Former addict Dale Turcotte spreads awareness of the harm of drugs
Warning: this story contains content regarding murder, suicide, violence, rape, child abuse and drug abuse that some readers may find distressing.
ROLLING RIVER FIRST NATION – Regret lies heavy on the shoulders of Dale Turcotte.
It’s not something that’s immediately apparent when you first meet the genial, friendly 42-year-old, who, despite his six-foot stature, speaks with a quiet thoughtfulness. It’s not until you hear his story that you realize that the weight of the things he has done – and the things others have done to him – is a burden that he carries with him every day.
In order to keep others from repeating the same mistakes he has made, Turcotte held a talk at the health centre in Rolling River First Nation on Feb. 16.
Born to a Métis mother from Manitoba and an Italian Canadian father in Scarborough, Ont., Turcotte’s first few years were tumultuous. His father was involved in the procurement of sex work, and every time his mother tried to take Turcotte and his siblings away to seek a better life, he would introduce her to a new substance that she quickly became dependent upon.
“She wanted to get away. And when my dad found out that she was going to move back to Manitoba, he introduced her to crack. She was addicted to crack for about a year, and then she beat it,” Turcotte said. “And then she was planning to go back again and my dad found out again, and he introduced her to heroin.”
Some of Turcotte’s earliest memories involve having a social worker visit his home to counsel his mother, he said.
“My mother would cry, and then that lady would leave.”
One day, some workers with the Ontario Children’s Aid Society showed up to Turcotte’s family home and told him and his siblings to grab their favourite toy for a trip to the movie theatre. Instead, they were brought to a large office building where they were introduced into the foster care system.
“They kind of came and picked us like we were puppies or something,” Turcotte said. “We bounced, I think, to four different foster homes in two weeks.”
Although his mother was doing everything she could to beat her drug addiction, she kept relapsing, which Turcotte said was down to a lack of resources.
“She would do what she could. She wanted to get us back,” he said.
Eventually, Turcotte’s maternal grandfather ended up getting custody of him and his older sister, sending them to live with their mother’s brother in Split Lake. A different aunt and uncle, who lived in Thompson, adopted his younger sister.
“The day after they signed the adoption papers, my mom killed herself,” Turcotte said.
His last memory of his mother is a painful one for Turcotte. When he recalls the visit, they had together, and the words he exchanged with her, he can’t help but blink away tears.
“I asked my mom why we couldn’t go home with her, and she didn’t know how to explain it, so I said, ‘F**k you. You don’t love us no more,’” Turcotte said. “And unfortunately, that’s the last thing I ever said to her.”
Moving with his grandfather to Split Lake from Toronto was a huge culture shock, in addition to the trauma of losing his mother, Turcotte said.
“I remember for the first three nights I couldn’t sleep because it wasn’t loud enough … when we live din Toronto, there was sirens, there was yelling every night.”
Turcotte lived in Split Lake for five years with an uncle, and said it was a good experience. He learned how to hunt and trap, and he even picked up a bit of Cree language.
Eventually, when his uncle’s family grew too large, Turcotte moved to Thompson to live with a different uncle. After a while there, he moved to Winnipeg, where he lived in a foster home. He credits his foster father that he lived with at the time, Scott Gray, for trying to steer him in the right direction.
“For the first time ever, he actually forced us to deal with our past issues and stuff, which I thank him for now,” Turcotte said. “I hated him for that back then, but I’m thankful for it now.”
Turcotte’s time at the foster home was short-lived, however. He stayed there for two years before he found himself in trouble with the law. Shortly after that, he joined a gang. He knew there was no loyalty in that life, and things quickly became more and more violent. When Turcotte was 18, he met a man who was convicted three times for molesting his own daughters. Remembering the way his father used to rape his sister, and how he allowed his friends to do the same, Turcotte snapped.
“I ended up thinking of my dad and my dad’s friends … and ended up beating [the man] to death,” Turcotte said sombrely. “Emotions took over.”
Turcotte was charged with second-degree murder and pled guilty to manslaughter. He served six years in prison, and when he had a year remaining, his former foster father and mother invited Turcotte to stay with them upon his release.
Although he was trying to turn his life around after prison, Turcotte ended up back in Winnipeg where he connected with friends he had been incarcerated with and selling drugs with them.
Eventually, his lifestyle caught up with him, and Turcotte found himself in jail for a second stint of six years for dealing drugs.
“All the guys that rode with me and spent my money and did my drugs – none of them wrote to me. None of them came to visit me,” Turcotte said.
In prison, Turcotte would listen to his fellow felons discuss the glory days of when they were free, on the streets and selling drugs, and came to a realization.
“I never met an old, successful drug dealer. They’re either dead or in jail,” he said.
Despite trying his best to not slip back into his old habits, it wasn’t long after Turcotte was released that he started selling drugs again. One day, someone gave him some meth in return for him fixing her car. Turcotte, who had never tried the drug before, ended up smoking it after researching how to one night when he was struggling with writing a screenplay and couldn’t get a hold of any of his friends.
