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Family's nightmare takes hopeful turn

The Drewiske name is a familiar one in Hudson so it takes a special kind of courage for Roger and Judy Drewiske to come forward and tell their story.

Their son Phil, 22, is a recovering heroin addict. The family, which also includes his brother Matt, has been through a nine year ordeal that ultimately led to a prison sentence. But today Phil is back living with his family, parenting his young son, free of drugs and working full-time as a carpenter. His recovery and that of his parents is a day at a time but now they all have something that almost eluded them -- hope.

Like his cousins, Roger said his son was a gifted athlete, especially in baseball and hockey. His mother recalled watching him as a very young boy study the style of a Twins pitcher on television and then go out and perfectly mimic the performance. Hockey came naturally to him.

The family moved to Hudson when Phil was in the fourth grade and his transition to the Hudson Middle School didn't go smoothly. His drug use started in seventh grade with pills and marijuana. As his behavior became increasingly more volatile, his parents took him to counselors, three of them. "But not one of them picked up on the drugs. They missed the obvious. It was so frustrating." But Phil's middle school counselor didn't miss it. "I remember him saying way back then -- it's the drugs."

In high school, things got worse. Judy said her son had two sets of friends -- those who used and those who didn't, but none of them would talk to them about Phil's drug use. By his sophomore year, he was in trouble repeatedly for using tobacco and his grades slipped but they still allowed him to play sports. His drug use graduated from pain pills to heroin.

The police started to come around and became a regular part of the Drewiske's lives for the next several years. Roger said he watched his son change into someone he didn't know. "He would sometimes get what I called 'devil eyes.' It was a look I'd never seen but that I knew meant trouble." There were physical altercations and their efforts to discipline him failed. "We'd take away his car, ground him and friends would be at the door within minutes to pick him up," said Judy.

As Phil's drug use continued, its negative impact on his grades and the sports he loved playing started to show. There were increased run-ins with the police and his truancy was out of control. He would disappear from home for days at a time, his parents not knowing where he was.

Said Judy, "We were losing our son. He was less and less the Phil we knew."

Phil managed to get through his senior year and graduate in 2009. But his graduation party, like so many other family occasions, was spoiled by his drug use. He could barely be roused to prepare for the party and, despite the heat, had to wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt to cover track marks on his arms and legs.

Judy recalled one Mother's Day when the family had planned to go out to dinner together. She could tell Phil did not want to go and he tried to pick a fight with her to get out of it. "I didn't engage him so eventually he just stormed out. I remember looking around at the other families in the restaurant. Seeing moms with flowers and corsages and their kids around them and my son wasn't there. He came home later that day like nothing had happened. He never gave it a thought. There were years of things like that."

Phil's drug use and problems with the law escalated, sometimes living on his own, sometimes coming back home to stay. Phil was stealing from his parents and others to support his drug habit. There were battery charges and other legal problems and ultimately he was given a choice -- get treatment or face jail time.

He relapsed a short time after finishing treatment at Hazelden. He also went through treatment in South Dakota but a counselor told his parents that "he will be back. The kid's not ready. It isn't going to stick."

Things went from bad to worse over the next several years -- more treatment, a halfway house, even a stint in a homeless shelter. He totaled out two cars and put himself in some very dangerous situations. But for all the times he shut his parents out, when he was in trouble, that's who he would call. Roger recalled picking him up outside a drug house in St. Paul Park.

Judy said, "I kind of went numb after a while. Something new and bad happened almost daily. It felt like our life was just chaos and I dreaded those phone calls late at night because I knew what it would be...With what he was doing, he could have died several times over. I just figured God must want him here."

Roger said Judy understood long before he did that their son would have to hit rock bottom if he was ever going to get better. "I had a hard time with that. He'd call and I'd go. I felt I had to but Judy was right."

After violating probation restrictions, Phil was eventually sentenced to prison in January 2012. He spent several months in the maximum security Waupan Correctional Institution, an experience he described as hell. He was transferred to Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution where he served another eight months. With good behavior, Phil was allowed to transfer to the Chippewa Valley Corrections treatment facility in Chippewa Falls where he completed six months of treatment.

His parents visited him regularly and saw him gradually change. He began anger management counseling and started to take classes. But most profound to his mother was his willingness to take responsibility for his actions. "He was changing, starting to accept that this was his problem and not anyone else's. I began to feel like he was getting it."

In a tape he made from prison to be played for young people going through the local Restorative Justice Program, Phil candidly talked about what he had put his family through and how he regretted his behavior.

"You only have one family and everyday I lose time with them -- time I can't get back....I want the holidays I missed. I can't remember the last good one I had -- anniversaries, graduations, birthdays. My family having to make up stories about where Phil is...I put my family through hell and back. I was no kind of son..My family changed their life because of my actions. You never realize who and what you had until you lose it. Friends, family, fireworks on the Fourth of July -- I can emphasize how hurtful it is to be without it all. I can never make up for the time I lost or what I put them through. I want to give them a hug but I wake up here instead."

But the healing has begun. The Drewiskes say their son has come home a more empathetic man who is rebuilding his life with his son, his brother, and as always, with the love and support of his parents. Said Roger, "It was hope that this change would someday come that kept us both is what is keeping Phil going now.

The Drewiskes including Phil are participating in a community forum on the heroin problem in Hudson on July 18. See related story.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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