The drug dealer I thought I hated

by Jenny Derr

I attended a program at Godwin High School this week, which was organized by Project Purple, of which I am a member.  The ORBIT program, which stands for Opiate Recovery By Intensive Tracking, is a Henrico County Sheriff’s office initiative, which serves to help inmates battling addiction to opioids.

This particular program is called In Plain Sight, and the residents of the program set up a typical teen bedroom on the stage and then ask members of the audience to come up and see if they can find the 50 items related to drug use, or drugs, that are hidden “in plain sight.”

It is a powerful program and the residents are asked to introduce themselves at the start and to state what got them incarcerated.  All of them are in jail for crimes related to drugs.

As I am sitting there listening to them introduce themselves, a young man stands up and states his name.

I knew the name.

I knew the face.

My mouth went dry and I felt like I was sweating everywhere.

That young man had been in my home.

That young man had sold Billy drugs.

This was a person I hated.

This is a person, who at one time, I said I wanted to harm.  (I am not proud of these things, but I am being honest here)  So I sat there and listened and participated. I kept staring at him, wondering if he knew who I was.

There were some really great questions from the parents attending and I was really proud of these young men and women, who are clearly working so hard to get their lives back on track by participating in this program. As the program ended we were invited to speak to the members.  I closed my eyes and asked what would Billy do? I knew.

So I went up there and said “Hi, do you remember me?  I am Billy Derr’s mom.”  He did, he said I am so, so sorry about Billy, and I could see in his eyes that he was.  We talked for a little longer, I gave him two big hugs.  I encouraged him to keep working his program, and to make sure he had a good support system for when he is released.

He shared with me that Billy, while living in Boston, had tried to help him get into treatment.  That meant a lot to me.  And I was so glad he told me.

I was still feeling unsettled when I left.  I mean how many of us have an opportunity to meet one of their child’s drug connections?  I have to imagine there are many of us that shared the same immense loathing and wanted to physically hurt these people.

I am so glad that I saw him and had an opportunity to talk and see him as a real human being.  I realized that he is a good person, too–just a good person who is sick.  I hope he will continue to learn and heal.

I’ve hated this guy for a really long time.

It felt so good to let go of that finally. It was also a good lesson for me in forgiveness and grace. I know my son, Billy was smiling because he always thought this guy was a good person at heart.

Billy’s birthday is February 10.  It is his third in heaven.  I miss him everyday.

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Letter from a drug dealer

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Jenny Derr

Jenny Derr is an active advocate for substance use disorder

6 thoughts on “The drug dealer I thought I hated”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I am so glad you had the courage to introduce yourself and to show forgiveness and hope to this young man. Thats powerful and I’m sure it was helpful to him and his recovery. Happy birthday to Billy!!

  2. Jenny Derr is an amazing person. I know few individuals with the heart and strength of Jenny. She has taken a situation where she felt helpless and is using that heartbreaking set of circumstances to help improve the life of others. I learn so much from her and am grateful for her willingness to reach out to others.

    1. She has that. The first time I saw her was when she brought Hearring the basketball player to Godwin. And she stood up there and told her story. It was like a week after Billy’s death. I had lost charles to suicide about six months prior so I knew what it took to go up there. There were hundreds there and you could have heard a pin drop in that gym that day.

  3. What a beautiful story of redemption, both for you and for that young man. Your embracing him was probably a balm to his soul. Hopefully it will bring healing to both of you. Thank you for sharing with us. ❤️

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