Editor’s Note: The following guest column comes from Alyssa Schmidt. Schmidt is the sister of Timothy C. St. John, who died Feb. 20, 2012, from a heroin overdose. Last week, prosecutors issued a warrant for the arrest of Devon McFerrin on a charge of third-degree murder stemming from allegations that McFerrin sold St. John the heroin that killed him.
Recently there has been a handful of news articles published about my brother’s death. Prosecutors recently charged a Minneapolis man with murder for selling my brother, Tim, the heroin that killed him.
First I’d like to make it clear that my family has nothing to do with this investigation or the charges being brought against this man. Some people think the charge of murder is ridiculous because my brother bought & used heroin. What some people don’t understand are the varying degrees of murder charges. According to the Office of the Advisor of Statues, Minnesota State Statue 609.195 Murder in the Third Degree states:
(b) Whoever, without intent to cause death, proximately causes the death of a human being by, directly or indirectly, unlawfully selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing, or administering a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $40,000, or both.
I guess what I’m hoping to point out is these charges weren’t filed because of someone’s feelings or opinion about Tim’s death. It isn’t a matter of feeling or opinion. It’s simply the law.
A far more important topic I’d like to address is what it’s like to have a family member who uses drugs. On a recent article published on the Hopkins Patch someone commented, “The victim was an addict and waste of oxygen.” Those are serious words and I believe they deserve a serious response.
It’s true; my brother had a serious drug problem. I think that’s evident by the fact that he died from using heroin. Although before slinging around insults like calling someone a “waste of oxygen”, perhaps it would be a good idea for all of us to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
When we were growing up, my brother and I were best friends. He was only 16 months older than I was and one grade ahead of me in school. Tim was the middle child, I am the baby of the family, and our sister is the eldest. We grew up in a good home with parents who loved us. We grew up in a small community and our aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the same city as us. We enjoyed things like back yard baseball and volleyball games with family and spending the night at our cousins’ homes. Tim and I always enjoyed spending the night with some of our cousins who were the same age as he and I. When we stayed the night at their home, our aunt would make the four of us breakfast on Saturday morning and we’d watch the cartoon Garfield and Friends. Tim was a regular kid who loved cartoons, riding his bike, and shooting hoops in the driveway.
Tim was funny too. He was always making people laugh by making silly faces or voices and cracking jokes. I’d define his sense of humor as goofy with a twinge of sarcasm. Tim wasn’t afraid to look goofy in public just to get a laugh. He played pranks on people and people played pranks on him too. Once when we were kids, my sister and I pulled a classic prank on Tim while he was sleeping. We filled his hand with shaving cream and tickled his nose with a feather. Sure enough! He smeared the shaving cream all over his face and never woke up! My sister and I giggled hysterically down the hall back to our bedroom. It was possibly the best prank we ever pulled!
My purpose in sharing these personal stories about Tim is so others may begin to understand that addicts aren’t a mutant population. They are regular people who have serious struggles. Tim used drugs for many years before he died. The truth is I have no idea why my brother ever started using. He didn’t start off using heroin. It’s my understanding that he started with “gateway drugs” like marijuana. Maybe he started using because he was curious. Maybe he started using because of peer pressure. I don’t know and honestly it doesn’t even matter anymore.
Tim made some poor choices many years ago when he decided to experiment with drugs. Those poor choices led to other poor choices, and eventually they led to his death. But his life wasn’t only filled with poor choices. Tim fought his addiction and sought treatment at Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge. Seeking treatment was one of the best choices he ever made.
Another of Tim’s best decisions was his decision to have faith in Jesus Christ and to pass on that faith to his four children. Tim believed that God offers us love and grace, even when we screw up. At his funeral, a family friend shared these words, “What I learned from Tim was about getting back up when you fall. We all mess up. We all make mistakes. And in the light of God’s perfection, my mistakes aren’t any less destructive and than anyone else’s mistakes. Tim’s faith in a loving and forgiving God inspired him to seek forgiveness and strength over and over. From him, I learned not to doubt that there is forgiveness at God’s throne of grace....every time you approach it! There doesn’t come a day when God says, ‘No. No more! You have asked once too often!' Tim showed me that a heart humbled before God in true sorrow for our actions is always welcome.”
I’m not saying that you need to believe what Tim believed or what I believe. I’m sharing these things to show that even though my brother struggled with addiction, he left a legacy that was so much more than his struggle. The legacy he leaves behind is this: Life is hard sometimes and we all screw up in different ways. Some ways seem worse than others, but all mistakes—all choices have consequences. The wonderful thing about making mistakes and falling down is they give us an opportunity to get back up and do better.
Tim “fell” often but he kept getting back up. He fought to his addiction. He desired to be a better man & a better father. Unfortunately, he lost his fight. His death has left a gaping hole in the hearts of those who love him, but even in death we can find hope because we are confident that grace is extended to each of us.
I hope that Tim’s death—and his life—will help us remember that we all fall down sometimes. When someone we love falls down, we have the choice to help them back up or kick them while they’re down. I hope after reading this you’ll be inspired to show a little bit of grace and mercy to people who are struggling. Whether it’s a drug addiction or alcoholism or some other struggle that life brings, may we all learn to reach down and lift those people up. Because they are people—with real families. They live real lives and have hopes & dreams and struggles—they aren’t a waste of oxygen.