Redemption from addiction: Ryan’s story

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Chapter 6 – Authority of the Indomitable Human Spirit 

Ryan Crandell’s Story 


The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture - A Parent's Voice in the Cyber Wilderness

(This excerpt from The Authority In Me, a book by Joanna about  the power of family life in the network culture, addresses the challenge of parenting when our children have fallen into the traps of risky choices and buy the lies of the network culture – and how important the voice of parental wisdom is for our children at home and in our community. Based upon personal experience and conversations with parents, children and experts in law enforcement, faith, education and health care,  this book helps families address cyberbullying, sexting, pedophiles, drug and alcohol addicition and anxiety in order to  promote personal security and prosperity in a boundaryless Internet-powered world.)

“I would rather be in prison with a clear mindset than in society as a troubled kid with a substance abuse problem…. My family’s continuous love and encouragement makes me want to be a better person.” – Ryan Crandell

Twenty-six-year old Ryan Crandell, from Rocklin, California, is serving a 13-year sentence in Folsom prison for committing armed robbery to support his drug habit. He was arrested just three weeks after his 18th birthday.

I met his mother Christy at a drug and alcohol abuse forum at the Granite Bay High School campus in the spring of 2007. Since his incarceration, she and Ryan wrote a book, Lost and Found: A Mother and Son Find Victory Over Teen Drug Addiction, and Christy is a respected speaker and facilitator for Parent Project, and co-founder of Full Circle Treatment Center, in Roseville, California, which offers substance abuse intervention for adolescents.

“I lived the American dream,” said Christy to the audience of students and parents seated in the metal chairs set up in neat rows on either side of the projector in the center. “We have a nice home in one of the best neighborhoods. I was a ‘stay-at-home mom’, we had the best snacks, the kids all came over to our house to play, my husband coached our boys’ sports teams. We were engaged. We were the traditional American family.”

Christy proceeded to explain how she missed all the signs that her older son Ryan was in trouble; hence her book Lost and Found offers excellent prevention guidance for parents in “I wish I had known” segments. (See Appendix A, I Wish I Had Known – from Christy Crandell).

“The worst thing a parent can do to their child is be fearful, ignorant and in denial of the truth,” said Christy who shared her tragic story in the hope that more parents would learn from her experience.

I inquired with Christy about whether Ryan would be interested in lending his voice to this book and his response was amazing. Within a couple of weeks of receiving my letter of introduction and the premise of this book, he sent me 33 pages – pouring out his heart and soul so that others might benefit from his journey into and out of darkness.

Reading his story and his “lessons learned” made my heart weep for all the suffering on his part and the part of his family, and left me with a heart full of hope. I heard the voice of the fine young man that his parents raised. It is truly a story of repentance, forgiveness and redemption.

At the time of this writing, Ryan has nearly completed a Bachelors degree in sociology and is working on a Masters degree and it is his plan to work with adolescents in prevention, intervention and recovery of substance abuse when time served is complete.

By the time Ryan was arrested, his life of 18 years and three weeks was completely surrendered to drugs and alcohol; he had three times attempted rehabilitation initially at his parents’ urging, and then, with his own sincerity, achieved victory accompanied by one relapse.

That relapse triggered a hopeless response on his part by diving back into the pursuit of a never-ending drug-induced stupor in which he committed armed robbery to support his state of intoxication.

“Two nights changed my whole life and on March 28th, 2003, I was arrested for armed robbery”, said Ryan, “It was completely spontaneous. I wish I had thought about the consequences of what were to be my actions before I proceeded with the activities that evening. I felt like I was in a video game and was just trying to stay in between the dotted lines on the freeway, let alone go rob someone. When you combine the dextromethorphan in Coricidin cough and cold pills with the THC in marijuana, it produces an effect of intoxication that is unparalleled to that of any other drug…there is a hard peak of 5-6 hours and the comedown lasts multiple hours. Hallucinations are a predominant feature…I do not like to use the fact that I was intoxicated as an excuse for committing those crimes. I take full responsibility for my past actions and sincerely feel that I deserve every day that I have to serve in prison. I look forward to finishing this sentence I owe the state and society, reuniting with my family, and starting my life again.”

