Petra and Michael’s Story
Petra and Michael are like two teenagers in love. Though they were married on May 3, 1989, they are getting to know each other all over again, and their joy is apparent to anyone who meets them.
“I returned from Desert Storm and didn’t know I had PTSD,” Michael says. “Back then, it was a taboo thing. My officers and everybody appointed above me said, ‘Mike, just try to handle it. You’ll be okay. Don’t tell anyone. You’re going to mess up your military career.’” But, within six months, he was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and he ended up in jail – first in Georgia, then in Florida.
With her husband in jail, Petra returned to her home state of Arizona, where her parents lived. She tells us, “My mom was dying of cancer. So, that’s when my drug addiction actually started.”
“While I was incarcerated, I didn’t know that she was on drugs until the very end,” Michael confesses. Originally, he was facing a minimum of 33 years in jail. “I have a college education, and I scored well on all the tests they give you, so I was in the law library. There’s where I wanted to be. I needed to work on my case.” As an honorably discharged veteran with PTSD, he was able to get his sentence reduced to 15 years.
While in prison, he says, “My life changed. I started to go to [Narcotics Anonymous] there. An older gentlemen, who was a Marine, took me under his wing.” Michael has now been sober for 17 years, and he is determined to maintain his sobriety and help his wife maintain hers.
Petra, living with her own addiction, was diagnosed with breast cancer while Michael was still incarcerated. “When I found out I had breast cancer, it went in one ear and out the other, because my mother, my grandmother, my best friend…Everyone around me who dealt with cancer had died. I didn’t want to hear it. I put it out of my mind.”
Michael says, “Originally, it was my plan that when I got out of jail I would go into a transitional program through the VA, and once I was settled, go and get my wife. But when I found out about the breast cancer and drug addiction, it became pressing that I got her here as soon as possible to get her some help and get her out of that environment.”
“I was telling him, ‘I’m coming! I’m coming!’ But my addiction was saying, ‘You don’t want to go.’ He’d bought me a bus ticket, and on the last day I could use it, I knew I had to go,” Petra tells us. “For a long time, I never thought it was possible that I would ever see him again.”
With Michael in a transitional program in St. Cloud, he searched for a place for Petra to stay. They were disappointed time and time again, until they found the Coalition. “We came here, and I got in, thank God.”
“So, we got her moved in, and I’m going back to St. Cloud. Obviously, I want to be with my wife, and the trip can be close to four hours. A few days later, I came up and spoke to the intake lady at the Coalition. She said, ‘You’re a veteran. Being a veteran, you have priority. I can get you in right now.’”
Michael is currently staying in the Men’s Service Center, working with his case manager and the VA to access benefits and secure housing. He says, “I was assigned to Miss Sonia as a case manager. Let me say this, we wouldn’t be at the point we are now if it wasn’t for her. She immediately started processing housing and SSVF [Supportive Services for Veteran Families], and every other outlet that I can possibly obtain. She’s assisted us greatly with the breast cancer issue and pushing things through.”
Petra is living in the Center for Women and Families and is dedicated to maintaining her sobriety. “When I got on that Greyhound bus, I quit my drug of choice cold turkey. I was doing it for 15 years straight,” she says. “It wasn’t until I got here that I truly realized that I’m an addict. That was my daily life. I didn’t even know that I had a problem. I came here and talked to Connie [the intake coordinator], and she told me about the First Steps program. I knew this is where I need to be. This is what I need to do.”
Though Michael and Petra still have a long road ahead of them, they can finally see the light. “We’re finally back together. I mean, we got our relationship with our kids back. We got us back. Everything is coming together.”