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Faced with trauma and drug addiction, she fought her way to sobriety and a new life. It wasn’t enough to avoid prison.

Georgia Sloan lived half her life in trauma and abuse when she started using drugs. 

Her mother was addicted. Her father was murdered when she was a child, and her stepfather was abusive. Drug overdoses took away her husband and brother, and while she was in jail her infant daughter died in an accident. 

Then at age 31 she stopped, setting her on a course for a new life. She got into treatment through Crossroads Ministries and started working at bath products company Musee in Madison County, passing weekly drug tests. 

In December, the 34-year-old was called back to court on an old drug charge, and Sloan hoped the judge overseeing her 2021 drug sale case would see that she was a changed woman. 

The answer was no. Lowndes Circuit Court Judge James “Jim” Kitchens opted for the maximum eight-year sentence with four years to serve and four years suspended. 

At the Dec. 4 hearing, he doubted whether nearly three years of sobriety and employment showed Sloan had changed. 

“I don’t see [a] contrite heart in you at all about this,” Kitchens said, according to a transcript of the sentencing. “You’ve convinced the ladies here that you’re a great employee. And I’m proud of that. That’s a good thing. But now, I’ve got to sentence you.”

When reached by Mississippi Today, Kitchens would not comment and told the reporter to request a transcript of the hearing. 

A driving force behind committing to sobriety and rehabilitation was her daughter, whom Child Protective Services threatened to take from her and has lived with Sloan’s mother and aunt. Sloan was preparing for her child to come live with her at the beginning of the year. 

“I did everything asked of me,” Sloan said in a Feb. 7 phone interview from jail. 

As of Monday, she was at the Mississippi Correctional Institute for Women at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. Sloan was at the Lowndes County Detention Center in Columbus for about two months before her transfer. 

Circuit Judge James “Jim” Kitchens of the 16th District.

At least six times during the hearing, Kitchens said by choosing to sell drugs, Sloan was “(making) other people addicts,” according to the court transcript. 

The judge asked if she knew a man, unrelated to her case, who used what he suspected to be heroin but was likely fentanyl, killing him. Kitchens said he has attended funerals of people he’s ordered from drug court who died from Fentanyl overdoses. 

“That’s the problem,” Kitchens said. “There has to be some ability to have empathy for people who were not addicted.”

Sloan says she is committed to maintaining her sobriety in prison and jail. She doesn’t think prison is the place to be for someone with addiction – especially in an environment where there are known to be drugs

“I felt like this was not rehabilitation at all,” Sloan said about the sentence, saying she would have preferred placement in a work program so she could serve the community in some way. 

Lynn Conner, court administrator for Kitchens, wrote in a Feb. 13 email that Sloan was referred to drug court, but the drug court’s coordinator denied the referral. 

At the hearing, Sloan asked if she was eligible for drug court and the judge said she was not because of former drug sale convictions. 

Sloan hopes to make the best of her time in prison. She wants to enroll in a business course and she is excited to share her story, which could help others stop using drugs and find Christ. 

With four years to serve, she expects to be eligible for parole within a year. 

Nearly a quarter of the 77,000 women in state prisons are incarcerated for drug convictions, according to the Prison Policy Institute, which along with property offenses make up more than half of all the offenses for which women are incarcerated. 

Trauma and abuse are among the underlying causes of substance use, according to research cited by the Prison Policy Institute, and many women engage in criminal behavior as a way to support their drug use. 

Sloan’s addiction began at age 14 when she was prescribed opioid pain medications after breaking her back, according to court records. 

Within a few years she began to buy drugs from off the street. Over the next decade, she was sentenced to probation or prison for several drug possession and sale charges. 

Leisha Pickering, founder of Musee, inside a production area at the Canton facility, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. Musee products are handmade by women formerly incarcerated and/or are recovering from substance abuse. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Leisha Pickering, Sloan’s boss at Musee, accompanied Sloan to her court hearing in Columbus, and along with Crossroads’s executive director, Wendy DeMoney, testified on Sloan’s behalf. They thought the judge would allow her to avoid incarceration through drug court or house arrest. 

At the hearing, according to the court transcript, Kitchens drew a parallel from the Bible, about how every seven years there is a jubilee year, and how every seven years since 2007 Sloan was in trouble with drugs. 

The judge questioned Sloan for a 2016 case he handled in which he sentenced her to eight years in prison and to complete a drug and alcohol treatment program. 

Several months into that sentence, Sloan wrote a letter to Kitchens, asking him to reconsider her sentence and release her from jail to mourn her younger daughter, who died from an accident as an infant. 

“This is no place to grieve the loss of a child,” Sloan wrote in an Aug. 17, 2017, letter included in court records. “… Let me prove to you and myself that I can turn my life around.”

Sloan was paroled in November 2018, according to court records. 

After her release, Sloan said she spiraled and her addiction reached the point where someone had to intervene in order for her to get help. Kitchens asked why she needed to “commit a new felony” rather than get help for her drug addiction, as other people he has sent to rehab have done, according to the court transcript. 

Pickering recognizes that there are women like Sloan in the criminal justice system who struggle with addiction and trauma.

Musee’s goal is to employ groups of people, such as formerly incarcerated women, to give them a way to work in their community, create something with their own hands and find their own value. 

To meet that goal, the company partnered with Crossroads and has employed over 200 women who are participating in the nonprofit’s programming, Pickering said. 

Sloan said her mother and former Parole Board chairman Steve Pickett helped her get to Crossroads, which was the best decision she made because it led her to sobriety and work at Musee. The company took a chance on her – something nobody had ever done. 

“That’s all I needed in my life,” Sloan said. “I never had that feeling that I could be someone or be something.” 

While going to Crossroads, Sloan started cleaning at Musee’s office and warehouse and within two years was promoted twice. Her most recent role was in the front office and directly with clients, and Pickering said she was up for another promotion. 

Musee’s staff was devastated by Sloan’s incarceration and has felt her absence. They continue to add money to an account for her to make and receive phone calls, and they can check in with her. 

In a few weeks Sloan will be processed at the prison and able to have visitors, and her supporters plan to see her. 

“We just don’t want to see her fall,” Pickering said.

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