Ryan will tell you that his parents were great role models, who used alcohol infrequently, occasionally having a glass of wine or beer with friends. And like most homes, the alcohol was easy to access from the liquor cabinet. “..One day I decided to try some with a friend when I was about 13 years old.”

Ryan started with marijuana in middle school, with a new group of kids. By the end of middle school he was regularly using alcohol and marijuana on the weekends, by that time “mostly with friends I knew”.

 “My freshman year of high school provided me with more opportunities to expand my drug use. I was already a year older than my class and was now hanging out with older people. At parties, I met more people and came into contact with additional, more extreme drugs, such as cocaine, mushrooms, PCP, Ecstasy, and a variety of prescription drugs,” said Ryan. Soon the drug use extended beyond weekends into the days of the week, and Ryan was able to function in school and sports, although his grades were not great.

By his sophomore year, Ryan’s drug use started to impact school and family life. He skipped school and his attitude suffered greatly – as he got high before and during school often. “The weekends were characterized by extreme intoxication and figuring out how to effectively lie to my parents. …I was more defiant, disrespectful, and rebellious. My parents confronted me about drugs yet again and found evidence of my use. I admitted that I had experimented with drugs. My parents would not condone my use of alcohol and drugs. My mother began tracking me where I went and investigated where I said I would be and what I was doing.”

Ryan appeased his mother, who was tailing him and making his friends nervous, by agreeing to see a therapist in Roseville. In the parking lot, prior to the appointment, Ryan smoked marijuana and a cigarette. “I elaborated a little and pretty much told the psychologist what I thought he wanted to hear and what I believed would earn me a little leeway with my parents…My parents determined that the therapist approach was unsuccessful, as nothing had changed.”

Then Ryan’s parents threatened to take away the car – which was the leverage that got Ryan into an outpatient treatment center. It was his first stay at the outpatient treatment center that raised his awareness of the fact that he actually had a drug problem, but he refused to accept it.

Denial is a powerful thing.

Ryan continued to use marijuana and other drugs during the unsupervised breaks at the outpatient sessions, and was eventually kicked out of the program. Then Ryan’s parents started drug testing him.

Shortly thereafter Ryan’s parents got him accepted into an inpatient program, where he was kicked out seven days later for getting intoxicated. A fellow patient stole some Nyquil PM and convinced nurses to give him antihistamines for allergies, which they took together to get intoxicated.  When they attempted to secure more Nyquil, Ryan was discovered and kicked out of that program.

“It was during the car ride home with my parents that I came to the realization of what I had done. The car was silent and seeing my parent’s obvious disappointment in the rearview mirror made me regret what I did to get kicked out of the program. I began to think about everything I had done in the previous two years: what I had put my parents and family through, the example I had set for my brother, stealing to get high, etc.  I was disgusted with myself and in that moment realized that – hey, I might just have a drug problem. I vowed to stay clean and sober and asked my parents if they would be willing to help me.”

Soon after he was accepted into the same outpatient center that had kicked him out, “and I began to avidly seek recovery through their curriculum, principles, and direction.” Ryan attended AA and NA meetings in the weeks to come and met people who took recovery seriously.

“I was approaching my junior year in high school, and did not want to go back to high school…as I was tired of the drama and did not want to use drugs with old friends; I felt I was more mature than the other high school students (which I clearly was not). For 67 days I was sober.”

And then a couple of days before New Years 2003, he took a trip to Carson city to visit someone he had met in the inpatient treatment center. Once there Ryan and a friend decided to go to a party and “stay away from the other drugs and just have a couple of beers from the kegs” believing they would be alright.

He got wasted and was despondent about breaking his period of sobriety.

“I eventually admitted my relapse to my family, which was difficult. I was disappointed in myself for having let my family and the people who believed in me down; I was ashamed of my mistakes. Instead of doing the right thing and starting my recovery over, I developed a destructive “I don’t give a f—k attitude” and jumped back full swing into my addiction where I had left off. My parents could tell something had changed and they tried to offer me help.”

Ryan would not accept it.

He abandoned independent study to complete high school, and unbeknownst to his parents started using drugs full time; and he still managed to pass his G.E.D., which pleased his parents.

Toward the end of March 2003, Ryan had been intoxicated 24/7 for three months. “I knew I was messed up.”

Eventually Ryan’s parents kicked him out of their home. And he decided to move to Carson City where he had a place to stay and a job waiting for him.

“I packed my belongings and informed my parents of my plan. We said a tearful good-bye and I left. I did not know it at the time, but my parents had a bunch of substance abuse rehab information and program locations for me had I told them I wanted to stay and get clean again.”

Rather than head straight to Carson City where his job awaited, Ryan made another fateful decision to say good-bye to some friends. “This detour is what ultimately led to my thirteen year state prison sentence,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s Advice to Parents:

  • If your child is struggling with drug addiction, it is your child who has to want to get sober and change. Until that realization happens, things may be unpleasant at home.
  • Community and group support therapy have unquestionably been the most successful programs; social support is the key to long-term sobriety.
  • If your kid is carrying “Clear Eyes” eye drops or Visine on them there is a good probability they are smoking marijuana (unless the teen has a legitimate eye irritation or condition that the parents are aware of). Do not buy the excuse that they are at “the pool” and needed it because their eyes were dry.
  • Kids also take off their shirts when they smoke to avoid having the smell of cannabis on their clothes.
  • If you see a bottle of Niacin in your teen’s room, they are probably trying to beat a drug test for marijuana. Taking Niacin in high doses makes you feel like you have a severe sunburn, but it is effective for expelling marijuana from your system. If you have a few days before a drug test and use Niacin, you could potentially test negative.
  • If you smell bleach or a household cleaning agent, this is indicative your teen is trying to beat the drug test you are administering.
  • Also watch for him/her trying to switch urine with someone else’s. The cup of urine should obviously be warm. They sell potions at Millennium, Still Smoking, and other smoke shops with paraphernalia that will allegedly beat a drug test in 24 hours. I never got around to trying this approach, but it supposedly worked for a couple of people I knew. Test Pure is the name of one of those concoctions.
  • If you are going to install a security system in your home to ensure your teens stays in at night, make sure you include every entrance, exist, and crawl space that leads out of the house.  My parents installed a security system when I was a teenager so that I would not sneak out at night; however, for weeks I was able to escape to a girlfriend’s house because the downstairs bathroom window (2’ by 4’) above the toilet did not have a monitor on it.
  • If you are going to confirm the location of where your kids claim they are, try to find out who else is with them. If they are able to drive, both your kid’s car and those of their friends should be there. They may try to switch vehicles and go somewhere you would disapprove of.
  • With camera phones, your kid should be able to take a picture of where they are almost immediately, right? Tell them to take a picture of the front of the house they claim to be at or the mall if they are there.
  • Don’t be predictable and allow your teen to get used to a pattern of drug testing or searching his/her room.
  • If your kid has a car and is using drugs, there is a good chance they are keeping tobacco, weed, pills, pipes, etc.  somewhere in their vehicle. Look everywhere. Check under the seats and in between the back seat and trunk if it lifts up and down; look in the dash, consoles, and open the lids and bottoms of cans, such as Glad air freshener.
  • The bottoms of Chapstick pull out to hide small things under, such as weed, cocaine, and pills.
  • Do not give kids money if they have a drug problem. If you do, make them bring you a receipt of their food purchase or movie ticket, etc.
  • If you find Nitrous cartridges, that indicates they are hyperventilating on nitrous oxide.
  • Be aware of any cough and cold medicine that is missing, as your teen can get high off of it.
  • Lock up your prescription medication, as well as any over the counter drugs that contain the ingredient dextromethorphan and other analogous substances. Remember that legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco usually precede illicit drug use. The younger a kid starts using drugs, the greater the probability they will experiment with other, more extreme substances.
  • Marijuana use is serious and should not be condoned. Participation in marijuana use often introduces teens to a drug subculture where other hazardous illicit drugs are present, which provides opportunities for experimentation of other narcotics.
  • Friends are unequivocally important in adolescence and impressions and opinions of their peers do matter. It is imperative to spend time with kids to encourage them to abstain from drugs and have goals for their future, as opposed to habitual alcohol and marijuana users. Guilty by association is absolutely real and I know multiple men in prison that are serving a life term because they were present when their friends made unwise decisions.
  • No one is perfect; teens will inevitably make mistakes…. Hopefully teens will choose to avoid or minimize the time they spend with kids who do not respect authority, value school, and care about the decisions they make. From personal experience, I know that excessive contact with drugs, as well as people who break the law and use drugs can change your attitude and behavior for the worse.  Kids are impressionable and need guidance and positive affirmation from family, friends, and good, positive adult influences to encourage them to become constructive members of society as they mature.
  • When your teenagers are defiant, things at home can become difficult. Some things are out of your control and you need to accept that. I am not proud to admit, but there were a couple of times where, because of my disrespectful attitude and behavior toward my parents, an argument would escalate and almost came to a physical confrontation with my father. I am glad we were able to abate the argument before it came to that. I just left a couple of times when it got to that point. When arguments get out of control like that, it may be a good idea to just stop talking and go to separate rooms (or someone leave for a while) in order to cool down. You can revisit the issue after both parties have calmed down a bit.

