Man wants to help students avoid mistakes

 Drug abuse led to dangerous lifestyle and jail

By Jim Totten
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell)

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — Wearing his jail outfit, Kyle Turgeon recently spoke to students at Pinckney Community High School about the dangers of drugs.

The 26-year-old Genoa Township man did this to help teenagers as well as himself, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

Turgeon, who has been addicted to painkillers and heroin and has been in and out of jail, is haunted by something he didn’t do. It’s eating at him.

“My best friend passed away in December 2011 from an overdose in the basement of his parents’ home,” Turgeon said from the Livingston County Jail.

“I saw him the day before he died; I gave him a ride,” he said. “I could just tell he was not doing good. He was depressed and upset.”

Turgeon and his friend had grown up together in Brighton, hung out as teenagers and were “like brothers.” At some of the best times in his life, Turgeon said, his friend was there.

“When I dropped him off, he turned around and he gave me this look that he needed help,” he said. “And I did not do anything about it. And I knew it right when he looked at me, I knew he was seeking a friend, and I did not do anything about it, and that eats me up still.”

The next day at 5 a.m., he received a call that his friend had died.

“I’m never going to let that happen again,” Turgeon said.

At the time, Turgeon said that he wasn’t using heroin and was trying to stay clean. He said he was worried about getting started up again.

A year after his friend’s death, Turgeon stopped by the house, crying, and spoke with his friend’s mother.

These days, Turgeon is looking forward to getting his life back on track, but he admitted it’s been a long, bumpy road.

Turgeon attended good schools; had a loving, supportive family; and was an excellent athlete as a youth. He played baseball, football and basketball through middle school. He participated on a travel baseball team and went all over the United States.

“My coaches used to tell me I was one of the best athletes they’ve ever seen,” he said. “You remember Drew Henson; I was kind of following in his footsteps.”

Although sports was his passion, it was soon replaced by drugs and partying. Turgeon said he began smoking marijuana and drinking in the summer before eighth grade.

He left Brighton High School after his freshman year and attended an alternative school and later adult education. As a sophomore, he was smoking marijuana every day. He wasn’t playing on any organized sports teams.

He later started doing heroin; he would sniff it in the bathroom at school.

As a senior, Turgeon returned to Brighton High School with renewed focus on school and sports. He wanted to play on the baseball team, but he wasn’t accepted. He said he had the talent, but he figured the coach didn’t want him because of his past and being known as a partier.

“After I didn’t make the team my senior year, that’s what really changed my life, that’s when I got into heavy drug use,” he said.

He started taking Vicodin, skipping classes.

“I felt like a failure,” he said. “When I took those pills, it made me feel not so bad. It took the anger I had, the resentment, and it washed it away. You just stopped caring. That’s what opiates do.”

Turgeon graduated from high school in 2007 and went off to Washtenaw Community College. He was working, taking classes and playing on the baseball team, but his problems remained.

He was arrested for possession of heroin when he was 20, and then spent time in jail and a rehab facility.

He stayed clean for a while, but he relapsed. After a heavy night of drinking, he and a friend went to Detroit and bought heroin.

“We got heroin, went to a gas station and used, and that’s the last thing I remember,” he said of the incident. He woke up after crashing his car along Interstate 96 near Kensington Road, some 50 miles away from Detroit.

He was arrested for driving under the influence and spent more time in jail.

Turgeon’s latest stint in jail occurred after he was arrested for stealing painkillers from his mother.

“Being in jail, unfortunately, probably saved my life,” he said. “It gave me time to think. Jail is not fun. I hate being here.”

Turgeon said he made the best of his jail time, becoming an administrative trustee. He was allowed the privilege of working at the jail, shoveling snow, cleaning up and washing cars. He was able to walk around the facility.

Being a trustee allowed him to earn credit for good time and earlier release.

He said several county officials were very supportive, running programs and classes to assist inmates with drug addictions. He said Francine Sumner, chief probation officer; Dennis McHale, a treatment counselor; Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte; and Lt. Tom Cremonte, jail administrator, understand the problem and are willing to help.

Addictions to opiate-based painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin are fueling a growing heroin problem in the suburbs.

Authorities in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties said they have seen increases of up to 50 percent in the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction.

In Livingston County, 15 people died from heroin overdoses in 2011.

Bezotte said he’s been working on the drug problem since becoming sheriff in 2005.

“You see what’s happening in the county with our young kids,” he said.

He said inmates speaking to kids is one way to address the issue.

“We try to reach the kids before they even try these drugs,” he said. “Your whole life can be destroyed.”

Bezotte said he estimated up to 80 percent of the jail’s inmates have drug or alcohol addictions.

Turgeon said he will go into a structured living facility after leaving jail. He hopes one day to become a substance-abuse counselor.

“I’m here for a reason, and I believe that reason is to help the youth,” he said. “To help these kids and show them how serious drugs are and what can happen to you.”

Turgeon was interviewed at the jail Dec. 19. He was released later that day.

He reached his first goal, which was to get out before Christmas. But he has others he’s working on.

“I want to prove myself to the people who have given up on me, and I want to prove it to myself,” he said. “I want to make my family proud, especially my father.”