Stockton offers Recovery Court graduate road back to education

Luana Cordeiro was just a week away from graduating Kean University in 2009.
That’s when the then-struggling addict got swallowed in a haze of heroin and cocaine.
She missed her finals and didn’t graduate.
Mourning what she lost, she slipped further into her addiction, spending time in and out of rehabs and jail.
But on Tuesday, the Atlantic County Recovery Court graduate celebrated the culmination of a four-year journey that has led her back to her children, full-time employment and, most recently, a college education.
Cordeiro is attending Stockton University with a full scholarship as part of the school’s continued efforts to help those in recovery.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner said he was moved by Cordeiro’s story at her Recovery Court graduation in May.
He started making calls to see what could be done, and Stockton answered.
The school already has recovery housing, where eight students currently live, President Harvey Kesselman said.
They also have three Recovery Court graduates working for them.
“We want you to be successful,” Kesselman told about 100 Recovery Court members gathered at the Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse. “We want you to be our students. We want you to work on our campus.”
Years as a lawyer and then judge and now prosecutor, Tyner said he was especially touched by Cordeiro’s story.
Sexual abuse led her to drown her pain in alcohol starting when she was just 15.
That moved on to pills. She would go to doctors claiming pain to get prescriptions. Cocaine also came into the mix.
Once she started college, things started to spiral.
On the outside, she seemed in control. She was a criminal justice major and a member of the Criminal Justice Honor Society.
Senior year, she met someone who knew a doctor that could get her prescriptions. But pills got expensive, which led to heroin.
Losing her chance at graduation made things worse.
The road to Atlantic County went through several stints in jail, and even an escape from drug court up north.
Cordeiro was on her way to get high when the police came to her mother’s home Aug. 29, 2014, just five days after her 30th birthday.
She later learned her mother called police.
“That was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” her mother told her in a jail call.
“But it was the best one,” Cordeiro said.
This time, it was go to Drug Court, or go to prison.
Weighing about 89 pounds, with lesions on her face from picking and her hair thinned from drugs, Cordeiro was embarrassed as she was led into court.
After court-ordered rehab, she was sent to Hansen House. She didn’t want to go.
It wound up giving her a future.
She now lives in Galloway Township working for Jennifer Hansen’s Enlightened Solutions.
“I deal with people like us,” she told the current Recovery Court participants.
The first person people deal with there, she spends each day helping talk people off the cliff and into help, she said.
“Luana’s story is what keeps all of us working toward helping those in addiction,” Tyner said. “We’ve changed how we treat addiction. We’ve changed how we penalize addiction. Every life is worth it.”

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