“After that, I just couldn’t stop,” he said. “My girlfriend at the time was a welder for nine years. I introduced her to it, and within nine months, she’d quit her job, she’d spent her pension and sold her car.”
Turcotte and his girlfriend ended up getting kicked out of their home, and times were tough. During that time, he began to think that everything that had happened to him was some sort of negative karmic reward for all the pain he had caused to others in his life so far.
“Once I realized how bad addiction was and how fast you lose everything … I never sold drugs again,” he said.
Although he was no longer selling drugs, Turcotte’s life was still full of people who were affected by addiction. He saw people suffering from meth-induced psychosis. One of his friends ended up killing herself while in such a state.
“Things were getting more violent. Friends were getting murdered. At least twice a week, someone was under arrest for murder, or got murdered. It was just getting crazy,” Turcotte said.
When one of his friends from prison died, Turcotte used it as an excuse to use drugs. He had been asked by his friend’s family to speak at his funeral, but he chose to get high instead.
“I would like to say that I got high because it hurt so much, but … at the time, I used that as an excuse to get high,” Turcotte said.
He also missed his daughter’s high school graduation, and wasn’t able to give her the $500 he had promised her due to drugs.
“I screwed up her big, shining moment,” Turcotte said.
Even though Turcotte could see the harm that he was doing to himself and others, he wasn’t yet able to break free from addiction. After suffering with severe frostbite, which happened when he rescued an intoxicated person from passing out in a snowbank, he ended up with wounds on his legs that, to this day, have never healed.
One day, when Turcotte was changing his bandages and crying from the pain it caused him, a friend offered him a different sort of drug – a dangerous mix of fentanyl and heroin. He ended up using it every time he had to change his bandages.
“Then I got addicted to it. And I thought to myself, nothing was ever worse than meth, but this fentanyl stuff is,” Turcotte said. “It’s such a crazy, crazy powerful drug, it’s just the worst thing that’s ever happened to mankind.”
Turcotte remembers a friend of his that was murdered in a drug house in Winnipeg. After having visited with him earlier in the day, he returned to see him again and saw him dead in a corner of the room.
“I remember when I was walking up the stairs, I saw a star blanket … his family was very traditional, so I got that star blanket and I covered him with it and I went and told somebody else,” he said.
Shortly after, Turcotte was questioned by the police regarding his friend’s death, but was released.
“For 24 hours, they let me sweat. I was thinking I was going away for a murder that I didn’t commit, and I was sitting there trying to reason with myself, that this was going to be payback for all the thins I got away with,” he said. “Finally, after 24 hours, [the police] told me they knew he was dead when I got there, but they just wanted to know if I knew anything.”
After that, Turcotte took a hard look at his life. His legs were causing him so much pain that he could barely walk. He checked himself into a hospital where he worked with an addiction team, but was in so much pain that he began to make plans to end his life by overdosing on drugs.
“I was going to go and buy fentanyl,” he said. “I was sick o the lifestyle, couldn’t get over it, couldn’t quit.”
A message from his ex-wife, which came after two years of no contact, however, made Turcotte reconsider. His foster parents, who he suspected had been distancing themselves from him as a way of preparing for an overdose death they saw as inevitable, also were in touch with him after two and a half years. Inspired by the knowledge that he was still loved and cared for, Turcotte said he was honest with the addictions team about how bad his drug problems really were.
“They worked as hard as they could with me,” he said. “I just thought, let’s give this one more chance.”
Despite relapsing three times, Turcotte worked harder than ever before at getting clean. Through an immense amount of effort, Turcotte managed to stop using all drugs, and has been clean for a year. The cravings never really go away, but he’s found something more important than drugs to devote his life to – his family.
“Every time I get a craving, or wake up from a dream like that, I remember what I have, what I’ve built and how hard it was to get over it,” he said.
In addition to the love of his family, Turcotte says keeping hope alive was an integral part of his rehabilitation.
“Part of being … clean is you have to build a life that’s worth staying away from drugs for,” he said. “That’s what I’ve found.”
Now, Turcotte is focused on his role as a father and soon-to-be husband to his ex-wife, who he proposed marriage to again on Feb. 18. He’s also passionate about sharing his story, as painful as it is, with young people, hoping to keep them far away from the substances that caused him and others so much pain.
“The drug lifestyle they see in movies and music and stuff – they don’t see the other side of it. They don’t see what’s at stake,” he said.
Turcotte will be speaking with students and sharing a much more watered-down version of his life story with them in the coming weeks, and is hoping he will get the chance to talk to more people, and prevent more suffering, in the near future. Anyone interested in booking him to speak can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regret lies heavy on the shoulders of Dale Turcotte. But, bolstered by a hope he’s found in his family and community, that regret is now tempered with a purpose; a calling to help keep others away from a life that nearly claimed his own.
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun