Success Stories

Personal Stories of Recovery

Tanya DeSantis - Writing her own story

Its pages worn and creased yet vibrant with color and vivid prose, the spiral plastic notebook contains the vestiges of a life once crinkled in a ball and thrown in a dark, desolate corner.

Tanya DeSantis, whose life now lies unfurled and smoothed, carries her book as a reminder of the chapters of her life when she was imprisoned by addiction, mental illness and ultimately the law.

Her story didn’t begin with the proverbial “once upon a time” introduction.  Tanya grew up with a single mother in Nebraska and began drinking at 12, an introduction that led her toward a destructive path.

Tanya’s alcohol and drug usage increased and would eventually spiral out of control as she grew older.

“Everyone around me was getting high,” she said. “I was the only one who didn’t do it, so I started and I couldn’t come down.”

By 1996, at the age of 30, Tanya to Erie to live with her father, whom she had never met. Though seeking treatment for the emotional issues she experienced, Tanya’s addictive behavior waged on.

In September 2012 while high on cocaine and in a manic state, Tanya stole a car and took off with hundreds of dollars in items.

“I took a car and went on a spree stealing all these items because I thought they were mine,” she said. “I called my mother and she refused to do anything because she said (jail) would save my life.”

Tanya’s volatile behavior only worsened in jail. Correction officers used pepper spray on several occasions and sent Tanya to serve nearly half of the 5 ½ months she served in solitary confinement.

It wasn’t until February 2013 that Tanya received a second chance, when she was referred to treatment court, a program that offers treatment options for nonviolent offenders struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues in lieu of jail time.

Tanya wasn’t sure how exactly she would capitalize on a chance to avoid prison but she recognized her reprieves were running low.

“I realize when I would do something, it’s jail, institution or death,” she said. “I made a deal with myself that I was going to accept any help I was able to get.”

Over the next 17 months, Tanya passed her drug tests, complied with the conditions of her court agreement and eventually graduated a month early in June.

Tanya has also graduated from Stairways’ psychiatric rehabilitation, mobile medication monitoring and blended case management programs and is currently in a 12-step program.

But the next step Tanya intends on taking might be the most meaningful one: returning home to her family in Arkansas. Tanya’s drug issues had rendered her persona non grata, and financial difficulties further muddied the matter.

But thanks to Stairways’ financial literacy class, Tanya has her sights set on returning within the next year while she gets her finances in order. And after several years of longing to be back with her mother, daughter and granddaughter, Tanya has received her family’s blessing to return.

“My family wants me, they forgive me and love me and are proud of me,” she said.

Tanya’s family members aren’t the only ones to take note of her story of dramatic recovery. She has also earned the Mental Health Association of NWPA's “I’m the Evidence” Award.

Tanya is quick to point out that she’s not the only one who has had a hand in her journey— she credits Stairways as well as her mentor and spiritual adviser Bishop Clifton McNair as the driving forces— but realizes her story is one she has authored exclusively.

“I lost everything when I went to jail,” she said. “But now I’ve gotten it all back and beyond that. I’m very proud of that”

"Stairways helped me to work on recovery, one step at a time." -Ron S

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