Laura Bishop

Laura Bishop

Most days New York State Police press releases come into the newsroom with information about recent arrests, often accompanied by mugshots. Yesterday, I was briefly reading a release about a heroin arrest in Whitehall when I stopped reading because I recognized the name of one of three arrested.

It was Laura Bishop of Rutland.

I first met Bishop in 2015 when she was the first to enter Rutland's first federal drug court, following a referral from Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Perella.

“I prosecute good people with bad addictions,” he told me in a 2015 interview. “Their primary motivation for committing felonies is their addiction. They have potential to be productive members of the community.”

The first time we spoke, Bishop talked about her plans, her hopes and that she was willing to do anything to stay clean.

And 56 weeks later, Bishop was the first to graduate from the rigorous federal program in Rutland.

To mark the occasion, several dignitaries including U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, then U.S. Attorney Eric Miller, U.S. Public Defender Michael L. Desautels, U.S. Chief Probation Officer Joe McNamara and Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen attended the ceremony held in a federal courtroom.

“Laura was motivated, but didn’t know how to do it ... getting into school, being the main caregiver for her children,” Federal Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford said in an interview. ”Now she has the knowledge.”

If candidates successfully complete the program, depending on the underlying felonies and what they accomplished while in drug court, they could get probation or, in rare cases, a reduction of charges to a misdemeanor.

On May 3, 2016, Bishop’s felony charge, conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine base, was reduced to a misdemeanor and she was sentenced to one-year of supervision.

“Laura, we’re all really proud, and thank you for showing me you are not just a name I typed onto an indictment,” Perella said during the graduation ceremony. “You are a mom, a leader, a student. You are turning your life around and showing us the real you.”

And I guess what struck me most when I read about her drug-related arrest, were Crawford’s words when she started the long process of getting clean.

“You are certainly worth saving,” he told her.

During one of our interviews, Bishop told me that at first she didn’t know what to think, but she was serious. During that year, she went back to school and she was dedicating her summer to caring for her children, with another baby due in September.

I lost track of Bishop after the graduation, but now I can’t stop thinking about her and the constant challenges of opiate addiction.

A close friend died of an overdose more than 10 years after he got clean; much like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who overdosed after long bouts of sobriety and several attempts at rehab.

Recovery doesn't come the first time or the second time or even the third for some. 

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” 

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Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.

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