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After Ten Months In Jail, Lisa Livingston Reacts To Sentence Reversal, Unexpected Recovery

Two women laughing

Janis Barnett (left) and Lisa Livingston laugh during the BreakAway's March 20 graduation ceremony. (Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

Janis Barnett doesn’t like going back to that day. She fights back tears as she recalling the day her friend and co-founder was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"When she first left, I was terrified," Barnett recalls. "She’s always had my back. She’s my biggest cheerleader and I just know that I made a promise to her that I would do whatever I had to do to keep her dream alive, to keep the house going, to keep the women safe, continue having graduations as if she were here."

In October, 2017 Lisa Livingston opened The BreakAway. Her arrest in 2013 for meth possession was the wake-up call she needed to get clean. She would then take it a step further to start helping other women who were struggling with addiction.

Since then, 19 have graduated to lives of sobriety. Yet, when she was sentenced, it was unclear whether or not this home in New Albany would survive.

women lean on rail
A pair of women attending the BreakAway graduation ceremony on March 20. (Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

The judge had no choice but to send Livingston to the Department of Correction. When she was charged, mandatory minimums required it.  

However, she and her attorney hoped Livingston could serve the entirety of her sentence in a community corrections program away from prison—where she could continue working at The BreakAway.  

That didn’t happen. The mandatory minimum was larger than what many deem practical to serve in community corrections or on house arrest. 

Lisa’s attorney, Jennifer Culotta, described the ruling frankly. "It truly felt like a sucker punch to the gut."

Livingston’s case made headlines because of the work she was doing to help other women through recovery.

During her time at the Rockville Correctional Facility in Parke County, Livingston’s attorneys filed a pair of appeals — both were thrown out. Livingston says she tried to find acceptance.

"I threw myself in church, so I got an opportunity to get to know God and read my Bible," she says. "I spent every 10/30 count on my knees. I would put my shower shoes under my knees and I would stay in prayer until it cleared, which is usually about an hour. There were a lot of people my daughter’s age."

A New Precedent

On December 28 Indiana’s Supreme Court changed everything. In a rare decision, the state’s highest court altered Lisa’s sentence and released her from prison. She’d get to go back to community corrections. The move gave Lisa the chance to return to The BreakAway.

"We didn’t even have to argue," Culotta says. "I mean that’s pretty impressive. It was filed by brief and ruled on by brief."

Culotta says she thinks the case sets a precedent in Indiana for future non-violent drug offenders to have their sentences shortened.  

'I Had To Get Out Of Your Way'

But Livingston doesn’t believe her time incarcerated was without purpose. While Livingston was in prison, her daughter Lacey, overdosed. Paramedics used multiple doses of naloxone in an attempt to revive her, but Lacey’s heart stopped. Paramedics performed CPR and eventually she regained consciousness on her way to a Louisville hospital.

"When I came to in the back of that ambulance, I cried," Lacey says. "I cried to that EMT and I said, 'Help me, I cannot stop.'"

For Lacey, that moment paired with a short stay in jail was her breaking point. She enrolled in the BreakAway — the recovery home her mom started. Livingston believes the stint in prison was necessary.

"I had to get out of your way so you could recover," she told Lacey during her graduation from The BreakAway. "When you see the other girls [it's special], but it's nothing like seeing your own daughter and the transformation in you."

Lisa Livingston and her daughter Lacey
Lisa Livingston and her daughter Lacey at The BreakAway graduation. (Steve Burns, WFIU/WTIU News)

Lacey agress. She says these last six months have fundamentally changed her.

"All these emotions that we did not know how to deal with, we’re taught how to deal with that," Lacey says. "All these things I was getting high over and staying high over I dealt with those things in this house and the best part was I didn’t deal with them alone."

She credits that community for her newfound sobriety. 

"I have a whole house full of women that helped me through the hard times," she says. "Miss Janis, the lady who runs this place, she loved me back to life."

After six months in the house, Lacey recently graduated from the 12-step program. While the road ahead might be difficult, both Lacey and Lisa know they now have each other to lean on.

"She’s a child I haven’t seen for ten years," Livingston said reflecting on Lacey’s growth in the program. "I know I keep talking about it, but when I saw her, ‘I’m just like oh my God’ because when you see other people do it and then you watch your daughter do it, the change you see in your own daughter is just amazing. Getting to be here, I’m extremely blessed."

And it’s a blessing that isn’t lost on the woman who kept the house going in Lisa’s absence.

"I think every struggle was needed including her being gone for the ten months she had to go away," Barnett says. "I say that because it gave her daughter the opportunity to come here, focus on herself, and become the woman that she’s supposed to be."

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