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Second chances: ‘It’s so worth it’

Baxter's Joe Derosier works at Mattson Lumber and volunteers at Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project after getting a second chance at life.

A man and woman pose for a selfie
Joe Derosier poses with wife Marianne. Derosier has been sober since last year and shares his story about what getting a second chance means to him.
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BRAINERD — Joe Derosier didn’t think he’d live to see his 30th birthday.

And he almost didn’t.

Declared legally dead before paramedics saved his life with Narcan at 17, Derosier is now nearing 40 and can’t believe how his life has turned out.

“I never thought it would happen,” he said of getting clean from drugs and alcohol.

Born and raised in Brainerd with parents who both had addictions, Derosier’s substance use started at age 14 as a coping mechanism to get over the death of his mom, who died in a car crash when he was 12.

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“My mom was kind of the structured one, made sure I had clean clothes and food to eat,” Derosier said.

But that structure went out the window when she died.

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“My dad kind of lost it and went downhill real quick with his addiction, and I kind of followed shortly after him because I witnessed everything he did, so instead of hating it, I just adapted to my situation,” Derosier said.

What started out as alcohol and marijuana escalated to opiates and heroin at age 16.

“My dad’s sister … she was really sick, in a wheelchair, on dialysis, and my dad used to get opiates and stuff from her. So at age 17 I had already overdosed on fentanyl patches,” Derosier said. “And then, you know, I got introduced to meth around 16-17 and just kind of went downhill from there.

“I spent every single day using drugs and alcohol. It didn’t matter what it was — if it was pills or powders or booze, it didn’t matter.”

The drugs and alcohol were an escape from reality and the only way Derosier felt he had to get through his mom’s death.

“When she died, I wasn’t really allowed to cry and stuff like that because it would make my dad sad, so I just escaped reality at all costs,” he said.

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When Derosier was 23 in 2006, his son was born — the same year he had to take his dad off life support.

It’s not going to happen right away, but it will happen if you do everything you’re supposed to do.
Joe Derosier
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“Then it was just kind of me, never even taught to be an adult or anything, and now I got a kid,” he said.

While he thought a baby might be the motivation he needed to get clean, Derosier found his addiction was too strong. He lost custody early in his son’s life.

He went through a methadone program for about three years but ended up losing his brother to a methadone overdose at that time, which he said was a real wakeup call.

Derosier entered long-term treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in 2014 and graduated the following year. He began working at Mattson Lumber and even tried working at Teen Challenge for a while.

After five years of sobriety, a slip-up on Suboxone — a drug used to treat opioid addiction with its own potential for abuse — saw him back in the facility for short-term treatment, ending the stint of employment with the treatment program.

Derosier has been sober since his treatment last year. He went from being homeless and sitting at rock bottom to owning a home in Baxter with his wife Marianne and three stepchildren and having full custody of his son.

“I did everything I had to do for the kid,” he said. “... It wasn’t his fault that I was an addict. I had to step up and be the dad that I was supposed to be.”

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Today, Derosier still works at Mattson Lumber and uses some of his free time to volunteer at Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, a program he said would have been beneficial when he was a kid, as he had 13 minor consumption charges before turning 21.

“I’ve got no real serious charges, but I’ve been to jail a lot just for stupid stuff — being under the influence,” he said. “But that’s in the past.”

In the present, Derosier is blown away by the way his life turned out and urges others struggling to overcome addiction to be patient.

“It’s not going to happen right away, but it will happen if you do everything you’re supposed to do,” he said.

And seeking help is critical. Derosier suggests resources like Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, Crow Wing County Community Services, area Alano clubs and even the emergency room.

“I have so much respect and gratitude for the people at the ER and the police because you can go there, and they’ll help you,” he said. “... It’s just hard to explain the care that they give you. So if you’re under the influence, I say go to the emergency room. They can get you in detox like they did for me and get that journey started because it’s so worth it.”

But reaching out to make those connections is the first step.

“Nobody’s going to know that you’re sick if you don’t reach out, right?” he said. “Nobody’s going to know you’re hurting if you don’t say something.”

April is Second Chance Month

April is known as Second Chance Month, both nationally and in Minnesota, reaffirming the importance of helping those with criminal backgrounds re-enter society and have a second chance at a better life after paying their debts.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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