Russell Phillips likes to keep busy. The 39-year-old from Laurel is working on several projects including a fictional novel called “Dear Mom".
It’s about a single mother who is trying to keep her son from going down the wrong path. Phillips is drawing from experience to write the novel. It’s based loosely on his own life.
“I had a good childhood. I was raised by a single mother,” Phillips said. “She gave me everything I needed and tried to give me everything I wanted.”
Things were good for Phillips and his mom Deborah until he was 16 years old. He says that’s when he started selling drugs, and soon thereafter, using them.
“One thing led to another, and the next thing I know, I quickly crossed that threshold of not wanting to stop and not being able to stop.”
For 18 years drugs controlled Phillips’ life. He doesn’t know the exact number of times he was arrested in that time. He guesses somewhere between 30 and 40. His name takes up four pages on the Maryland Case Search website.
At one point he was homeless. He would often disappear for days, leaving his mom at home to worry about him.
“Looking back, she needed to know her son was alive and I can’t imagine the pain I put her through, through my actions,” he said.
His first major brush with the law came in 2013, when he says the U.S. Marshals came to his house while he and his mom were there. Phillips said he was arrested but posted bond.
Then a year later, he was charged and convicted on a number of felony drug charges in Howard County. He remembers his mom crying as he awaited his sentencing, which was 10 years in prison.
Tears would come for Phillips the following year, in 2015, when his mom died from complications related to lung cancer. The prison chaplain told him the news and he says he was sent back to his cell, his heart in pieces. Phillips was not allowed to leave to go to the funeral.
“My mother meant everything to me. To this day she’s the most loving and forgiving person I’ve ever known,” he said. “Because of the lifestyle that I lived, I wasn’t conscious of all the time I was wasting, time that could have and should have been spent with the people I love.”
Phillips decided then and there to make a big life change. He knew if he continued to use drugs it would either mean more prison time or death. He went with another option: get sober.
After being released early from prison, Phillips found a couple of jobs. He’s been sober for almost five years and is starting a non-profit called Light in the Shadows.
“I share my story as much as possible in hopes I can save somebody else from having to take the same road that I did and in hopes of having people realizing the importance of time.”
Instead of getting high, he’s giving back. He’s collected and delivered several donations of clothing and furniture to the Hope House. He attached a note to one of the donations, offering messages of hope and possibility, two things he wished he had learned sooner and is now sharing with others who are living a life addicted to drugs, as well as their loved ones.
“There is hope, never give up as much. As I broke my mother’s heart over the years, for as many tears as I was responsible for, she never gave up on me. She always believed in me, she always knew what I was capable of, she knew the type of person I was.”