It’s ten o’clock on a rainy Sunday night in New Albany, a city on the northern slant of southern Indiana bordering the Ohio River. Every week, Sandy Kessler spends at least two dollars at the same gas station here. Kessler plays the lottery on Saturdays with seven other co-workers. And with her husband, she plays the same sets of numbers that she picked more than twelve years ago.
“I always believe that I’m buying the winning numbers,” she said.
In December of 1996, Sandy’s husband Charlie and 16 of his Waste Management co-workers each won $400,000 on a Quick-Pick Powerball ticket. Buying lottery tickets was just part of the couple’s routine and winning just a dream. But once it became reality, the fantasy played out differently than Kessler and her husband ever expected.
“He bought his mom a new car, which I thought was awesome,” Kessler said. “He bought me jewelry, ATVs, a boat, guns, metal, silver. He got an SUV that cost as much as our house, which I was never comfortable in knowing that. Never quite seemed right to me. A lot of things were bought but I guess the dream of buying them was better than actually buying them.”
It became Sandy’s responsibility to keep track of the couple’s money, even as the winnings dwindled. She said she feared saying anything to her husband about how fast the cash was disappearing.
“I’m sure in the back of his mind he still thinks that some how I gave it to somebody or gambled it away or whatever, but that’s not true,” she said. “There was no handing money out to family or friends. If that was the case I could at least in my own spirit accept that I at least helped people. But it was all spent on us, on stupid nonsense.”
Sandy doesn’t live with her husband anymore, and she and her two sons now share a two-bedroom apartment. Earning a living as a custodian, Sandy sometimes works two to three jobs to support her family.
“I’m always on the cut off notice. One week I might have $100, and one week I might have $30 for groceries. I’d rather be where I’m at right now than to be able to write a check for anything I wanted. But if I had that opportunity again, it would be different what I wrote my checks for.”
Sandy is now a custodian at a local middle school. Her friend Darryl Frazier has cleaned with her for eight years and also plays in the lottery group.
“I like the lottery because everybody has dreams,” Frazier said. “And when you think of what you could do to help people, what you could do for kids and programs. That’s why I play. If your heart’s not right when you win it, you won’t have it long.”
Until recently, Kessler believed winning the lottery ruined her life. Now she’s accepting it as a part of her. And it is this new respect for money that compels her to continue to play the lottery.
“Oh I know I’ll win again,” she said. “I’ll be given the opportunity to reconcile with what I did, because a lot of people need what I’d be willing to do.”
Sandy has goals for the money she intends to win – this time giving it to others and those in need.
“I think the biggest thing I’d like to do is buy a lot of land, grow a lot of vegetables, have a farm fresh co-op that goes to a good bank and would be a food giveaway. There’s a lot of people in need right now that have nowhere to go. You’ve got to feed people. And if you have the kind of money from a lottery, you could give more than that. For me, I’ll have to give it back.”
But for that to happen, Kessler has to win the lottery a second time, spending a few dollars each week on a chance to practice lessons learned the hard way.