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The Survivor 
BY: Crystal Cooper












McAllen – Jessie couldn’t believe her 15-year-old son was caught with cocaine at his high school.


Growing up in a tight-knit, middle-class neighborhood, she thought her son, Michael, was living an idyllic life, until the school called and said he was caught for drug possession. He had been buying the drugs at Rowe High School.


“I was waiting outside and was wondering why my son wasn’t coming out” Jessie said. “Then the school called, and I was just in shock, I couldn’t believe my son was even doing drugs.”


Drugs have become a prevalent issue within McAllen ISD, said Nadia Ocho, the executive director of the Palmer Drug and Abuse Program in McAllen. The exposure to drugs has sent curious children into spiraling addictions, causing them to disconnect with themselves and their families, she said.


Michael’s life was saved after he got help from the Palmer program. Located only a 10-minute drive from the Mexico border, it helps children who have become addicted.


Michael, now 17, said the day he was caught with cocaine wasn’t the first time he bought drugs at school. The schools’ bathrooms were Michaels common location to make drug purchases.


“The first time I bought a vape was in my middle school bathroom. I was 11,” he said.


It was during his initial visit to the McAllen ISD Instruction and Guidance Center, following an incident involving vape possession at Fossum Middle School, that someone introduced him to psychedelics.


The instruction and guidance center served as the gateway for Michael’s drug use. This center is intended to give students like Michael the extra support they need. However, all it did for Michael was connect him to more drug dealers within the school system, he said. He recalled that he subsequently made numerous additional purchases of illicit substances, including cocaine, heroin, Xanax, and marijuana.


Michael’s addiction caught up to him when he was 15. As he walked out of his school’s bathroom after purchasing his final gram of cocaine, he was caught by a faculty member.


“I remember just sitting there in the office, thinking this was it, I had to come clean with myself and to my family,” Michael said.  


From this point on Michael and his family members’ lives changed. Michael wanted help; he didn’t want to hide his addiction anymore.


“The day I was caught with cocaine, my dad took me home from school and I remember sitting in his car struggling to speak. I eventually paused, took a deep breath, and said, dad I’m an addict, OK?” he said.


His mother said in hindsight, she should have recognized something was wrong as her son’s behavior was becoming more violent. He was no longer being patient with himself.


“I suspected something was off but when I would try to talk to him, he always had some excuse for his behavior,” Jessie said.


It was two days after Michael got caught with cocaine when Jessie decided to bring Michael to the Palmer program. Jessie and Michael said the values the program drew them in.


“I feel safe in a space where I am not constantly being watched, drug tested, or questioned. The program is built on honesty and trust within one another,” Michael said.


Michael has recently celebrated his one year of sobriety, which is a huge example of the positive effects the program has on its youth members.


Ochoa, executive director of the program, added that she has seen the most success in individuals who are committed to sobriety and have family support.


Jessie said that it was hard to move past the shame, but she needed to let go of what she found to be embarrassing to see her son succeed.


“My husband and I have come every week to support my son for the past year and I wish more parents would come too,” Jessie said.


Michael knows that his battle with addiction will be lifelong so he and his family don’t plan to stop attending the meetings anytime soon.


“The Palmer Drug and Abuse Program is like my second home,” he said. “I have met so many friends who share similar experiences as I and we all help each other stay sober.”


Ever since sobriety, Michael has gotten back to doing the things he loves. He enjoys spending time with his friends, playing guitar, and skateboarding.


His main focuses right now are finishing high school and maintaining his sobriety for himself and for the people who love him.

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