Struggling to succeed: Hamilton County Drug Court helps couple rebuild lives

Struggling to succeed: Hamilton County Drug Court helps couple rebuild lives

June 1st, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Nick Prestridge stands with his son Ethan as his wife, Paige Prestridge, high -ives her mother, Pam Skipper. The pair were recognized by Judge Rebecca Stern during the Hamilton County Drug Court graduation on May 19.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

On a February day more than two years ago, Pam Skipper picked up the phone and called the police.

She didn't know what else to do.

Slowly, quietly at first, her middle-school-age daughter had started drinking and taking pills, then marijuana, cocaine and later methamphetamine. It was the meth that gripped.

Skipper ended the phone call.

"I felt like I was burying my daughter," she said.

On Feb. 13, 2012, police came to Paige's Hixson home, the one she'd taken over after her grandmother died in 2001. Paige had used the home to block out the world, especially her mother.

Skipper walked up to the house that day to see her daughter in handcuffs. Police carried her three grandsons out wrapped in bed sheets. They'd had to be stripped naked and their clothes destroyed because of possible meth contamination.

"Mom, I'm not mad at you," Paige told her. "I thank you."

A few days later police arrested Nick, her boyfriend and children's father. His lawyer, Brandy Spurgin, talked about bond release and what he faced. He stopped her.

"I'm where I need to be. I'm clean. My kids are safe," he said.

•••

Skipper, 56, thought that when her daughter's first child, Ethan, was born, the substance abuse would stop.

Instead, it only got worse. As Paige and then-boyfriend, Nick continued their spiral they had two more children, Triston and Benjamin.

Over the years, whenever Skipper pushed or mentioned the drug use, Paige stopped bringing the grandchildren to see her.

The arrest of her daughter and Nick Prestidge forced Skipper to take action on behalf of her beloved grandsons. She filled out reams of documents and took classes to qualify as a foster mother for her own grandchildren. She fought efforts by other foster parents within the Tennessee child care system to adopt the boys.

She won.

But grandma was having her own difficulties. Benjamin wasn't quite 2 when his parents were taken away. For a time he started calling Skipper momma.

"No, I'm your grandma," she'd tell him.

•••

At the same time, Paige and Nick faced their own battles.

In the first few weeks, detoxing from their nine-year shared meth addiction, almost all they did was sleep. They weren't allowed to communicate in any form.

Spurgin came back to visit Nick to deliver more news.

"They offered us 60 years," Nick said. He had done time for burglaries in Georgia and based on the eight "shake and bake" meth labs they'd found in the house, the time was stacked for a lengthy sentence.

Nick went back to his cell, hit his knees and began praying.

That's about all he did for the coming months.

All he and Paige wanted was to get their kids back.

Slowly, as things often are in court, the charges came down. Then an apparent miracle -- Hamilton County Drug Court.

Because the two had no prior violent criminal convictions, they qualified. First they'd have to plead guilty to their charges and then commit to an intensive therapy program that takes a minimum of 18 months and sometimes three years for some participants to complete.

Once released from jail and sent to a halfway house, the couple still couldn't talk. Every day the men and women at the house would go to breakfast. Nick could see Paige across the dining area but couldn't even say hello.

Elaine Kelly, the program coordinator, was skeptical.

Couples typically don't do well in drug court. If one backslides, the other is likely to do so, as well. And they share an addiction history that's hard to overcome. All the pair had known together was a drug life.

"In order to be a healthy couple you have to have two healthy individuals," Kelly said.

But Kelly took a chance.

And the Prestridges worked. And worked. And worked.

Over time they got supervised visits with the boys. Then they left the halfway house. Then, on Dec. 18, 2013, they got their boys back.

And on May 19, 2014, the pair graduated drug court. Both have full-time jobs, they've been clean for more than two years and they're rebuilding a relationship with all of the family.

As the family waited for the graduation ceremony Ethan, 9, and Triston, 7, skipped around, eyeing tables of food, sodas and sweets. Paige left briefly to talk with a reporter, just out of sight.

Benjamin, now 4, kept asking Skipper, "Is she coming back? Is she? Is she?"

Skipper assured him she was. And she did.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.