Close call with jail time prompts man to fight his addiction
HANOVER, Pa. (AP) — Michael Vanbourgondien grew up in a good family.
He was raised with his younger sister in York city and played baseball, football and wrestled. He had a stay-at-home mom, and his dad worked full time.
But despite his good home life and being involved in sports, Vanbourgondien still fell into addiction.
He was first exposed to marijuana when he was a freshman in high school.
“Something about that lifestyle just seemed enticing,” Vanbourgondien said.
He moved to Florida for about ten years when he was 14, and he started partying and selling drugs here and there.
“In Florida, the kind of friends I had, you weren’t allowed to do the hard drugs because you were supposed to sell that stuff. Smoke pot and sell the other stuff,” he said.
When Vanbourgondien, 29, moved back to Pennsylvania, a lot of the friends he had known as a kid were now heroin addicts. He had always looked down on people who did “hard drugs,” but when he saw his childhood friends doing it, he felt it was acceptable.
At first, he would do heroin on the weekends and then stop for a few months. Then he would do it for a week and then stop again. Then one day, he said the line blurred.
“I couldn’t even tell you what happened,” Vanbourgondien said. “One day it was just an everyday thing, and I was stealing from this guy to pay that one.”
In 2018, after an eight-year addiction and an arrest for robbery, the threat of losing his freedom spurred Vanbourgondien to take steps to get clean.
‘Hard to have self-respect’ when using heroin
He would do anything it took to get money to feed his addiction.
Vanbourgondien recalled a time when a friend of his took him in and tried to help. His friend helped him get a job, but he was still actively using heroin.
He was in his early 20s, and he was trying to keep his addiction under control, but he ended up selling his friend’s entire DVD collection. About $800 worth of DVDs, he said.
He lost the trust of a friend he had respected and lost respect for himself, too.
His friend thought about calling police, but luckily, Vanbourgondien was able to reimburse him before that.
“It’s hard to have self-respect, I guess, when you are in that lifestyle because a lot of the things you’re doing, you wouldn’t do when you’re clean,” he said.
An arrest and a close call with freedom
Vanbourgondien’s road to recovery started when he was arrested because he was high at the time.
After a robbery at a Super 8 Motel in Manchester Township, Vanbourgondien was charged with robbery, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person.
He detoxed in York County Prison, and it was a horrible experience for him. He was restless, irritable, had hot and cold sweats and sometimes couldn’t make it to the restroom. That lasted for about five to six days.
Once he got over the withdrawal, he developed a chest cold and ended up having a collapsed lung. He underwent surgery four days after being released.
Before surgery, he had to have fluid drained from his lung, which meant sticking a large needle through his back without the relief of narcotics.
He spent 11 days at a hospital in Danville before being placed in a drug rehab facility. Vanbourgondien requested to be placed in rehab and a judge court ordered him there as a requirement of his release.
What made Vanbourgondien decide to get clean wasn’t because of a close call with death, it was a close call with his freedom.
He said his most recent charges could have carried some serious time in prison, and that scared him.
“Am I really willing to risk three to four years of my freedom for just a tiny bag that, you know, you’re going to need more the next day,” he thought.
Recovery in Hanover
He had been in rehab two or three other times, but The Dominic House in Penn Township was a good opportunity to get himself further out of York city and away from most of the people he knows.
When he first got clean, he weighed only 137 pounds, and now he’s in great shape and feels great.
“That person (in his mug shot) isn’t the one that you see now, it was like a shell of me is all that was there,” he said.
Vanbourgondien said being at The Dominic House has helped him since the beginning. When he first got there, he was on house arrest, and owner Gina DeMaria would always make sure she was there to get him to and from work so he wouldn’t violate his conditions.
DeMaria, who lost her son to heroin in 2014, opened The Dominic House in 2018.
Even some of the guys he has met at the house have turned out to be people he can confide in.
Some guys even motivated him while he was on house arrest, by telling him their stories. They’d keep telling him to, “suck it up and keep doing the right thing.”
It was a hard few months for him, seeing everyone coming and going from the house and not being able to even step out the front door, but he made it through.
He said he did a lot of cleaning, went to a lot of meetings and played video games to pass the time while on house arrest.
Vanbourgondien has been working at Penn-Mar Castings, Inc. for about the past seven months. People there are shocked when he says he has court dates and is on probation because they don’t see him as a person who would get in trouble with the law.
People respect him now, and he is seen as reliable and dependable.
“It makes me feel better that I know they can count on me,” he said.
The person who did those unlawful things isn’t the person he is now. He was just struggling with an addiction at the time.
When he found out that he had the opportunity to retain his freedom and to stay on the track he’s been on for the past eight to nine months, he was thankful.
He had a hearing on April 18, where he was sentenced to four years probation.
“I could have gone to prison for four years, so this was a huge blessing,” Vanbourgondien said.
While at The Dominic House, he has stayed clean, kept a job and is now saving money to move out on his own.
Vanbourgondien has simple goals now. He wants to get a place of his own, pay his bills, maybe meet a woman and just live life.
He still plans to stay involved with the recovery program once he leaves the house and to make sure he keeps connections with sober support.
He has been saving money and has a goal that just a month ago he didn’t think he could have, DeMaria said.
“I don’t want to see him leave, but I know he has to move on because this is just a stepping stone into real life,” she said.
The Dominic House
The Dominic House, a recovery facility for up to eight men, has been up and running for about a year, and DeMaria said it has been a learning experience for them all.
There is structure in the house so that the men can learn to do things on their own, but the staff also offers support.
Some of the men, like Vanbourgondien, who have been at the house longer have stepped up and help show the new guys how things work.
The residents of The Dominic House have to follow certain rules, such as:
Urine tests done two to three times a week. As they show they are not using drugs or alcohol, the tests will be performed less frequently.
If their test comes back positive they will be removed from the house until they are clean and have only one chance to be brought back into the house.
They will not be able to spend the night out of the house, and they will have a curfew of 11 p.m.
As time goes on and the men show they deserve it, they will be given more and more freedom.
Addiction is a relapsing disease, DeMaria said, and some guys will come and go, but for the most part they stay clean.
DeMaria noticed that a lot of the men who come into the house don’t have life skills.
She has really tried to integrate those skills into living at the house, like going to work and going grocery shopping.
“It wasn’t that they weren’t capable of doing, they just didn’t know how to do them because they were in their addiction,” DeMaria said.
Another lesson learned after the first year, was how handle the holiday season. That’s where they ran into some challenges.
During the holidays, some of the men feel more anxious, feel more pressure to be “normal” and feel more shame when having to face their families, DeMaria said.
All of which can lead to a relapse.
“So we will do things different this year and try to hone everybody into relapse prevention. Try to keep them from thinking that they are different from anyone else, they’re not, they just have a disease,” DeMaria said.
The house also has their own celebration the day before each holiday so the men celebrate as their own family.
One moment that stood out to DeMaria and made her proud was when she walked in the house one night and saw all the men in the living room.
One of the men’s wife had just died, and the other men all came down to support him.
It was very somber and humbling for DeMaria to witness.
“Those are the kind of moments that you don’t expect,” she said.
DeMaria plans to open another recovery house, which will be next door to the current house and will hold an additional eight men.
The second house should be ready by the beginning of May.
Information from: The Evening Sun, http://www.eveningsun.com