Laura Ragle thought she was different. She figured after six years of being addicted to drugs — smoking marijuana, popping pain pills and injecting heroin in her arm — she was the smarter than her friends who had overdosed, some of them fatally.
“I knew my limits and I figured that won’t be me,” the 27-year-old Preble County resident said. “I’m sure that’s how a lot of drug addicts think. You don’t think that shot could be your last one.”
Then on March 19, 2014, Ragle overdosed in the bathroom at her parent’s Trenton home, just 18 hours after she was released from jail. The same Trenton police officers who arrested Ragle for drug possession 10 days earlier responded to the emergency call.
“My parents thought I was dead,” said Ragle, who had five felonies in 11 days. “I knew I had to do something different. Something clicked. I didn’t want to die a junkie and that be the only thing people remembered about me.”
This became one of those “life defining” moments for Ragle, a 2008 Edgewood High School graduate. She was either going to continue to use drugs or grow up.
This past week, Ragle sat in her Somerville home that her grandparents used to own and talked openly about her drug addiction while her 18-month-0ld daughter, Serenity Cummins, watched cartoons on the couch. This picture of the single mother caring for her daughter didn’t match the one addicted to drugs, the one who robbed a Family Dollar of shampoo to feed her heroin habit, the one who lied to everyone who loved her.
Between 2008 and the day she overdosed 3½ years ago, Ragle’s life was a train wreck. She was charged with drug abuse of heroin and marijuana, drug possession, drug trafficking, and aggravated robbery and felonious assault after she ran over an employee at Family Dollar in Trenton.
She spent months in the Middletown City Jail and the Butler County Jail. Her frequent wardrobe consisted of an orange jumpsuit, belly band and shackles.
At least Lauren Ragle wasn’t in the Butler County morgue.
For that she can thank her parents and grandfather.
After her arrest for drug abuse of heroin in 2014, she was sent to the Butler County Jail. She met with her probation officer, a man she knew well because of her history in the justice system, and begged for her life, she said.
“I told him, ‘‘I’m a heroin addict and I need help,’” she said.
At this point, already on a probation violation, she would have said anything to avoid more jail time. She was sentenced to eight months in jail. Two days before her sentencing, while being visited by her parents, she learned her grandfather had died.
“I lost it,” she said. “It was like everything crashed around me. It was a helpless feeling. My family needed me and I couldn’t help because I’m a junkie and I’m sitting in jail.”
She asked the Butler County judge if she could have a furlough to attend her grandfather’s funeral. The judge allowed her to attend the visitation with an escort from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. So there she stood in front of her grandfather’s casket, tears streaming down her face while wearing a jail uniform. Then all of her relatives walked into the funeral home.
Ragle, who had been living a life of lies, was exposed. Her family saw her as a drug addict.
Her mother told her if she turned her life around, she could live in her grandfather’s home in Preble County. She attended an intense six-month rehabilitation program at MonDay Community Correctional Institution in Dayton. She came out a better woman.
She is a peer support specialist and recently was offered a job in Dayton. She hopes to take classes to become a chemical dependency counseling assistant, then earn her Bachelor’s degree in behavioral science.
Ragle lives in Preble County, just 13 miles from her hometown of Trenton, which was her “go-to” place for drugs. She has been clean for 3½ years, she said. Relocating to Preble County, she said, was “one of the best decisions” of her life.
“I literally had to change all the people I was hanging out with,” she said. “When they say you have to change your people, places and things, that is so true. You can’t expect to stay clean in the same environment that sucks you under for so long.”
Last week, Ragle walked in the “500 Women March,” an event that raised heroin awareness in Middletown. It started on Yankee Road and ended in the grassy area behind the Pendleton Art Center. Every step Ragle took, she thought about her rocky road.
“For me it was kind of humbling being able to walk the same streets sober that I was running in my active addiction,” she said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. As long as there’s still breath in somebody’a lungs, there’s still hope.”
Her advice to addicts?
“There is hope out there for people who feel lost,” she said. “Your life doesn’t have to end that way. You are not alone. Life is beautiful today. There is nothing I can’t handle. If I can handle being a drug addict, I can handle anything life throws at me.”
Just then, Serenity got off the couch, walked over to the kitchen table and accidentally dropped a crayon down the stairs into the basement. Her mother smiled.
“My motivator,” she said of her daughter. “I have to build a stable life where she can depend on me. It’s an awesome feeling. She’s my little miracle.”
Serenity could say the same about her mother.