Voices Carry: Sharing Stories of Addiction

The Wolfe Street Foundation has been helping people recover from addiction since 1982, making it Arkansas’ oldest, and largest, nonprofit devoted to recovery.

Executive Director Justin Buck says Wolfe Street honors the legacy of Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps recovery, while leading the way into the future. The foundation hosts dozens of AA and other Twelve Step meetings as well as faith-, community- and wellness-based support meetings, and is a leader in peer recovery support services. 

In 2022 the Arkansas Department of Human Services recognized Wolfe Street as the “Best Recovery Community Organization in the State.” The foundation is known around the world, with an attendance of more than 16,000 people a year, and it serves more than 300 a year through one-to-one peer recovery support services with four residences and a total of 16 beds. Not to mention, through its services, the nonprofit also helps ease burdens on health care and law enforcement.

“I see our program’s impact every day,” Buck says, “when a participant gets a new or better job, when a peer specialist helps someone get to detox or clinical treatment, when a resident settles into their recovery residence. We walk beside participants through so many major steps in reclaiming and reshaping their lives.

“And our team does it all through their own lived experiences with addiction and recovery.”

Sharing stories is part of recovery, and addiction has many voices. Some of them are heard here.

Credit: Jason Masters

ALL OF US

There was the lying. There was the denial. Now she wants everyone to know the truth.

Susan Weinstein feels she owes that much to her daughter, Meredith Baskin, who lost her life to a fentanyl overdose in August of 2018.

And so Weinstein gives talks in public about a journey experienced by more Americans than one might think, the addicts and their families stigmatized and shamed into silence by the pressures and demands of membership in respectable society. 

By sharing, Weinstein wants to open the eyes of others and head off similar tragedies, salvaging something good from Meredith’s loss. 

“I did everything I knew how to do to help her, but I failed,” Weinstein says. “I didn’t want to fail her afterwards.”

Meredith, whose spiral began with a prescription and ended with her death in California at age 34, was a lively, funny and fun-loving person, an honors graduate from UAMS and a practicing, registered nurse with a desire to have children someday. 

“She was very funny,” Weinstein says. “All three of my kids inherited my late husband’s sense of humor. And when the three of them got together, they were just hilarious. I mean Meredith was very funny.”

It was her sense of fun that led Meredith, in the winter of 2010, to go sledding one night after one of Arkansas’ rare snowstorms. She hit a bump, landed hard and fractured a vertebrae. In short order she was introduced to opioid painkillers.

According to her mother, Meredith could sometimes be a handful and was definitely independent. But the independence was replaced by dependency.

As Meredith became addicted, personality changes, financial troubles, sketchy situations and people followed. So did the lies, the ones Meredith told her mother and the ones her mother told herself.

“It was years,” Weinstein says. “I think I probably knew, but just first of all I never would have thought she was addicted to heroin, not being that familiar with the drug world and not knowing that heroin was very cheap. I think I suspected it multiple times and just kept telling myself that it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be. As a parent, partly that was my failure in just not believing what was right before my eyes.”

Weinstein says Meredith told lies even when she didn’t need to, but there were signs of the underlying truth in her appearance. She lost weight and suffered skin lesions and breakouts, possibly due to poor nutrition.

Meredith moved from an apartment she had once proudly kept neat and decorated to a house that devolved into a filthy, shocking mess Weinstein discovered during one of the few times her daughter let her through the door. With her money going to drugs, Meredith didn’t pay bills, her car insurance lapsed and she couldn’t pay to have it fixed after an accident, which is how Weinstein learned of her money troubles. 

Doctors diagnosed “all kinds” of stress disorders, Weinstein says. A psychiatrist prescribed anti-anxiety medications, and in retrospect Weinstein is incredulous that no one tested Meredith for drugs. 

Meredith was unable to work, her disability ran out and finally, one day, she told the truth, Weinstein says. 

“I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I couldn’t ignore the obvious any longer.” 

However, Weinstein put in the effort to help and protect Meredith, which included a night when she went door-to-door looking for her in a potentially unsafe neighborhood where she had spotted Meredith’s car. 

Meredith was in and out of treatment facilities for different reasons. One delayed her admission because of insurance issues, so Meredith just didn’t show up. One refused because she was evaluated as “not ready,” and Meredith walked out of other places or relapsed later. 

Even as Weinstein’s husband, Jeff Baskin, was dying of pancreatic cancer (he passed in 2014) there were fights, money issues and emotional crises. Eventually, however, Weinstein paid to send her daughter to a Jewish faith-based facility in Los Angeles with a friend to keep an eye on her, and things apparently began to improve.

Meredith got a place, got a job as an RN, made money and got treatment. But she was dogged by relapses, so many that the facility cut her off because she wasn’t following the program, though she continued to seek outpatient help. Two days before Meredith died, she attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Then Weinstein got the horrible call from the police. 

