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  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
    Marisa Hanlon listens as her son Jonathan, 19, speaks about his experiences with Hanlon’s drug addiction, abandonment and recovery.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
    Jonathan, 19, left, and Tori, 17, right, hug their mother, Marisa Hanlon, at Redemption House, where Hanlon is the director of operations. Hanlon, 44, a recovering drug addict, had abandoned them.
September 04, 2016 1:03 AM

Families find redemption

Woman recalls roller coaster she put herself, children on

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

For Marisa Hanlon and her children Jonathan and Tori, life has been a roller coaster of pain, sadness, joy and redemption.

Hanlon, a former heroin and methamphetamine addict, hadn’t seen her children, who lived with their father, in more than a year before she was arrested in 2012 for manufacturing meth.

“I wanted to protect them from myself because I had literally become poison to everyone,” Hanlon said. “In my sick mind, that was the best way I could do that.”

Hanlon, 44, is now director of operations for Redemption House, running the place that helped her turn her life around. It is a transitional home for women attempting to turn away from past destructive behavior, such as drug addiction.

Hanlon, who grew up in Los Angeles, said that before her rehabilitation, marked by lost hope and suicidal thoughts, she believed abandoning her children was for the best. She said her parents – both addicts themselves – had done the same thing to her, as they began lengthy prison sentences when Hanlon was a young teenager. Hanlon’s mother is out of prison and the two have reconnected. 

Hanlon’s father introduced her to drugs at age 12.

“My dad told me that I was going to grow up to be an addict just like the rest of my family, so I might as well get dope from him,” Hanlon said. “Those are things as a child you carry with you.”

Hanlon’s 2012 arrest was a blessing in disguise, one that led her down a path toward recovery. Though relieved that she might finally be able to get help, Hanlon sat in jail for nine months, unable to speak to her children, unable to apologize.

Facing 38 years in prison, Hanlon was spared her parents’ fate by Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis, who sentenced her to treatment at Redemption House.

The moment she was released from jail, she tried to get in touch with her kids through Facebook messages. Hanlon also has an older son, Gerard, who lives in Arizona.

Tori, now 17, a kindhearted young woman with an endlessly positive attitude, was quick to forgive. Jonathan, now 19, however, was more guarded. For months he refused to speak to Hanlon. Hanlon understood why. All she could do, she said, was keep trying.

Jonathan and Tori have asked that their last names not be printed.

Having satisfied her recovery requirements, Hanlon graduated from Redemption House on May 14, 2013. She began working at the facility a day later. As he watched her progress, Jonathan began to come around.

“I thought, ‘Well, she might start doing drugs now that she’s out of the Redemption House, but she seems like she’s clean now, so I’m going to talk to her,” Jonathan said. “I was going to do my part of the relationship because I didn’t want her to fall off the edge again because her son refuses to talk to her.”

Shortly after graduating, Hanlon began making plans to visit Jonathan and Tori. With more than four hours’ drive time between them and no car, Hanlon didn’t have the means for a visit. But Redemption House helped her get there by renting her a car and paying for a hotel room. 

Jonathan describes that first visit as “one of the most incredible feelings I’ve had by far.”

“So much stress had gone off my shoulders,” Jonathan said. “I knew within the first 10 seconds of talking to her that everything she said was true.”

Jonathan and Tori began to make trips to Fort Wayne. Just over a year ago, they moved in with Hanlon. The pair had previously lived with their father. 

“I felt so much better to get out of my dad’s house and go live with my mom because she always keeps her house clean,” Tori said. “I used to cry myself to sleep (in her dad’s house) because there was a mouse stuck in my desk right next to my bed and I couldn’t sleep because I knew there was a mouse in there.”

Jonathan describes living with his father as like living in a hoarder’s house. No structure.

“Being in that environment, not only does your dad not have any responsibility, but neither do you,” Jonathan said. “But once we moved in with mom, we were living in a clean house, we had responsibilities. We do our laundry. We do the dishes more than once a month. It’s a lot less stressful.”

Jonathan and Tori still maintain a strong relationship with their father. They love him, they said, despite his continued drug use. 

Tori said the difference between her mom’s attitude and that of her father is how she knew Hanlon was serious about staying clean and repairing their relationship.

Today, Jonathan and Tori couldn’t be more proud of their mom. She’s become a role model for them. Jonathan said he’s impressed by how driven Hanlon is, working during the day and attending college at night. He’s never seen anything like it, he said. 

“I think the best compliment I get is that I’m just like my mom,” Tori said, smiling. 

Hanlon said she’s proud of her kids and their capacity to forgive. 

“Through this journey we’ve been on, I’m just so proud my children have chosen to not let it ruin them. They’ve chosen to let it make them stronger people, better people,” Hanlon said. 

“I’m proud to say we’re a family that’s been reunited and restored. This is just the beginning. We have our whole life ahead of us. They will never go through what I put them through again. Not from me.”

dgong@jg.net