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After drug court, a prison term

By Staff | Feb 14, 2010

Tyler Neal and his parents, Connie and Gary, pose for a photograph Sunday in the living room at their home in Delavan.

The first week in February was a busy one for Tyler Neal of Delavan.

On Monday, he celebrated his 27th birthday.

The rest of the time Neal was getting his personal affairs in order and saying a lot of ‘goodbyes.’

By Friday, he was looking forward to the weekend; especially ‘Super Bowl’ Sunday.

Saturday, however, also was a big day.

Family members met at the Delavan Community Building for his grandmother’s 76th birthday.

“It was like a small reunion. I saw relatives I hadn’t seen for awhile,” he says. “There was a lot of support and ‘I love yous.'”

Before the much anticipated game between Indianapolis and New Orleans, the Neal family – Tyler’s parents, brother and sister – gathered in Mankato for family photos.

Monday, Feb. 8, would come way too fast.

Neal appeared in Faribault County District Court for violating conditions of his probation.

His emotions that day were a far cry from the pride and renewed hope he felt at a graduation ceremony for Faribault-Martin-Jackson Multi-County Substance Abuse program participants in December 2008.

“I’ve known for a long time the day was coming. I’ve come to terms with it,” he says. “I have never been one to run and hide. I have always confronted my problems.”

Tyler’s mother, father and four other family members sat quietly as Judge Douglas Richards sentenced him to 48 months in prison.

Under state sentencing guidelines, Neal will serve a minimum of 32 months behind bars and 16 months supervised release. He will receive credit for 82 days already spent in jail.

Through all his legal problems, Connie and Gary have supported and stood by their son.

“I’ve always gone to court with him. I keep thinking and hoping he’s going to pull it together one day,” says Connie.

Four months after making it through 18 months of drug court, Neal was stopped on an April afternoon for speeding. He was charged with using meth and operating a vehicle while under the influence of a drug.

Neal says two weeks before being arrested, he started having urges to use meth.

So, he went and talked with his parole officer to see if there was an inpatient program to help him.

“I was struggling. The stresses of life were getting to me,” says Neal. “He told me there was nothing more they could do.”

His relapse was just a matter of time.

Looking back, Neal feels he should have moved away from the area after graduating from drug court.

He says there are ‘old friends and places’ that can trigger thoughts of taking meth.

“My mind plays tricks. You know meth is bad and you shouldn’t use it. The mind somehow finds a reason for me to take meth and justifies it,” he says.

Neal’s battle with meth started while in high school.

A friend introduced him to the drug and they just dabbled with it.

A 2001 Blue Earth Area graduate, Neal had hopes of possibly pursuing a career in art. He loves to draw and sketch.

Connie pulls a picture hanging on a wall. It’s a pencil sketch of ‘The King – Elvis’ and the words, ‘I love you, mom’ are written in the right hand corner.

“He gave me that for my birthday,” Connie says proudly while clenching and looking at the drawing.

But, his meth use increased and there were ‘binges’ that went on for weeks. He worked whenever he was able and wasn’t high.

By 2003, Neal was selling the drug to help pay for his habit. His personality changed and he became verbally abusive to his mother.

“No matter how bad things got in life, my meth and pipe never let me down. It made things better,” Neal says.

In 2005, he was busted for meth use and helping someone purchase the drug.

Rather than being given jail time, Neal qualified for a program that helped people with their substance abuse problems.

Neal says he’s grateful for the drug court and all the people who supported and helped him.

Although it’s a good and worthwhile program, Neal thinks more after-care monitoring should be provided once a person leaves the strict and highly structured environment.

Neal doesn’t blame anyone but himself for the time he’ll have to spend behind bars.

He’s had to deal with guilt feelings and the shame of letting people down after being put on a high pedestal for making it through drug court.

“Because of meth, he’s lost it all. Everything,” says Gary.

Neal no longer has a job, house, girlfriend or dog.

Instead, he’s started to read the Bible to help him cope with what lies ahead.

The words of his great-grandmother – “The Lord never gives us any more than we can handle” – often run through his mind.

Neal believes going to prison is just another phase in his life that will make him a better person.

“This (meth) is my demon. I’m an addict,” Neal says. “The rest of my life I’ll be fighting the good fight and trying my darndest to beat this. So, I can hold my head high again.”

In a way, Tyler Neal has left home not to find out who he is, but to discover and work on the person he wants to be.