Facing prison time, Sam Morris is fighting for his recovery and to better his community

  • Kristine Paquette has owned and operated the Homestead Inn, which is just for men, for more than six years. She started the recovery home after a long career as the nursing supervisor at Hampstead Hospital.

  • Morris talks with other members of the Homestead Inn at the facility last week.

  • Sam Morris works on the Rail Trail in Boscawen last month with other members of the Homestead Inn. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sam Morris works on the Rail Trail in Boscawen last month with other members of the Homestead Inn. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Sam Morris works on the Rail Trail in Boscawen last month with other members of the Homestead Inn. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/8/2019 10:59:21 PM

Sam Morris said he used to go to bed feeling guilty most nights.

The 29-year-old sleeps better now, waking up at 5:15 a.m. six days a week so he can catch a ride to his landscaping job in Concord, where he works all day. In the evening, he attends meetings with new friends in an old farmhouse.

On a recent day off, Morris, who is recovering from drug addiction, cleared brush from a mile of land on the Northern Rail Trail, a biking and walking path in his new hometown of Boscawen, as part of a community service project he planned and led.

After the others left for the day, he was still at work with a hand saw and shears – removing branches, creating space.

“Every day there’s something to learn, some way I grow,” he said.

Morris was in a far different place a year ago when he was arrested as part of what police called the largest fentanyl trafficking operation in New Hampshire history. Forty-five people were taken into custody by federal authorities, including 13 from New Hampshire.

Morris, who has been addicted to opioids since he was 17 years old, said he started selling to feed his own addiction. As his case wound its way through court, he continued working on his recovery at the Homestead Inn, a sober home in Boscawen.

He pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl on Friday in Federal District Court in Concord. He hopes the judge will give consideration to his community service, his hard-fought sobriety and his lack of a previous criminal record.

Morris’s case and others like it illustrate how difficult it can be to determine who are victims and who are perpetrators in the opioid crisis, and what the best way is to serve people who get caught in its grasp.

Fentanyl is ravaging the state – out of 470 drug deaths in New Hampshire in 2018, 385 of those deaths involved fentanyl.

Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, described the drug as “one of the most lethal threats facing New Hampshire right now” in a press release in late May.

“The FBI will continue to do everything it can to work with our law enforcement partners to attack the sources of supply, and send a strong message to dealers that they will be caught,” he said.

Scott Murray, United States Attorney for the District of New Hampshire, said drug addiction is no excuse for selling a drug like Fentanyl.

“It’s a choice they are making to sell the drugs,” Murray said. “Someone who is addicted to drugs knows what the drug can do to them – the chaos and the destruction it can cause in your life and then what you do is you turn around an sell it to someone else? It’s is worse than someone who is not addicted – they know how bad the drug is and they are selling it anyway.”

Millions of dollars in federal money earmarked for the opioid crisis are spent every year on law enforcement and jails to capture and house criminals charged with selling drugs, but there is much less funding available for community resources like recovery housing.

In many cases, sober homes are independent and receive no state money. Many face resistance from their community and have had to close. The Homestead Inn is one of the only ones left in Merrimack County.

New Hampshire received $45 million over two years from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2018. Two million dollars of that was allocated for recovery housing support and programming, but the state has yet to announce publicly which organizations it will contract with and when they will receive funds.

While he has been awaiting his sentencing – a possible mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison – Morris has been on pretrial services, living in a small apartment on the Homestead campus.

He said having the community of the Homestead – which is like a family – has helped a lot. Before, he didn’t have a social network to support him in his recovery.

He says the experience at the Homestead is about proving something to himself: that he can stay sober and make the right choices.

“Everybody struggles here. There are days when I’m like, ‘Screw this, I’m out of here,’ ” he said. “But then you take a minute and say, ‘We all know where that’s going to go. I’m going to end up back in the gutter or in jail or dead. And those are not places I want to be.’ ”

History

The story of Morris’s addiction begins where it does for so many addicts: prescription drugs.

He was 17, still in high school, when he tried OxyContin for the first time at a friend’s house.

Morris said he didn’t think much of it. He didn’t imagine that moment could change the course of his life.

“I didn’t think it was bad because it comes from a pharmacy,” Morris said. “I thought: A doctor prescribes them; it’s not that big of a deal. Then the day you don’t have them you’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is so terrible.’ You’re so sick. It’s the worst feeling you’ve ever felt. The world is caving in on you.”

Knowledge about the danger of abusing prescription drugs was still emerging then – people didn’t yet know how the medication could uproot and destroy lives. Morris was hooked. He was caught up in a tornado of addiction, turning to heroin in his 20s.

He lost jobs, strained his relationship with his family and dropped out of college, where he hoped to study electrical engineering. There were many bad moments. Morris remembers crawling on his hands and knees to get from his mother’s couch to Concord Hospital for a bag of fluids one day when he was detoxing.

“The people you love the most are the ones you usually hurt because you figure that they’re going to always forgive you,” he said. “That sort of happened for me. My family never gave up. They always were there. They were always willing to let me try one more time.”

