By Melanie D. Hayes
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Television cameras, microphones, audio equipment and lights were set up around Amber Portwood, while a crew member powdered her face.
But Portwood wasn’t preparing to film a scene for her MTV reality show “Teen Mom.” She was at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department wearing an orange-and-white striped jail uniform, and was shackled at the wrists and ankles.
She was interviewed on Wednesday by “Good Morning America” and The Herald Bulletin about her recent decision to drop out of a drug court rehabilitation program and instead take on a 5-year prison sentence.
The troubled 22-year-old Anderson resident has been in and out of jail and rehab for drug use and felony convictions for domestic battery and possessing medication without a valid prescription.
And now she will be going to prison — a choice Portwood made because the drug court program wasn’t going to work for her, she said. Even if it means not having some freedoms and not seeing her 3-year-old daughter on a frequent basis, she doesn’t regret her decision and believes it will be better in the long run.
“I felt like I was wasting my time,” she said. “I knew I was at the end of my rope.”
She said she couldn’t handle the pressures, demands and time commitment of the rigorous drug court program. She was depressed and lonely, and said she even tried to commit suicide by taking an excessive amount of the drug Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addictions.
Had she completed the program, her felony convictions would have been dropped.
Portwood attributes her problematic lifestyle and poor decisions to many factors: Her party girl nature that began at a young age, her drug addiction, her bipolar disorder, sudden receipt of large paychecks from MTV, her celebrity status and the fact that her daughter, and purpose in life, was taken away from her.
“Everybody wants to blame the show. But I don’t,” she said of the four-season program. “I was a party girl before the show. It just added fuel to the fire. When you get so much money at a young age, you do want you want. When you go to a bar, people recognize you and buy you drinks.”
The young mother said that if she hadn’t been on the show she would have led a more normal life, but would likely still be using drugs since “this is a boring town.”
Portwood said that she began using drugs when she was about 13, and that her addictions all came from medications that were prescribed to her, including Hydrocodone and Vicodin.
She has used drugs ever since, except for when she was pregnant with her daughter Leah. Within a year of her birth, she began using again.
Using drugs served as an escape for her. She said having paparazzi following her, critical news stories and hearing people talk badly about her and to her, made her paranoid and depressed. But when she was high she didn’t care about those things, she said.
Following her probation violation arrest in December 2011, Portwood joined the drug court rehabilitation program in mid-February, which led to her being sober for about two and a half months. The program seeks to help offenders with their addictions as an alternative to sending them to prison.
She ended up relapsing after undergoing surgery in late April to have gallstones removed. Her doctor prescribed her with Hydrocodone, her drug of choice.
“I got addicted to it again. I don’t even like thinking about that,” she said, looking away and shaking her head. “(If I’d known) I would have never done the surgery. But still, I’m an addict, so I still wanted it (the pills). It’s a struggle.”
In early May, Portwood was sent back to jail for violating terms of her drug court program.
While facing termination from the program, Portwood decided to voluntarily drop out of it on May 24. She has been in jail ever since.
Her decision to quit the program means she will face up to five years in prison. But she could end up serving only about two years because of time served, combined with good behavior, participation in therapeutic programs, and completion of her GED, said her attorney, Evan Broderick.
Portwood said that the drug court program could be beneficial to people, but it wasn’t the right place for her, especially because of reality star status. Though she admits she could have tried harder.
“You sit in a room with tons of people and they expect you to completely open up about your life and say personal things,” she said. “It was very uncomfortable.”
Whenever she did disclose personal things, other people in the program apparently leaked them out because she would see those private statements in the media.
But she believes in the long run it will help her and her family because it will force her to clean up her act. And she is 100 percent confident she will remain off drugs after her release.
“I’m going in to substance abuse classes. I’ll get my GED. And I’ll get my time done, so when I get out I’ll be free,” she said.
Now that she will be in prison, her family will know where she is and that she is sober and staying out of trouble, she said.
Portwood’s criminal troubles and her stints in and out of jail and rehab have affected her daughter Leah, but they continue to have a great relationship. Leah lives with her father and Portwood’s ex-boyfriend, Gary Shirley.
Portwood said that her drug addiction and other problems, as well as her participation in the drug court program, didn’t allow her much time to see Leah.
But Portwood said she believes she will get to see and hold her daughter more often when she’s in prison due to regular visitation hours. Even if it’s only two hours every two weeks for several years.
“And when I get out I can be with my daughter every day,” she said.
Broderick said that Portwood would likely be taken to Rockville Correctional Center today, where she will begin an evaluation process to determine where she will be placed.
“She will do better in there (prison) than she was able to in drug court,” he said. “She won’t have to deal with the distractions she had to deal with. She isn’t a bad person. She needs help.”
Find Melanie D. Hayes on Facebook and @MelanieDHayes on Twitter or call 648-4250.