“Losing my husband after 40 years of marriage was hard enough,” Weinstein says, “but he was in his mid-60s. He had lived a life. He went out on the top of his game. I miss him daily, too, but she had so much to offer. So much life to live.”

Weinstein stays active in the local Jewish community and through volunteering, but therapy, she says, didn’t really work for her. Instead Weinstein, who insisted on including cause of death in Meredith’s obituary, shares her story publicly, to groups of any size, hoping to help.

People might discriminate, she says, but addiction doesn’t.

“I wanted people to know here she was a professional from an upper-middle-class, educated family, white, you know,” Weinstein says. “All of the stigma that’s associated with addiction — people, including me, thought of everybody as, oh, low class, uneducated. But addicts are all of us.”

Credit: Jason Masters

RECAPTURED TRUST

Muskie Harris can still count the tiles.

“There’s 822 pieces of squares around the door,” Harris says. “There’s 2,175 on the north wall. There was about 850 on the back wall, which is around the window, and on the south there are close to 1,800 pieces of tile.”

When you’re in jail for the second time and possibly facing a long incarceration, you find things to do. 

It was 1997 and Harris, a former Arkansas Razorback football standout and one-time rising political star, was back in jail after violating his probation and returning to the crack cocaine that had fueled his rapid downfall.

“You let an addict go with no structure and they’re going to go back to it,” Harris says. 

It hadn’t been long since he had run for lieutenant governor, on Tommy Robinson’s Republican ticket, in the 1990 contest that was Bill Clinton’s last statewide race in Arkansas. But in less than 10 years, Harris was arrested for writing hot checks to feed his habit and was now back in jail for the same offense, tensley awaiting his revocation hearing and a likely prison sentence. 

He had begun attending Bible study and, separated from the drugs, began to reevaluate his life, but it looked like it might be too late to avoid doing real time.

“When it came time to go to court, they didn’t come and get me,” Harris says. “I went down and asked the sarge and he said, ‘If you didn’t go to court, you’re going to prison then.’”

Harris had been the first Black man from Little Rock Central High to earn an athletic scholarship at the University of Arkansas, where he was a four-year letterman from 1973-1978. With his status as a Razorback opening doors, Harris got into real estate and politics followed, and he would eventually earn a number of firsts as an African American, including being the first Black man to serve on the UA Board of Directors.

But in the early to mid-1990s, there were pressures and disappointments.

Harris took heat as only the second Black man to run for a state constitutional office, his ticket lost to Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker, he lost another race for Little Rock’s city board, he suffered a business setback that cost him thousands and his father was living with dementia. 

When he turned to crack to alleviate some of the anger and frustration, Harris says, it was a short trip to near ruin.

“From ’96 to ’97, that’s how fast I was on the bottom. It wasn’t [gradually] no ’92, ’94. No, man. Once I picked up, it was like being on a damn Concorde jet. It went straight down. It did not stop.”

Harris, who says at one point he wrote “90 checks in 90 days,” didn’t realize his revocation hearing had been moved on the court docket to mitigate local media attention. When he got his hearing, however, his former Razorback status proved helpful.

Judge Marion Humphries was a friend from college, and when Harris’ attorneys Wayne Davis and R.S. McCullough proposed an alternative to a prison sentence in a sidebar conference, Humphries and prosecutor Larry Jegley, another acquaintance, went along. 

Though he had relapsed once, Harris accepted the deal that included mandatory rehab, five years’ probation and a $15,000 fine. He told the attorneys he wanted to earn back the trust people had shown in him.

“Man, when you build your trust back, take it to your grave,” Harris says. 

But Harris wasn’t out of the woods. With a 6 p.m. deadline for entering rehab, he recalls going a mile “in all four directions,” carrying $20 and trying to score one last hit before checking into Sober Living recovery center. He couldn’t score, and still has the $20 stuck in a Bible.

“So I went on and checked into rehab. Life has been golden ever since,” Harris says. “I beat the Devil’s ass and I got out alive.”

While at Sober Living, Harris was urged to use his name and community connections to help people as a court liaison for local rehab services. It was sometimes frustrating — Harris says at one time he had more clients in jail on contempt charges than he did in rehab — but he saw the need for rehabilitation and support services outside Pulaski County and, with Lancet Lamb, founded the nonprofit Muskie Harris Rehabilitation Services.

The center, striving to create an alcohol- and drug-free community, works with social support groups, families and relapse prevention and intervenes for patients who are involved in the legal system. There are services for men and women, with people brought in for help from all over the state.

Harris has had setbacks and frustrations, financial and personal — including the loss of his mother — since he got sober, but none of it caused him to relapse. He says the road back to trust pretty much started when he was in jail counting tiles.

