Success Story: Elizabeth Melson

Post Date: June 16, 2016

Elizabeth at Heritage HollowElizabeth was a shy child and adolescent who struggled with self-esteem issues from an early age. Problems for Elizabeth became worse during her teens, around the time of her parents’ separation and divorce.

As a teenager, she experimented with alcohol, drugs and risky behaviors, which led to trouble at school with her academics. Paradoxically, although she needed help, Elizabeth had an obsessive need to be self-reliant and began working as soon as she was able to obtain a work permit.  She worked in retail and restaurants throughout high school, and eventually turned things around somewhat during her senior year by attending a vocational school for merchandising and marketing. 

After graduating from high school, Elizabeth continued on to college, where she changed her majors several times and began working in the nutritional supplement and fitness industry. She also continued to drink often and experiment with drugs such as ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine.  She believed that these drugs helped her to express herself, connect and stay focused and productive.  In college and later in prison, mental health disorders and learning disabilities were diagnosed.

Despite the addiction and mental health issues, in 2003 Elizabeth graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BS in Sociology and a Concentration in Business Management. After graduation she continued to work in the fitness industry, but soon her personal life and her finances took a downward spiral.

In 2004, in an attempt to escape the party lifestyle that had become her norm, Elizabeth moved from Cincinnati to Virginia, where her mother had relocated. There she worked as a live-in domestic assistant. For Elizabeth, the move from a high rise apartment building in the city to life in a small town in the country was a total culture shock, and it didn’t take long before she sought out the old activities that felt like fun.  She took on a weekend job as a cocktail server in a small-town bar.  She was not capable of openly acknowledging that the drugs had become an addiction and a problem, instead continuing to believe that she was “just partying too much.”

During this period in her life, Elizabeth returned to Ohio several times to pick up the remainder of her personal belongings. She also partied there and started bringing back drugs to Virginia.  One day while Elizabeth was working at the bar in Virginia, a co-worker introduced her to someone who “liked to party like we do.”  This new acquaintance turned out to be a confidential informant, who easily influenced Elizabeth to obtain crystal meth from Ohio for him.  Shortly after their meeting she was introduced to an ATF agent posing as a “business partner.”

With each of her trips to Ohio for the “business partners,” the quantities of cash and drugs increased. On the day of what would have been her final trip to Ohio, Elizabeth’s significant other, whom she had quickly moved in with after their first meeting, refused to take Elizabeth to the airport for her flight because he was opposed to her being involved in drug dealing. Elizabeth explains, “The plan had been to meet the business partner, who was conveniently going to be in Ohio for a business trip, and supply him with a large amount of methamphetamine.”

When Elizabeth learned she would not be making the intended flight, she called her supplier and the “business partner” and arranged for them to meet directly. The supplier was arrested at the meeting.  When Elizabeth learned of this, she was paralyzed with fear and claimed she had no involvement in the arrest. 

The “business partner” called Elizabeth a few days later and assured her that everything was fine and that he had her cut of the money for making the arrangement, which he would make sure to give her. Around July 2005, still in a state of denial about the danger of what she was involved in and of her own personal responsibility, Elizabeth agreed to meet him, not knowing he was an ATF agent (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).  At this meeting, she was placed in a SUV and told she was being indicted, and that if she didn’t cooperate she would face LIFE in prison and a $4 million dollar fine.  Those words would change her life forever.

The road to recovery…

After being released on pretrial supervision, Elizabeth encouraged her then-boyfriend (who is now her husband) to enroll in culinary school, something in which he’d long expressed interest. They also had talked often about owning their own restaurant one day.  And after discussing it together, Elizabeth enrolled with him, despite her impending arraignment, and despite the fact that she was suffering from severe depression.

In October 2005, Elizabeth pled guilty and was eventually sentenced to 63 months prison and five years of supervised release. She was transported to a rural county jail for five months before being moved to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, WV, to serve the remainder of her time.

Elizabeth wasted no time. Almost immediately after arriving in Alderson, she started distance-learning undergraduate courses to improve her GPA and transcript, with the goal of enrolling in graduate school upon her release.  While she was on the waitlist for the Bureau of Prisons Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), she earned a certificate in Culinary Arts through a pilot program between the prison and a nearby technical college.  The instructor was a chef at the prestigious Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia, and they are still in contact today.  After completing the nine-month intensive RDAP drug treatment and counseling program she was released to a work-release jail for six months near the end of her 63-month sentence.

Elizabeth secured employment at a nearby gym and worked her way from front desk associate to office manager and on to membership sales. After completing six months in the work-release program, she was allowed to stay in the area to attend an MBA Essentials Graduate Certificate Program in Business at Shenandoah University.  Elizabeth was the first person on supervised release to be given permission to travel abroad by a federal judge, so she could study at Oxford University in England with her Shenandoah class.

Today…

In 2012, Elizabeth began working on farms, learning sustainable production methods and assisting with marketing and sales. Soon after, she found out she was expecting a baby, and in March 2013, she married the man she had met all those years ago, the man who stood by her and who also refused to let her take that fateful trip to Ohio.  In May 2013, Elizabeth gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

 In 2015, Elizabeth started her own business, Farm-to-Table Solutions, and this is what she says,

“My passion for local, humane, fair and environmentally-friendly food sprouted when I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma while in prison.  I eventually ventured to local farmers markets and found talking directly to farmers to be very fulfilling.  I loved learning how to cook with and dabble in preserving seasonal ingredients.  My hands-on experience in farming started as a hobby with a vegetable garden, some backyard layers and a trio of rabbits.  Soon after, I left the fitness membership sales to get my hands dirty on local farms.  The farmers and my coworkers were a wealth of knowledge, and in exchange for the learning opportunity, I was able to utilize my experience in sales, community outreach and training in culinary to assist in the farms’ marketing efforts.  I have quickly built a network of like-minded professionals and I leverage this network and experience to meet the business needs of others.

Through my business, in addition to helping farms and farmers markets with marketing needs, I work as Marketing Coordinator, Local-Sourcing Agent and Roof-Top Gardener for The New Bridge Wine Bar & Restaurant, where my husband is General Manager/Executive Chef. We are working on a strategy to become owners of the restaurant by 2017.  I have made decisions (good and bad) that have brought me to where I am today, and I am grateful that all of the turns in my life journey have meshed into a place of fulfillment and wellness.”

Elizabeth is grateful and fortunate to have a supportive husband and family, who have stood by her throughout her struggles with addiction, and for the people who, upon her release, gave her opportunities that led her to where she is today. Elizabeth was discharged from Supervised Release one year early, and her civil rights were restored by the Governor of Virginia on March 26, 2015.

The Facts: Elizabeth Melson
Sentence
: 63 months, 5 years supervised release
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine
Priors: None
Year sentenced: 2005
Age at sentencing: 24