Photograph by Jillian DeChaine
Today, Suli Furman and her husband Travis live in their busy home in Grand Rapids balancing work and raising their three children –Angelica (11 years), Hunter (7 years), and Henry (2 years). They have a lot to be proud of—jobs, a home, and each other. But life wasn’t always that way. Not too long ago, Suli watched as this life came to a screeching halt, threatening to take away everything she held dear.
Two years into their marriage, the couple moved to Remer with their daughter Angel. Soon after, they welcomed their son, Hunter. They never thought that they’d be faced with one of the most difficult challenges of their relationship.
They lived and worked as house parents for a group home, a career they loved. They spent five years helping vulnerable teens. Then with little warning, the group home closed its doors. Within a matter of 11 days they would be left without an income or place to live.
“Everything we owned fit into our van,” Suli reflected. “We hopped from place to place clinging to whatever normalcy we could for Angel and Hunter.”
Suli immediately found work as a para-professional in her daughter’s school, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. For months they accumulated credit card debt while Travis looked for work. Bills continued to pile with no new job leads.
To cope, the couple reverted to drug use and Travis began selling meth to keep the family afloat. But, instead of getting ahead, the couple began sliding down a slippery slope of addiction. Suli became pregnant and curbed her use until Henry was born. As months passed, their drug dependency grew. Despite the outside appearance, their relationship was spiraling out of control. Lies, deception, and guilt consumed their once happy home.
“It was a struggle,” said Suli. “We knew we needed help, but were afraid because sharing our secrets risked everything.”
As time passed they realized things needed to change if they were going to get their lives back. They were ready to fight. However, before they could act they were arrested and their children were removed from their custody and placed in foster-care. They found themselves enmeshed in both the criminal justice system and child protection system.
Travis was facing significant prison time for meth-related offenses. Suli was left with a choice: treatment or prison. She chose treatment. The next 24 months that followed weren’t easy, but it was the only way she could remain in her children’s lives. She entered into Itasca County Wellness Court, an intense treatment program supported by United Way of 1000 Lakes, and that choice would change her life. The rules were strict. She was attentive to the program and followed it closely, proving her commitment to recovery and her family.
“In Wellness Court we meet with the judge and share everything that went on during the week, said Suli. “Hearing the stories of my peers really helped. You could see how your choices – good and bad – impacted your recovery.”
Throughout the program, her days consisted of waking early and walking or biking from one appointment to the next. To meet demands of recovery, she juggled outpatient treatment, court hearings, random drug tests, meetings with her probation officer/caseworkers, and supervised visits with her children as a part of her treatment plan.
Suli recalls riding her bike in the rain, “I didn’t know if I was soaking wet from the tears I was crying trying to get there on time or the rain.”
Suli keeps her date book as a reminder of how far she has come. Ink-stained pages represent the agony, doubt, exhaustion, and isolation she felt as a single parent working to rebuild a life for her family while her husband was in prison. She credits Wellness Court with helping her to stay her course and supporting her through the difficult times.
“A critical part of the program is the people behind it,” Suli said. “Their hearts are in the program and they want to help push you forward. You have to trust that they are helping lead you in the right direction.”
Over the course of the 18 month program, her personal, emotional, and spiritual strength grew. She rebuilt her trust in others and regained custody of her children.
“There was no greater consequence than the silence I was hearing in my home when the kids were gone,” Suli reflected.
Through help of other local programs, Suli had a place to call home, food on the table, an in-home parenting mentor, and safe child care for her children while she worked.
Travis was accepted into a boot camp treatment program while in prison, which provided the option of early home release with intense supervision.
Today, the family of five is thriving and Suli and Travis are working hard to maintain their sobriety. Thanks to the Wellness Court and United Way, their family is safe, happy, and confident that their future is full of possibilities.
Since she began her recovery journey, Suli has volunteered at a local treatment halfway house, assisted other Wellness Court participants with rides, led A.A. meetings, and shares her story in the hopes that others may have the courage and strength to get the help they need.
“We have worked hard to get where we are today. This experience has changed us for the better. We made mistakes, but we are moving forward together.”
About Wellness Court
Supported by United Way of 1000 Lakes, Itasca County Wellness Court is a voluntary program which unites the criminal justice system with treatment providers and other community resources to help individuals achieve and sustain ongoing recovery.