Ryan’s Message to Adolescents:

“If I had my teen years to live differently, I would have definitely chosen a different route that did not involve drugs and the people I spent the majority of my time with while I was using.  Some people have an addictive personality and are more susceptible to overindulgence; certain individuals have an inability to use drugs and alcohol in moderation. Unfortunately, it took coming to prison for thirteen years for me to grow up, understand what is important to me, and get some perspective on life.

Also, when I relapsed as a teenager, I wish I would have started fresh, sought after sobriety again, and chose to learn from my mistake in a productive manner. I wish I would have conformed to conventional society, went to college, contributed to positive community efforts, helped others, and been the person I was raised to be.

Instead I chose to use drugs, commit crimes, and hurt my family and community. Seven years later, it is still difficult for me to fathom that I was the one who actually committed those crimes. I will probably continue to struggle with guilt for having done what I did for the duration of my life.

I thank God that no one was injured.

I feel blessed to have the forgiveness of my family, friends, and the majority of the community, which I was raised.

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was in the shoes of an immature kid with a drug problem.  I will briefly describe some experiences while I was immersed in the life of a drug addict:

I vomited from having drank too much. I almost died twice from overdosing on Corisidin (one time I took 32. pills in an hour).  I had too many mushrooms one night and thought trees were talking to each other, and I decided to push someone in the pool at a keg party because I thought we were playing a game of tag. I was subsequently beat down for that. I woke up that morning under a Ford F150 truck with no shirt on. I had caked blood all over my face, my cell phone was gone, my watch busted, and there was no money in my wallet. I had to walk up a hill in the cold without a shirt on to my friend’s house to get a ride home. A scar remains on my left ear from that evening (over eight years ago).

My friend killed himself because he was depressed, having been on drugs for half a decade.

I crashed my car, received poor grades, dropped out of high school, and had no aspirations for my future. I caused my parents marital problems and made my mom cry. I was a scumbag, as well as an awful role model for my younger brother. I lost good friends due to my addiction. I stole from good people, lied to individuals I cared about, and destroyed myself both physically and psychologically.

Now, I have been clean for years and regardless of being in prison, feel good about what I am doing with my life. I would rather be in prison with a clear mindset than in society as a troubled kid with a substance abuse problem. I have maintained a 3.8 grade point average and have earned an AA degree with honors, a scholarship, and multiple accolades, such as recognition on Honors and Deans lists.  I am currently a few classes away from completing my Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.

I am really looking forward to giving back and helping others when I am released. I hope to deter teens and young adults with substance abuse and behavioral problems from heading down the wrong path, such as the one I chose in adolescence.”

Continue on to  Jeff’s Story


The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture – A Parent’s Voice in the Cyber Wilderness

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.