Judy Moffitt of Queensbury always dreamed she’d watch her son, Nick — now 25 — walk across the stage in a cap and gown, seizing a diploma from South High. She thought she’d be one of those parents who bragged about her kid’s accomplishments. She hoped he’d follow in her footsteps to an Ivy League school.
But Moffitt, a high school chemistry teacher, never witnessed any of it. There was no graduation for Nick, except from a shock incarceration camp at the other end of the state, just one of the consequences he has suffered for abusing drugs. There were no accolades, no legacy at Cornell.
Many weekends, Moffitt awakes at 3:30 in the morning and is on the road an hour later, headed to Bare Hill Correctional Facility in Malone. She checks in at 7:30 a.m. and waits to see her son. A few hours later, she is seated with Nick in a big room with small tables. She has to face the guards. Lunch is whatever comes out of the vending machine. At least she can hold his hand and give him a hug.
She’s on the highway again when visiting hours are over at 3 in the afternoon. She gets home close to 7 p.m. This has been her routine for close to a year now, and it will continue for as long as Nick remains in prison. His sentence is 5 years.
Moffit has been on a harrowing journey with her son since he was a teenager battling drug addiction. Still, she considers herself lucky.
“He is alive. If it’s this or the morgue, I’m taking this,” Moffitt said.
Seeing the signs
A stack of books on Moffitt’s coffee table tells of her desperation to understand and heal her son’s addiction. There are titles like “Praying for Our Sons and Daughters: Placing Them in the Heart of God,” “Give Us This Day” and “Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Great Tragedy.”
Moffitt wears religious crosses and a necklace inscribed with “A Mother’s Love Has No End.” She speaks passionately as she describes her odyssey with Nick, providing precise details. She frequently credits her faith and drug-support community for helping her to make it through.
A series of discoveries led Moffitt to the realization her son was an addict.
In middle school, she got her first inkling when she went onto MySpace on the Internet and read that pot was a hot topic among Nick’s friends. She discovered a cigarette butt in the toilet.
Until then, Nick had been a good student, but his grades started slipping. She worried about the gang he hung out with.
When he got to high school, Moffitt told Nick’s teachers he was struggling with something. She said he could be “charming.” She warned his teachers not to give him a pass. She wanted him to be accountable for his behavior.
But she doted on her son. Nick was a heavy sleeper and had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. She made sure he was up and moving to get to school on time, risking getting to school late herself.
During his junior year,
she found a baggie with
remnants of marijuana in
his bookbag and became
suspicious. She began regularly checking his shoes and under his mattress.
She worked to get him off drugs. One time, she left work to drag him out of the house of another teen she suspected of being a drug user.
She thought if she could confront him with evidence of his drug use, he would stop.
She was devastated when she found a digital scale covered with white powder in the trunk of Nick’s car. He told her the scale belonged to someone else. She believed him at first, but the accused kid’s mother said the scale was Nick’s and that he was using cocaine.
As much as Moffitt didn’t want to admit it, she knew her son was mixed up with dangerous drugs. She blamed herself and sank into a depression. She couldn’t sleep and felt she was being punished for being a bad parent.
“What had we done wrong to have a child so out of control?” she said.
Moffitt is reluctant to discuss her husband, from whom she filed for divorce in 2011. Nothing has been finalized, but he moved to Florida and has been living there for years.
She describes Nick’s relationship with his father as “complicated.”
“There have always been problems between them. To say he never had anything to do with Nick is inaccurate, there were times when he did, but the bottom line is it was at his picking and choosing versus what was needed at the time. But he hasn’t seen Nick in years,” Moffitt said.
Following his tracks
Nick began working in a restaurant when he was about 16, and he was a model employee, Moffitt said. When he turned 17, he read up on his rights and moved out of his mother’s South Glens Falls house into a place in Fort Edward. Moffitt went to the apartment and a girl who lived there let her in. She saw cocaine.
Moffitt went to the police with 70 pages of Nick’s cellphone records, which she suspected included the numbers of drug dealers, and told officers about seeing the cocaine. She hoped they would arrest Nick to “shake him up.” She wanted to get help for him but couldn’t force him into treatment.
But the police told her they couldn’t enter the apartment because Nick’s name wasn’t on the lease. Moffitt asked if she could plant cocaine in her own car so the officers would arrest him. They said no.
Moffitt would drive around for hours, looking for Nick and his friends, befriending some of his acquaintances and making enemies of others to get him to stop using.
There were a few days when Nick went missing and didn’t show up for work. Moffitt was frantic and lashed out at his co-workers. She imagined he had died alone somewhere.
She finally got a tip about Nick’s whereabouts and located him in an apartment above a local restaurant. When she approached, she heard dogs barking and people inside.
She knocked on the door and a young man with a wad of money in his back pocket answered. He was holding back two pit bulls.
Moffitt demanded to see her son and, finally, Nick came to the door. He was thin and looked sick, and his shirt was stained with blood.
She made him get in her car and they drove around, Nick slumped in his seat. Moffitt told him he had to stop doing drugs and promised to get him help.
“I could see that he was not hearing me. He went back to live in that filthy apartment with that young man to sell and abuse cocaine. It broke my heart,” she said.
Ups and downs
Nick seemed to be doing better at South High, where he started his senior year in fall 2005. But after a few months he began skipping school. He smashed a car on school property. He looked terrible and exhibited bizarre behavior. Blood dripped from his nose.
Moffitt was alarmed and contacted Conifer Park. Nick agreed to meet for an outpatient evaluation. A counselor cautioned him that three things can happen when you continually abuse drugs: institutionalization, incarceration and death. He went a few times for help but stopped.
Moffitt felt Nick was losing more ground and needed a 28-day inpatient treatment instead, and he finally agreed to go. Meanwhile, she got a call from someone in Nick’s circle of friends that another person was beating him up. She told the caller to make sure the person knew he would have to deal with her if he came after Nick again.
“I was the momma tiger who would do anything to protect him,” she said.
But the person she thought was hurting Nick called her and said he was trying to help Nick and if she wanted her son to be an inpatient at Conifer Park, he would “make it happen.”
Moffitt made the arrangements and picked Nick up the next day at a hotel. He was thrown out of where he was living and was homeless. She found him wandering around with a backpack of his belongings. She thinks Nick’s friends got tired of her harassment.
Once at Conifer Park, Nick called his mother repeatedly, telling her he was too ill to be there. Moffitt told him he had to stay. She attended a two-day program where she was told drug abuse affects the people around the addict, and that family members need to take care of themselves first.
Moffitt scoffed, thinking she would be fine when Nick got better.
Nick was discharged before the 28 days were up because the staff thought he was ready to go home. When Moffitt picked him up, she found he had a lung infection.
Regardless, she felt he would now realize drugs weren’t for him. He would be “cured.”
“I felt happy. He will be able to turn his life around. He had the tools, I believed,” she said.
Tomorrow: Judy changes approach to her son’s addiction.