BEATTYVILLE — There is no other way to put this: Tasha Harris screwed up again. But this time, she went to jail. And not just jail, but prison. For five years.
The people who had done all they could to prevent that from happening no longer had any options. The law was perfectly clear.
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She had been told about consequences. Now — it was Oct. 9 — she would feel them.
Just two months before, on Aug. 2, a Herald-Leader story told of the once Nashville-bound and still impossibly talented 33-year-old songstress who had not quite lived up to all her early promise. And how she'd partied or just bored herself into a drug problem and been lucky enough to have a judge move mountains to get her back on stage at Renfro Valley, where she had been a star for a decade.
The one-time Renfro Valley gig was designed as motivation for staying clean, a reminder that, despite everything, she had talent.
Judge Thomas Jones wanted to show her that she had a lot left to work with even after having been caught buying OxyContin with the clear intent to distribute it while an undercover policeman watched from the back seat of her car.
She had indeed been luminescent the night of her big motivational kick-in-the-rear, if only for the two songs she was allowed to belt out for others' pleasure.
Then she went back home, graduated from drug court, advanced to a kind of after-care where she was still subject to daily call-ins that required random drug tests.
During one of those calls, her number came up. And she had to admit to her drug court administrator that if she took the test, she wasn't going to pass.
The next day, she appeared once again in front of Jones, who had known her for half her life and had been smitten by her talent.
To her surprise, he terminated her from the program.
She was going to serve time.
Drama, she explained later, ensued. She gagged, begged and cried. She couldn't breathe. She threw herself on the podium, told the judge she'd harm herself if she had to go to jail. (She says now she wouldn't have. She was just shocked and mad.)
He called her bluff. He said that was up to her but she was going to jail.
It had been a terrible two-week period in her life before that terrible day, she says. She had had "seizures, I don't know what kind," had a Pap smear that revealed errant cancer cells, lost a job she'd had for two years at a uniform factory because she chose to have a biopsy done instead of going to work, and she'd been evicted.
She stops talking long enough to realize that this is sounding like she is making excuses for needing a crutch and that isn't exactly what she wants to convey.
She suddenly becomes softer, less recalcitrant, more candid.
"You know, if they hadn't caught me then, they would have caught me some other time. I'm a drug addict. I do not deny that. A lot of what happened was my fault, but a lot wasn't."
Still, she continued to use OxyContin "and I don't know why."
"I really did not think he'd send me to jail. It's not like I'm above it but I just didn't think it would come down to this. I thought he'd send me to rehab or to jail for a month."
But, instead, she went to prison "like," she says, incredulously, "I'm a true convict."
Her daughter, who Harris says knew nothing about her drug problem, had to be told. Harris wanted to be the one to tell her, but no provision was made for that. She had just told the judge she was going to harm herself. The judge could not take the chance she would harm others.
She was taken into immediate custody. Other people would have to tell her 9-year-old the truth.
In two years in office overseeing Lee, Estill and Owsley counties, Jones has terminated 30 other drug court participants. That means he put them in prison. This was not his first disappointment.
Did he have special hope for her?
"I have had just as many succeed at drug court as fail. I still have faith in the program. You get a chance. She got her chance. If you're asking if I regret the Renfro Valley part, I don't," said Jones. "I didn't fail to try to help."
Much remains unknown
Once the golden girl with the golden throat with the golden chance to get herself out of whatever ashes she'd been born into, Natasha Harris Wilder, a Kentucky Department of Corrections inmate with a six-digit number designation, is nobody special now. She lives in a cell with 10 other women at the Three Forks Regional Jail.
"Beattyville's a small town," says Harris. "I know half the people back there. Sad but true."
The mattresses are, maybe, 3 inches thick. There is no privacy.
For weeks, she would wake up in that early half-sleep not remembering where she was and be horrified anew at her circumstance.
Three months in, she is adjusting. She has gained some weight. Her daughter has left Beattyville to live with her father, with whom Harris still has a good relationship four years after their breakup.
She can laugh a little derisively at her shower shoes and orange prison-issue cotton pants but not at the boredom she feels inside prison, which is so much like the boredom she felt outside that she tried to alleviate with drugs.
There is no telling if she understands what she is in for next.
Does the state keep her in Beattyville or move her to Peewee Valley?
Does she get the gynecological care she needs?
Does she get the rehab she needs?
Does she believe she is an addict? Does she know what that means?
How long, really, is a five-year sentence?
How big is her daughter's heart?
"The worst part is the separation," says Harris. "But we're OK. That's the only thing that keeps me going."
Her daughter, she says, wrote her a letter that reassured her of that. It said, "You have not hurt me. How could you hurt me? You're my mother."
"In my mind, I kept (the drug use) in control," Harris says. "What I've done that I feel absolutely worst about is I spent money I shouldn't have spent. I have no bad feelings about myself as a mother."
The only times she cries is when she talks about her child. It is, she says, the only thing that is keeping her sane: To know that she can be with her again and try to do better.
"I am waiting to have a good life with my daughter. I want to be the best person and the best mother for her."
When Harris is released, she acknowledges that she will have no money, no job and no home. She says she will be "like a child without parents."
What will she do?
"I will sing. I'm not very good at anything else."