“Those 60 days in jail, I wrote my plan out,” he says. “I’m living my plan. I’m literally living my plan. I know my notebook is up in my attic, the information I wrote from the jail, but I still remember it. I’ve had the best training money can buy.”

Credit: Jason Masters

THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR

The other kids might not have liked it, but the beer tasted pretty good to Jim Engelhorn.

As Little Rock store manager for the iconic jeweler Sissy’s Log Cabin, Engelhorn deals with valuable items on a regular basis. While growing up in Bloomington, Illinois, however, Engelhorn wasn’t really exposed to the finer things.

He’d lost his father when he was 4 and didn’t quite feel he fit in with the neighborhood kids.

“We were a poor family in the rich neighborhood,” he says. “I was constantly running around with wealthy friends, but I didn’t have a lot.”

One day someone found a beer in a buddy’s garage. The gang ran it under cold water to cool it down, then passed it around.

“I had my first drink at 9 years and immediately it was cool,” Engelhorn says. 

In seventh grade, Engelhorn was able to polish off a bottle of whiskey when his friends raided their parents’ liquor cabinet. By 17 he was drinking every day, but could still deliver what the adults expected, scoring 18 points in a basketball game once while playing buzzed.

His coaches may have suspected, but there was praise instead of punishment. 

“There’s always this great reinforcement thing going on,” Engelhorn says. 

He had a sound work ethic, shoveling snow and mowing lawns, impressing one of his lawn customers who invited Engelhorn, then 15, to work in his jewelry store. Engelhorn continued to work there summers and weekends.

“I ended up with a business partner owning that company,” he says.

Predictably, fraternity life at the University of Illinois escalated the drinking, and it dogged Engelhorn when he returned to the store after graduation. He and a second business partner, both alcoholics, drank themselves out of that business. 

Another business relationship soured. Engelhorn’s marriage ended. He stayed briefly with his brother, but the relationship, he says, was toxic, and of course at that point Engelhorn’s drinking was “quite exceptional.”

Eventually, Engelhorn found himself in an extended stay hotel, maybe not trying, but fully expecting to drink himself to death. On Feb. 26, 2010, Engelhorn’s body began to revolt.

“I started to have — I don’t know if it was a full-blown alcoholic hallucination. I’m not exactly sure what happened,” he says. “I couldn’t see. I started to feel like I was having a heart attack. I texted my brother who was still talking to me at the time. He called the ambulance and the ambulance picked me up and took me to St. Joseph Hospital in Bloomington, Illinois.”

Engelhorn had pancreatitis. The next day his doctor told him he would treat Engelhorn but, whether bluffing or not, said he wouldn’t treat him again if he didn’t get help for his alcoholism, and he could likely die.

“I made the decision I didn’t want to be dead,” Engelhorn says. 

That day, Feb. 27, he called the Pavilion Foundation in Champaign, and that night was sleeping in his car across from the building entrance, waiting for the place to open. 

“I was either going to go to the liquor store and die or walk in the front door,” Engelhorn says. “I walked in the door and wrote them a check. I’m not sure why they cashed the check. I looked down and I couldn’t read.”

Engelhorn got treatment, joined a group and got reacquainted with the woman who became his second wife, Laura. He dabbled in jewelry consulting and moved with Laura to Valparaiso, Indiana, and got back into the jewelry business full time.

In 2017, after he and Laura tired of the Valparaiso winters, they moved to Arkansas, where Engelhorn knew the Jones family, owners of Sissy’s.

He was seven years sober at that point, and was up front about his past. The Joneses were fully supportive, and Engelhorn became store manager. 

“Who would have thought,” Engelhorn says, “that the guy staring at a door of a treatment center, sleeping in his car, would be running one of the most important jewelry stores in the world, not just the United States, with the complete support of the owners?” 

On one of his first nights in Arkansas, Engelhorn attended a meeting at Wolfe Street and was eventually asked to serve on its board. Service is part of the Twelve Step process, and Engelhorn saw it as an opportunity.

“People have to have access without judgment,” he says. “They have to have access at sometimes bizarre and weird hours. That’s what these places do. They’ve got to have hope.”

Engelhorn recalls speaking at a church in Valparaiso a year after his life-or-death night in his car in Champaign. A young man tapped him on the shoulder and told him he had intended to go home and put a .45 pistol in his mouth, until he heard Engelhorn speak. 

“It’s a joyous place to be, but it’s also life and death,” Engelhorn says. “At that moment I knew I’d made amends for a lot of things in my life. I dropped the rock. A lot of the burden I’d been carrying around just dissolved when that kid told me he wasn’t going to kill himself. 

“He did far more for me than I did for him.”

You can support Wolfe Street at the
2023 Red Carpet Recovery Gala

April 13 | The Clinton Presidential Center | wolfestreet.org/redcarpet

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