Morris said he put himself through a lot, but it wasn’t until he was arrested that he was really forced to evaluate his life.

“I never hit a rock bottom, or a rock bottom hard enough to really shake me awake,” he said.

Jail

Morris said he couldn’t talk much about his case, which is still ongoing.

Court documents related to the case show that the operation Morris was a part of was based in Lawrence, Mass. He and 44 others from New Hampshire and Massachusetts faced hundreds of drug charges combined.

Morris was indicted on his charges in April 2018 and incarcerated in Strafford County Correctional Facility for 11 months before being released to stay at the Homestead. It was the first time he had ever been to jail.

He said the hardest part was having to explain it to his nieces, who are both under 10 years old.

“They would be asking me, ‘Uncle Sam, when are you going to be getting out of jail?’ ” he said. “They shouldn’t even know what jail is. I want to make good memories with them, instead of ones they want to forget.”

He said jail wasn’t a good place for sobriety. While there are a couple of programs for those in recovery in jail, they are limited. He said he continued to abuse drugs while in jail.

“A lot of people in jail, it’s a revolving door. It’s people continuing to make bad decisions,” he said. “They’re not there because they want to get sober; they’re there because they got arrested.”

Morris petitioned to get out of jail and a judge agreed that he could stay at the Homestead while awaiting sentencing.

He said he remembers taking off his jail clothes and putting on new sneakers, a white T-shirt and joggers. He walked out of the courthouse with his mom, who drove him to get a haircut and to Walmart to buy toiletries.

“It was an indescribable feeling,” he said.

Homestead

Kristine Paquette has owned and operated the Homestead Inn, which is just for men, for more than six years. She started the recovery home after a long career as the nursing supervisor at Hampstead Hospital.

She started the sober home after seeing patients who wanted to get clean come back again and again to Hampstead after overdosing because they had no place to go when they left.

“I just realized something had to change,” Paquette said. “We need to do something. My thought was just having a home, a safe place. Dinners every night, Sunday dinners, activities and things like that.”

She bought an old motel on King Street in Boscawen and turned it into a home. She renovated an old barn on the property to make a community space, with long wooden tables, Christmas lights, games and a dart board.

Her residents pay $900 a month to stay there. All of them have jobs in the area and work about 60 hours a week. They are subject to regular drug testing.

Most people stay a year, which she said is about the time it takes to get back on track physically and emotionally.

At the Homestead, Paquette tries to help the men learn to appreciate living life sober: They plan kayaking trips and a lot of outdoor activities. They volunteer every year for Old Home Day in Boscawen.

She sees a lot of guys have success in the program who haven’t had success being sober before. Especially those who are taking part in other programs, like drug court.

“Doing drug court alone, without the community support, doesn’t work. The only reason they’re doing so well is because they have drug court and that they’re here,” she said. “It has to be in conjunction; it can’t just be like home alone and try to figure it out.”

There is only one organization that offers financial help for men who want to stay at the Homestead. Chucky’s Fight, a nonprofit out of Seabrook, offers $200 to help them pay for their first month’s rent.

Last year, she had seven men come in around Christmas, and none of them had any money. She let the men stay until they were able to pay her back.

Vulnerability

One of the most powerful things for Morris is learning how to be vulnerable.

“A lot of times before, I would never go talk about things that were bothering me. I would go get high,” he said. “Usually, when addicts or alcoholics are faced with difficult situations, their go-to solution is to get messed up so you can escape reality. It’s different now. It’s like, ‘Well, the only way this feeling is going to go away is if I process it and figure out how I’m going to deal with it.’ Having those relationships with other men that are here is vital.”

Residents at the Homestead have programming they are required to attend almost every night. On Tuesday nights, a group of five men, some of whom are alums of the Homestead program, come back and lead a discussion.

“I think it gives some motivation to look past this,” said Geoff Boggs, who stayed at the Homestead in 2015 and now is married and has a successful career. “Knowing, ‘I’m not necessarily going to be here my whole life, I can excel and progress and here’s living proof.’ ”

Morris, who said he has been in and out of treatment before, said he wasn’t doing it for himself in the past. It was always to appease his parents or for a job.

Now, every day is a conscious choice to get his life back on track.

“Being able to go to sleep every night sober and wake up and know you’re going to do it that next day, or plan to at least, is pretty exhilarating,” he said. “It’s a thrill in itself.”

Morris was the organizer of a community service project where he led a group of guys from the Homestead to clear brush from the Northern Rail Trail. His mother came and made sandwiches for the group. He said he wanted to do something to make her proud and show the Boscawen community that people who live at the Homestead are giving back.

He said he doesn’t know what will happen to him, and that’s scary. But for now, he’s just hoping to wake up and make the next right choice every day.

“You just have to hope for the best. You can’t control anything but yourself,” he said. “I don’t know what the prosecutor is going to do or the judge is going to do. I can only do what I think is right and what I know is right.”




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