By her own admission, Inez Richards spent four decades struggling with addiction.
“I grew up in jail. I grew up in the streets,” she said. “I was in a place that was so dark, so lonely… The pain got great enough that I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how.”
Now, Richards said, she knows how to change.
“And once you know, you can’t go back to not knowing,” she said.
Richards’ journey to living clean – and her generosity in passing on her wisdom to a new generation of recovering addicts – was celebrated Nov. 20 at the Griswold Youth Center, where she received an award from Matt’s Mission, a recently-recognized nonprofit organization aimed at fighting the stigma of drug addiction.
Approximately a dozen friends, co-workers, mentors, and mentees who have accompanied her on her journey spoke about the powerful impact she has had on their lives.
Fellow addicts in recovery told how Richards would drop what she was doing to field a phone call and talk them through a rough patch. Friends praised her determination, her resilience, and her generosity.
“The loss of a loved one to drugs is horrendous, but I have so much gold around me,” said Karen Stackpole, of Community Speaks Out of Groton.
Since Stackpole’s brother died two years ago, she has been working with Richards in recovery coaching classes and at a needle exchange program along the shoreline.
“You are a pot of gold for me,” she told Richards.
It’s been four and a half years since Richards got clean, thanks in large part to her decades-long relationship with Elizabeth Allen, a clinical social worker she met while incarcerated in Niantic.
“Her sense of authenticity and honesty was very refreshing,” Allen recalled. “We went through some dark times, but she was always very hopeful. I said, ‘One of these days, Inez, you’re going to see what we see. You have so much to offer the world.’ I knew that in 1995, and I’m so glad that now she knows it, too.”
Richards’ new life in the world has been transformative. For the first time she’s holding down a job, has her own apartment, and is managing her own finances.
“I have so much peace in my life where I had so much chaos,” she said. “I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to steal. Now, the inside matches the outside.”
Turning to those recovering addicts she’s been mentoring, she said, “I don’t want you to have to go through what I went through.”
Kathleen Dufficy, the founder of Matt’s Mission, said that when the group was organizing a public event at Veterans Park this fall, “Inez was the first person we thought of.”
Her powerful testimony at that event left a deep impact on those who heard her, she said.
“She helped me understand another side of the disease of addiction,” said Dufficy, who lost her son, Matthew Barrett, three years ago in a drug-related accident. “She’s a shining example to individuals who are struggling with addiction.”
“Everyone looks up to this gentle lady,” said Jack Malone, executive director of the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and a member of the Matt’s Mission board. “She’s a powerful example and a leader of other women.”
“We need to celebrate that people get well,” Malone said. “This is the life in recovery. It’s not perfect, it’s not horrible. It’s life as it is.”
Written By: Janice Steinhagen
Janice Steinhagen began working for Courant Community in 2011. She is a veteran journalist of nearly 40 years. She was the founding editor for the Four County Catholic. She is also the co-author of “Heart Sounds: Twelve Catholic Doctors.” She covers Griswold, Plainfield, Sprague, Sterling, Franklin, Baltic, Canterbury and Killingly