Cheryl's Story

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Often times I am asked, “Why do you do what you do”?


Cheryl Laws Story

March 2, 2020 ~

In 2009, I was riding to a yearly retreat with a good friend who at the time was Assistant Prosecuting Attorney of Nicholas County. We were driving along, catching up about life and work. She began to tell me stories about all the children they were taking from mothers who were addicted to drugs. At the time, she was removing 9 -11 children per week. That conversation stayed with me. The following year, same friend, was working for Kanawha County Drug Court and was hired to set up similar drug courts across West Virginia. They needed a part-time, data-entry clerk for an 8-week assignment and she asked if I would be interested. I took the position and that was the moment my life began to change.


Kanawha County Drug Court had been set up with a paper system but had decided to transition to a computerized system. I was hired to enter all of the information from the applicants who had come through the program (over 100 to date). I was privy to their criminal backgrounds, mug shot pictures, drug screens, and bio-psychosocials (stories of their lives). What I realized, before I knew about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), was that almost every young woman that had come through the program had been molested by a significant male in her life (father, grandfather, uncle, mom’s boyfriend/step-dad). Furthermore, almost every young man had been abused or abandoned by a significant male in his life (father, grandfather, mom’s boyfriend/step-dad), and there was a small pocket of middle-class, white students who had been injured during a college sport and became addicted to the pain medication. I sat for 8-weeks in a conference room at the Day Report Center sobbing as I completed my job assignment and during that time, a sociologist was born.


After high school graduation, in 1987, I attended Marshall University for one year, but my own brush with drug addiction caused me to fail out. My story, similar to other women I work with; abandonment, childhood misconduct, hard-working/single-mother of four who was too busy trying to survive to pay attention to what her youngest child was up to- even though I can’t remember a single swim meet, cheerleading, or softball game she didn’t attend. She couldn’t have known, I flew below the radar, made good (enough) grades, hung out with the “popular” (smart) kids, and sang in our church choir/cantatas. To everyone on the outside, I was fine. Internally, I was confused, alone and a hot mess.


At 11 years old I began smoking cigarettes, at 13 I was getting drunk and high (marijuana) every weekend, at 16 I snorted cocaine for the first time, and at 19 I was freebasing cocaine (later named “smoking crack”) and taking any pill someone offered me. I had ended up with the wrong guy, the wrong plan, going the wrong way. I ended up pregnant by that wrong guy but gave birth to the person who saved my life and who one day I would return the favor. In June 1990, my son Nicholas was born. Once I saw him and felt that love, I knew I’d never do ANYTHING again that would cause him to lose me or vice versa.

Life set in, I raised my son, created several businesses, climbed the corporate ladder (to be knocked down), and reinvented myself over and over and over again. Nothing truly inspired me except creating. I love creating a new business, the planning and plotting, it inspires me and makes me feel alive. After that stint at Kanawha County Drug Court, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. In 2011, I went back to college. I enjoyed every moment of school and had many mentors who helped shape the sociologist I would become. I didn’t want to give people an excuse for why they behave the way they do, but I wanted to understand and give them reasons for what they do (good or bad). I took every Sociology and English class that I could and in 2014, I graduated from West Virginia State University, Summa cum laude, with a Regents Bachelor of Arts and a Minor in Sociology.


During my undergrad years, I realized that I didn’t want to just change one person; I wanted to change things on a systematic level for many people. I felt in order to do that I needed to truly understand Appalachian Culture. Therefore, in 2014, my daughter (born in 2004) and I moved to Boone, North Carolina where I began my graduate degree at Appalachian State University. During my studies, I researched underlying causes of addiction and best practices in recovery from across the United States, Canada, and Brazil to write my thesis, “Reintegration Strategies to Mitigate Child Abuse and Neglect by Substance Abusers in West Virginia Communities”. The research and statistics from that thesis were what I used to create the programs of Pollen8.

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