Tuesday, July 16, 2024

LETTER: Being heard matters

| July 8, 2024 12:10 AM

Dear Editor,

I just read your article in Wednesday’s (June 26) paper about my court and sentencing. I’m really glad you wrote the article because I’ve wanted the message that I tried to express in court to be out to the public. I had your name and address already because I had seriously wanted to reach out to you to see if you would be interested in speaking out to the community from the perspective of someone who has experienced what addiction truly entails — and how the fentanyl crisis is alive and even thriving in the Grant County area.

I’m not from here originally, but I am a small-town girl, from an area with a very similar feel that Grant County has and the ease in which I was able to find drugs in this area and the fact that there is an entire community of people here that quite literally live every day as a slave to addiction to fentanyl is alarming, even to someone like me who hasn’t — obviously — lived on the up and up. 

I’ve been in the Grant County Jail for two years, so my mind is clear now, and honestly, I’m an amazing person when I’m clean. I have watched countless young women come (into) this jail so sick from fentanyl withdrawals. Even though I’ve faced them myself, it’s still so hard to watch others go through — especially when the girls I see are the ages of my daughters. 

I don’t think the public in general, or the criminal justice system, really understand opiate addiction and I know they don’t get what it really means when they read that fentanyl is ten times more addictive than heroin. I really want to find a way to get people to understand all of the aspects of this in a real way because charts and statistics can only convey so much.

Addicts are people and what happens when the addiction goes so far, is they become expendable to society, maybe because many people see addiction as weakness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is wrong that people go to prison for things that occur during addiction. I understand that, like any crime, there has to be accountability. But we are failing as a nation at addressing the opiate crisis and we have to do something different. So I think that I have to speak out — I have to try to make a difference. 

Honestly, I didn’t reach out to you before because I was scared that you would dismiss me as just another addict or inmate. I actually had written out an outline I wanted to present to you for a series of articles on opiates — fentanyl especially — from the perspective of several views, including mine, but also from the sheriff, the people doing Community Court — an excellent program — local businesses who have seen a huge increase in theft, doctors and mental health professionals. I really thought it out and had an outline ready, but I got nervous. (I) thought you would not think someone like me could possibly be serious or have something worthwhile to say, and I ripped it up and threw it away.

I’m sorry I did that now. If I want to be a voice to make change, I can’t be afraid to reach out, right? I mean I’m pretty sure my life is at the point where someone not taking me seriously should be the least of my worries. 

I hope you will take me seriously, however, because I meant every word I said in that courtroom. I intend to embrace this as an opportunity to reach out, and after seeing your article, I realized that I should have reached out when I originally wanted to. 

I don’t know if you will be interested in hearing more of what I have to say, but if you are, please contact me. I will most likely already be gone from Grant County once you receive this “snail mail,” but I should be quite easy to find. I will be at the women’s prison in Gig Harbor and I’m sure a little time on Google will give you the contact info. There is also an app called Securis that you can get on to (text) inmates in the prison. 

I hope I will hear from you, because you are “press.” You have a voice that’s bigger than mine and I believe you want to use that voice to help others.

I’d like to as well.

Melissa “Shelby” Mattingly
Washington Corrections Center for Women, Gig Harbor

Editor’s Note: The court date Ms. Mattingly is referring to is her appearance in Grant County Superior Court on June 25. Coverage of her case was included in our June 26 edition as our lead story with the headline “Sentenced defendant thankful for arrest.” 

Mattingly was sentenced to a little less than 19 years in prison for a variety of charges Mattingly says were the results of poor choices made because of her opioid addiction. 

Mattingly is right in that fentanyl and other drugs are extremely prevalent in Grant County, but they’re also easy to find in Othello, Ritzville and pretty much anywhere you go in Eastern Washington. As the editor of the paper, I see the police blotters and jail reports each week — all riddled with charges that, when I look at the case documentation, are likely the result of poor choices prompted by addiction. 

Over the last few months, I have worked to increase coverage of the fentanyl and addiction crisis in our area. I am working on multiple stories relating to a fentanyl task force, access to treatment, tracing fentanyl’s journey into the U.S. and our region specifically and will be reaching out to Mattingly as she’s asked so that readers can see this issue from every possible perspective. The hope for that coverage is that it educates people and helps the community identify realistic, practical solutions to a problem that has become endemic in the Columbia Basin. 

I would encourage my fellow community members not to wait for that coverage to take action. Speak with your children about what can happen if they are exposed to fentanyl and how deadly it can be. Work with local groups like your town’s local prevention coalitions to both learn and pass along knowledge gained.

Speak with law enforcement when you get the opportunity and ask them how fentanyl and other drugs impact them daily. Speak with city council members, legislators and other officials to let them know your concerns regarding fentanyl and ask them what they’re doing and how you can support them in their efforts. 

We’re not going to wave a magic wand and make fentanyl, meth, cocaine and heroin disappear. It’s going to take work on all of our parts to fight the negative impacts the plague of addiction has on our communities, but together, we can knock it down. 

I thank Mattingly for reaching out. Having covered addiction and crime for years now, I know how demeaning and demoralizing it can be. It takes guts to face your mistakes, work to get clean and then to take the next step to try to help other people learn from your errors is an impressive feat. 

Take care of yourselves and thank you for reading the Columbia Basin Herald. 

With appreciation,
R. Hans “Rob” Miller