BANGOR — Bangor Mayor Darren Williams says being arrested for possessing illegal drugs on Dec. 5, 2013, saved his life.
“I was excited,” he said. “I told him, ‘Thank you. I wanted this to be over.’ (The police officer) was looking at me like I was crazy.”
But Williams, who was elected mayor in May, had been addicted to drugs for 17 years and wanted to recover.
“I was hoping to get in trouble by the law because I knew if I went to jail, that would be a good start to clean up,” said the Bangor native. “And that’s exactly what happened. I got pulled over, and I had heroin in the car – a syringe full of heroin. They searched it and found it and charged me and I pretty much thanked God then.”
Williams, now 39, said he’s been in five mental institutions and 27 treatment centers, trying to get clean.
He was clean once before for five years and 10 months starting in 2005. But then he was seriously injured in his tree care job when a limb fell and crushed him.
“I told them I didn’t want any pain meds, but they shot me up with morphine and started giving me prescriptions to take it,” he said. “I fought for two weeks not to take it. I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was crawling to the bathroom.”
He said his friends told him there was no reason for him to suffer with the pain, so he took the pain medication.
“I started taking them like they said and when they quit working, they upped my dose,” he said. “Then they canceled me ... and I went back to the streets for what I needed.”
But he said he was more determined than ever to get clean.
“I knew what life was like without it,” he said. “I knew how great that was, the feeling of it. What you can succeed in. And then boom, I lost it. Everything.”
Williams was also helped by the Van Buren County Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program. In July, he was honored by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement for completing the program and being a role model to other recovering addicts.
When he was in the active phase of addiction, he said he would lie, cheat and steal to get his drugs. He said his a long criminal record is all related to when he was actively addicted. But he said he was raised in a Christian home and doesn’t do those things when he’s in recovery.
Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Louise Wrege sat down with Williams recently so he could share his story.
Why do you want to share your story?
I want somebody else to hear my story to be able to help somebody else. Being a mayor is showing other struggling addicts that you can succeed even though you do have a past. Don’t let anything come between you being successful.
How did you get started on drugs?
I was 8 and my (16-year-old) brother was a drug addict. I walked upstairs on him and his girlfriend one time and they were snorting a (Vicodin) pill. I didn’t know it was a pill. To keep me from telling mom, he invited me to it. Then I started sneaking around, snorting stuff. I thought it was fun drinking with them. When I was 13, I started smoking weed. When I was 17, I had a girlfriend who did cocaine. I was already snorting pills. I thought, “Let me try that.” It escalated from there.
You had been in jail before. Why were you finally able to quit this time?
My brother passed away six years ago. When my brother was dying, that’s when it really hit home to me that I needed to stop. He wanted me to stop. He was my best friend. My word to him I want to fulfill, not just for him, but for me. I don’t want to break my word to him.
They gave me 120 days in jail. I served 73. I told the judge I’d like to have the Swift and Sure program because that’s what I need, and she honored it. It’s a two-year probation program that I graduated in 12 months. Now I help other suffering addicts try to remain clean.
How do you do that?
I own a couple of companies – American Eagle Home Improvement and American Eagle Freight. They send people in (recovery) programs to me and I help them out. I’m also general manager of 4 Seasons Tree Services.
What made you decide to run for mayor?
I had a couple of influences through the town. The ex-mayor and the chief of police wanted me to actually run for a council seat. Then, a guy was running for mayor and nobody was running against him and I thought, “I’ll do that.”
The ex-mayor wanted me to really run for mayor and I was like, I’m a convicted felon. I can’t do that. I’m a recovering drug addict five years clean. I’ll be recovering the rest of my life.
What does it mean to be recovering?
To me, it means locking (the addiction) away in a cage. As long as I don’t give it a key to let itself out, I don’t have to pick it up. Picking it up is like giving it a key to let it out. I just don’t pick it up.
I refuse to. I keep my mind on positive things and influences in my life just so I don’t fade away to grab it. But no matter what, I will not pick it up. Period. I’m still an addict. I’m not in the active addiction side of it.