you but I couldn't care about you or take care of you," she said. "Now I can make that stuff up with my actions, not just my words."
Hammonds said she doesn't blame CPS, nor does she want her children to blame CPS for what happened.
"They'll say, 'Oh, we don't like them' and I'll say, 'No, you need to like them because they saved you from going through stuff you didn't need to be on,'" she said. "I'm grateful they did what they had to do. And even though they aren't with me now, they are right where they need to be."
Hammonds said it's her children who keep her going every day.
"I want to be that mother they can look at and be proud of," she said. "My mom went through this, but look where she is now."
Life for Hammonds isn't perfect. She was laid off in April due to budget cuts, and she said it's been a struggle. But because of drug court and finding God, she has been able to get through it.
"I would be in jail today as we speak if I hadn't been given that second chance," she said. "I really would not have made it to the point in my life I'm at now if it hadn't been for drug court and be able to deal with the things I've dealt with since. I've had multiple deaths in the family, and I've never gone back to being an addict in the streets because they taught me how to cope with it. It definitely changed my life. Without it, I wouldn't be here, and I definitely wouldn't have been at that building and helped those people."
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