“I speak to people at their lowest point and help them gain admission to Beit T’Shuvah and then I get to watch them grow and heal while they’re here,” Nanette S. shares from her office in Admissions at Beit T’Shuvah.
The journey to that moment and realization was a circuitous one to say the least for Nanette. As the middle child of three with a stay-at-home mom and a traveling businessman father in Cleveland, Ohio, Nanette’s childhood was a typical one, save for all the moving. “When I was six, we moved to Cincinnati. Then, when I turned thirtee,n we moved to Atlanta. And finally at age sixteen we moved to the suburbs of Detroit,” she recalls.
During that time she participated in the kind of activities most of her peers enjoyed. She and her older brother would ride motorcycles as well as horses with his group of friends. Nanette was also a girl scout, took ballet and jazz dance classes and was first clarinet and then bassoon in her high school band. But “I never really fit in no matter where I was,” she explains. More of a tomboy who liked being one of the “guys”, Nanette didn’t have any real girlfriends during her childhood and adolescence.
After moving to Atlanta, Nanette began smoking weed, drinking alcohol and experimenting with pills for the first time. And then by high school she and her brother were hosting keg parties at the house. “My father was a functioning alcoholic and so my parents were cool with us drinking at the house so long as they could monitor it,” she shares. Following high school graduation, Nanette moved out and got a job working in finance in downtown Detroit. “I also put myself through beauty school at night,” she recounts.
It was now 1982 and Nanette was living with her boyfriend, while her parents and sister had moved to California. Following a visit to see her family, she returned to find her boyfriend cheating with her friend in the apartment she was paying for at the time. “I threw his things out in the snow and held his Triumph motorcycle hostage just to get back at him,” she describes with a chuckle. What wasn’t as funny was the fact that he had been physically abusive to her during their time together, a pattern that would follow Nanette throughout her life. To get a fresh start she decided to move out to California to be closer to her family. She took a job at a stock brokerage in Newport Beach and began to excel almost immediately.
“But my cocaine use began to escalate as well,” she says. A recreational user at best, prior to her new job, she remembers, “snorting lines of coke off the drawer of my boss’ desk.” Alcohol fueled the office narcotics culture as well, where seemingly every sales associate was high and intoxicated all day long. She had also managed to become the unofficial “drug courier” for the office. Somehow, in between work, cocaine, alcohol and drug deliveries, Nanette also managed to be in a string of physically abusive and drug addled relationships during this time.
“And then I met Charlie,” she relates. Charlie was clean and sober and didn’t like cocaine.Upon meeting him, she had managed to get clean through the help of her former dealer, who, of all people, had gotten sober and introduced her to A.A. “It didn’t really click because I didn’t think I had a problem. But I did get sober for six months,” she recollects. Eventually the duo moved in together. And that’s when things began to go sideways for Nanette and Charlie. “In order to pay for an engagement ring he got an ounce of cocaine to sell. He was able to pay for the ring but we also started using the remaining coke,” she explains. That led to the reluctant “Bonnie and Clyde” pair manufacturing their own “freebase” and “ether-based” rock cocaine. “It got so bad that I got on the scale one day and saw that I weighed only ninety pounds,” she recalls.
Over the next several months the couple’s drug dealing and drug use spiraled out of control. Nanette eventually lost her job at the stock brokerage; Charlie’s drug use consumed all their money and the somewhat doomed duo were evicted. The two drifted apart at this point and Nanette moved back in with her parents to try and regroup. But her addictions continued to dog her and after her sister called the cops on her, following an argument, she found herself with nowhere to go. Desperate for somewhere to live and continued access to cocaine, Nanette eventually hooked up with a man named T-Bone and the pair shared a hedonistic four-day weekend of cocaine and partying.
One night she, along with T-Bone and another man, ended up at the home of a couple she had never met. She left the home at the direction of T-Bone and “the next day the cops showed up at my office and I was arrested for murder,” Nanette shares. T-Bone and his friend had apparently shot and killed the couple and Nanette was arrested as an accessory to that killing. She spent the next three and half years in county jail trying to fight the case against her but, between her co-defendants trying to avoid the death penalty and the Orange County District Attorney wanting all involved severely punished, Nanette found herself convicted of murder and started serving her sentence in state prison in 1992.
But she didn’t just accept the situation and settle into her prison stint. “I started going to meetings inside and I even began leading N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings and participating on service panels,” she recalls. Her goal was to do whatever she could to impress the parole board and get out as soon as possible. But after fifteen years of meetings and addiction treatment services it actually began to sink in and she started to see that she truly needed to accept responsibility and change. “I took a Restorative Justice course and the parole agent leading it required us all to write a crime impact statement,” she remembers. While in prison she also received associate degrees in Business Management and Human Behavioral Sciences and began pursuing a degree in Addiction Studies. Armed with her crime impact statement, degrees and work in the NA community, Nanette started to begin the process for her parole. The USC Post Conviction Justice Project represented her in those efforts and after five hearings she was finally considered suitable.
Prior to being paroled she was able to meet Carrie N, Rachel E and Mike R from Beit T’Shuvah’s Alternative Sentencing Department at a prison Seder where they had a video viewing of “Freedom Song”. “It was then I decided that BTS was the place for me,” Nanette relays. It was a couple more years before she was paroled but when she was, Carrie and company initially denied her application because they didn’t think her crime impact statement was personalized enough. However, after she sent a letter expressing her dismay over the decision, Nanette was accepted and eventually arrived at BTS in 2016. Having been sober since 2006 Nanette came to Beit T’Shuvah hoping to immediately begin her practicums for her Addiction Services Certification but Carrie insisted she be in the program for at least six months before being allowed to work at BTS.
During that period she became a social justice intern under Chaplain Adam Siegel, began doing her Addiction Services practicums with her own small caseload and was given the thirty-five and over home group to run. “I was then hired as a P.F. (Program Facilitator) by David Baer and held that position for about a year and a half before being hired on as a counselor by Zac J. following the receipt of my Addiction Services Certification,” she explains. And then when a position opened up in the Admissions Department she began working there and has been there ever since. “I came here after twenty-seven years and nine months in prison and I had nothing. BTS gave me a life,” she says.
Constantly thirsting for knowledge and the ability to further her educational pursuits, Nanette has obtained — through the generosity of the Kahn Educational Scholarship — an Associates degree in Psychology, and just received her B.S. in Psychology from Cal State Los Angeles. “I’m eternally grateful for the life Beit T’Shuvah has helped me create here,” she describes. And as mentioned earlier, Nanette views her position on the “front lines” of the Beit T’Shuvah mission as an honor and a privilege that she’s allowed to fulfill every day. She concludes by saying, “This is my passion. It brings me such satisfaction and joy.” As one of the busiest and most energetic fixtures at BTS, Nanette’s story is still being written. And as the future pages of your epic tale unfold, Nanette, your Beit T’Shuvah family looks forward with love and anticipation with how you’ll continue to glow and grow.