Judy Cain didn’t believe her daughter was doing drugs, despite what others were telling her. Despite her car vanishing occasionally, an accumulating credit card statement, and blackened spoons found in her basement, it couldn’t be drugs – not Chelsey, not her daughter. “I was in denial,” said Judy. Only when Judy kicked Chelsey out of the house did she notice how easily Chelsey took the news, how quickly she moved her things into the house of two acquaintances. The couple, according to Chelsey, were her dealers. Her addiction was primarily to Oxycontin, though she had progressed to using both crack and heroin at the time of her move.

After moving in with a man she met on Craigslist who had legal ownership of about sixty firearms, Chelsey made the decision to sell three of them for drug money. She was arrested the next day.

“I do believe being incarcerated saved her life,” said Judy. Chelsey was arraigned in Darby Jail when her parents decided not to post her bail before she sat trial. Upon asking the judge if they had made the right decision, Judy received the answer, “If you hadn’t done that, she would have been dead in three weeks.” As for Chelsey, she contends that rehab wouldn’t have worked the way prison did. “I needed to have my consequences to be slapped in my face, I needed to be saved.”

Seven and a half years sober, Chelsey has since put her energies into education and advocacy work. Upon returning from prison she secured a job, re-enrolled in a local community college, and moved out of her mother’s house within her first eight months outside. After transferring to Temple University to finish her undergraduate degree, Chelsey took a year to focus on travel and her athletic goals. “It’s probably an addict thing,” she laughed, “I went from the Broad Street Run to a marathon in six months.” But running is what refocused Chelsey’s recovery during her incarceration, a natural high to replace the artificial one. Chelsey was also recently admitted into a criminal justice doctoral program at Temple University, where she will develop research on the ease of using of drugs in some recovery programming.

“There’s no perfect formula,” said Chelsey of her own recovery, unique in that it has been free of relapse. She has strong foundations in the 12-step community, and further supplements meetings by interacting with people further in their recovery and education than she. These are the people, she says, that help her grow. There’s no doubt that Chelsey’s own story of growth is an inspiration to others within her own recovery network.