SOUTH BEND — Andre Melfi is thankful that he was arrested, charged and convicted for making methamphetamine.
Now a month since he was released from prison, Melfi said he doesn’t know where he’d be now had he not been arrested in March 2010.
Once a struggling addict, Melfi now has new reasons to live.
“The new high is realizing I don’t have to get high,” he said. “I have money in my pocket and I don’t have to hide from the law.”
Melfi had struggled with drug addictions his whole life, he said. Both his parents struggled with addictions as well, and Melfi started using drugs when he was 11 years old. He also became involved with other people who used and manufactured meth. Melfi started making his own meth as well.
That being said, Melfi said he didn’t have anyone but himself to blame.
“I spent my life as a taker, and I manipulated people and got what I had to get out of them to satisfy what I needed. And it was selfish living,” he said. “I finally started to realize that’s not normal and that’s not how people live.”
On March 9, 2010, Melfi and two other people were arrested at his house following an investigation by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department. He had been manufacturing meth when police searched his house.
He was charged with dealing in meth, and after he pleaded guilty to the charge, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with four of those years suspended and for him to complete on reporting probation.
Melfi said that once in prison, he had enough time to think about his actions. His turning point was about 2½ years ago, when he started looking for help through counselors and other inmates who had made progress in recovery.
“It made me start to open my eyes to how my actions affect everyone around me and how drugs have manipulated my whole life,” he said. “It was through being mindful I realized the pain and anguish that I caused everyone around me.”
Melfi said his drug use severed ties with his family even before he was arrested. Sometime around December 2009, Melfi overdosed on pain medication and ended up in the hospital.
“That’s when things really took a dive,” he said.
He hasn’t talked with his family since his release, but Melfi said he’s working on proving that he is learning from his mistakes.
Melfi applied for help at Dismas House in South Bend, an organization that provides transitional housing and support services for people who have been recently released from prison or jail. After going through the application process, Melfi was able to secure a bed with the organization.
Melfi has been living in the Dismas House since his release in October. The organization provides room and board, transportation, job referrals, life skills counseling and drug and alcohol counseling.
Melfi is slowly getting on his feet. He got a job at LaSalle Grill in South Bend as a cook and he’s been attending the sessions organized by the Dismas House. One of the difficulties he faces now is getting people to trust him with his criminal record.
“I don’t think (people dealing with drugs) realize what the consequences are,” he said. “There’s this stigma of being a felon, and I think that was one of the hardest things to overcome.”
Melfi wants to be back with his family, but he knows that it will take time to gain their affection. This year, Melfi didn’t spend Thanksgiving with his family, but at the Dismas House, where he helped cook dinner and shared time with other former inmates who want to start again in the community.
“My goal now is to not do much at once, to focus on work, to focus on staying sober,” he said. “Having patience with what comes my way. Now it’s all about my actions.”