Jodi Richter

Jodi Richter was sentenced to 15 years for her minor part in a drug conspiracy that involved more than 500 grams of methamphetamine distributed in North Dakota, Minnesota, and elsewhere. Her story—with its myriad threads of addiction and mental illness and the lengthy sentence that came at its end—is at once complicated yet all too common. Addicted and mentally ill, she committed a low-level crime in the process of feeding addiction and quieting demons. Yet in the end, she was locked away under a one-size-fits-all sentence that doesn’t allow sufficiently for treatment and rehabilitation.

Jodi Richter and Violet, the dog she is training in the
Can-Do Paws program in prison

In the drug world, Jodi Richter was known as Nurse Betty, and the nickname wasn’t a compliment. It wasn’t a nod to the fact that she’d graduated college and had both her LPN and RN degrees. “Nurse Betty,” rather, was a snarky dismissal of all that hard work and dedication to helping others. In the drug world, the only cause Nurse Betty served was the pursuit of more methamphetamine to feed her out-of-control addiction.

It was this addiction that landed Jodi in federal prison serving a sentence of 179 months, almost 15 years, for a nonviolent, low-level drug offense. Prison was the rough but in many ways inevitable end to cycles of drug abuse, sobriety, and relapse, cycles that started in her early teens.

“We all knew it was just going to be a matter of time before she landed in trouble,” said her mother, Georgene Hermanson. “It always goes two ways with addicts: They either get arrested and go to prison, or they overdose. Basically, that’s what they have to look forward to.”

It wasn’t always this way. As a child growing up in Hazen, North Dakota, population around 2,500, Jodi was, in her own words, “very loved and spoiled.” But at age 12, mental illness and addiction began to take hold. Diagnosed as bipolar, she began drinking heavily. Rebellious adolescence gave way to an early marriage and two kids—and a spiraling addiction to methamphetamine.

Through the years, she tried to keep her addiction secret, although she was twice arrested on paraphernalia possession charges. She earned a college degree and worked steadily as a nurse, earning the respect of her colleagues as a hospital dialysis nurse. “She was married, had a house, two cars, two kids,” said her mother. “The typical American dream family situation, which you, know, looked good on the outside. Apparently it wasn’t.”

At the lowest point in her addiction, Jodi abandoned her family for life on the streets, chasing her meth addiction. Finally she did get clean—even becoming somewhat famous for her recovery, appearing as a spokeswoman at sobriety events and as a guest on the TV show America’s Most Wanted talking about her experiences. But as she battled with her now ex-husband for custody of the children, the stress became too much and Jodi went back to her old ways—buying, using, and selling methamphetamine.

Within the space of two months all she’d gained was lost, until one morning law enforcement knocked on her door and arrested her for being part of a drug conspiracy that involved more than 500 grams of methamphetamine distributed in North Dakota, Minnesota, and elsewhere. Jodi’s role in this operation was minor and only served to satisfy her own addiction.

At her trial Jodi said: “I was a nurse, a mom, all those things. And to go from that point to this point in such a short amount of time just devastates me. I feel like I lost me, you know.”

As her lawyer said at her sentencing, “She needs treatment. She needs stability. She needs intensive treatment.”

And Jodi needed punishment. She broke the law. Even her mother agrees: “I have some mixed emotions. Kind of like I think she needed something to get her back on track. She needed something to jerk her out of that drug world. But 15 years? It’s been half that, and Jodi’s whole thought process has totally evolved. And she has seven more years?” 

As her sentence was calculated, Jodi was at first exposed to a mandatory minimum sentence of life because of the two prior possession charges. Eventually, the government asked for 240 months, and the defense argued for a sentenced within a calculated range of 121-151 months. The judge came out in the middle and gave her 216 months, which he later reduced to 179 months because of the Drugs Minus Two reform.

Jodi’s story—with its myriad threads of addiction and mental illness, and the lengthy sentence that came at its end—is at once complicated yet all too common. A person, addicted and mentally ill, commits a low-level crime in the process of feeding addiction and quieting demons. Yet in the end, this person is locked away under a one-size-fits-all sentence that doesn’t allow sufficiently for treatment and rehabilitation.

Now, seven years into her sentence, Jodi—no longer “Nurse Betty”—has some clarity. “Every time my addiction won and got the best of me, the sense of failure I had in myself just grew and grew until I had no desire to even survive and I didn’t value myself or my life. I wished I would die and probably thought it would be a favor to my family.  

“Everything I do remember is blurry and disjointed and probably quite different from what really happened, and I know this is from all the drugs I was doing. But I also believe I had a huge mental break as well. My mental illness was out of control and my thoughts and decisions were based on my own version of reality, which was very different from what was real.”

Jodi is fortunate to have the full support of her family while she’s in prison, and also to look forward to when she gets out. “I’m one of these kinds of moms that never gives up. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had done things differently. I am LIVING for the day that God restores my children to me.

“I feel very differently today and I am moving onto a new future. I know I can’t change the past but I want to do everything in my power to make the future different.”

The Facts: Jodi Richter
Sentence: 179 months (14 years, nine months)
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance
Priors: Two paraphernalia possession charges, 851 enhancement
Year sentenced: 2011
Age at sentencing: 34