County teens create short films to recount journeys to sobriety

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Alexandria Blakeman and Natosha Steele have a story to tell — with a sad beginning and a much better ending.

Steele struggled with depression and turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. Blakeman became addicted to methamphetamine in middle school.

If you go

• What: Digital Storytelling Youth Showcase.

• When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday (screening starts at 6 p.m.).

• Where: Foster Auditorium, Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way.

• Cost: Free.

Both Clark County teenagers started the process to become clean almost a year ago.

Today, they have a message: “Don’t give up. Don’t think this is it for you,” Steele, 17, said. “I used to think that, but it’s totally not true.”

The two are among about 15 youth who will present short films about overcoming addiction Friday at Clark College. They took part in a digital storytelling workshop this winter put on by Clark County Juvenile Recovery Court, a therapeutic court for youngsters charged with nonviolent offenses who are amenable to treatment.

The workshop also was offered to teens outside the recovery court through referral by probation counselors, mental health and substance abuse programs.

The workshop asked the teens simply to tell a story of overcoming a struggle in their life. Organizers intended to put a positive spin on the negative influences in the teens’ lives and give them more incentive to stay clean.

“We know there’s value in telling stories,” said Anna Lookingbill, resource coordinator for Juvenile Recovery Court and an organizer of the workshop. “The value of storytelling is letting kids be in charge. It kind of gives them an overall picture” of their lives.

The storytelling showcase will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Foster Auditorium at the college. There’s significance in the date of the event: “4/20” is notorious as a day to smoke marijuana.

‘Explain themselves’

Steele said she thinks the documentaries allow others to see what led to teens’ problems with drugs. It encourages the filmmakers’ road to recovery.

“You see the kids at court. Then, you see what they’ve been through,” she said. “They get a chance to explain themselves.”

Steele’s film deals with the pain of her mother’s drug addiction and her stepfather leaving home.

“My stepdad going to prison is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me,” she says in her documentary.

Without parental supervision, Steele turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with her feelings of sadness. After she was caught with marijuana at school, Steele entered the recovery court.

That set her on the path to overcoming substance abuse. In August, she will have been clean a year. Steele graduates from the court program this month.

She’s currently working to obtain her GED and already received her license to be a certified nursing assistant. She lives with her guardian, Tara Lewis, a youth pastor at her church.

“Eventually, it will look up,” Steele said. “I believe now the bad things that happened to me happened for a reason.”

Blakeman, a 15-year-old freshman at Mountain View High School, shares a similar story.

She said she also didn’t have parental supervision and started hanging out with a rough crowd. Marijuana was her gateway drug to meth.

After being arrested on charges of assaulting her sister, Blakeman said she had more perspective on her life and distance from drugs. Her probation counselor encouraged her to take the digital storytelling workshop this past winter.

Now maintaining her drug-free lifestyle, she said her clean date is in July.

Other things in her life are looking up: she’s in school and maintaining a 3.7 GPA, she said.

“I kind of want people to take my video as guidance,” Blakeman said. “Hey, you can change and be a better person.”

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.