‘Nobody can understand it unless you’ve been through it’

Rosie Mullaley
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Teary-eyed west-coast man tells court how drug addiction led him to commit robbery

Jamie George Saunders of Cox’s Cove, near Corner Brook, is led out of provincial court in St. John’s Monday after he was sentenced to 29 months in jail for robbing a capital-city convenience store earlier this month. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

Jamie George Saunders stood before a provincial court judge Monday, asking to be sent to a federal prison.

“It’s the best thing for me,” he told Judge David Orr.

A few months ago, jail was the furthest thing from Saunders’ mind.

The 36-year-old had a good job with a local contracting company, was in a stable relationship and felt fulfilled.

“For the first time in my life, I felt like a citizen,” he said.

“I even had a Visa card. Imagine, me, Jamie Saunders, got approved for a Visa!”

For close to 14 years, Saunders didn’t feel like he had anything good going for him.

He struggled with a serious addiction to drugs, with a dependency on morphine and OxyContin.

Living in Cox’s Cove, just outside Corner Brook, he saw doctor after doctor and spent 21 days at the Humberwood Treatment Centre in Corner Brook.

Nothing was working.

But on April 10, after a four-year wait to get on the methadone program in St. John’s, he was finally approved.

Five days later, he moved to the capital city.

Once on the program, he said, his life took a huge turn for the better.

“I (accomplished) more in six weeks than I had in the past 14 years …,” he said. “I was doing better than I had ever done.”

But one day last month, he missed an appointment at the methadone clinic due to problems with finding transportation.

As a result, he was immediately discharged from the program.

He said he tried calling the clinic, his doctor and his parents, but nothing worked.

The withdrawals were too much to withstand, he said.

“Nobody can understand it unless you’ve been through it — the pain, the hurt, the diarrhea your body goes through. It’s unbearable, …” said Saunders, who spoke articulately.

“The pain you feel for methadone is 10 to 15 times greater than for (other) drugs.”

On June 2, five days after he was discharged from the methadone program, he walked into Campbell Avenue Convenience, tried to buy a pop with his debit card, but it was declined.

“I was really hoping the money was in my account,” he said, breaking down in tears.

Saunders then put two quarters on the counter and asked the female clerk to change them into nickels and dimes.

When she opened the cash register, Saunders violently shoved a female customer at the counter out of the way, knocking her into a chip rack. He reached into the cash register, grabbed about $100 and ran out the door.

Before leaving, he apologized to the female customer he had pushed and told her he had been waiting to get paid from his job.

He wasn’t masked and didn’t have a weapon.

With a detailed description of Saunders, it didn’t take long for police to catch up to him and make the arrest.

Once in court, Saunders immediately pleaded guilty to several charges, including robbery, assault and breaching court orders.

On Monday, he requested that the judge sentence him to more than two years in jail so he could be sent to a federal prison on the mainland, where addictions programming is better.

“To me, this is rehab,” he said. “It’s what I want. I need to get back on the methadone program.”

When duty counsel Jane Fitzpatrick asked Saunders how he felt when he saw the video of the robbery, which was played in court, Saunders expressed remorse.

“I feel very bad,” he said. “Those ladies shouldn’t have went through that because I’m an addict … I should’ve had the strength to stop myself, but I wasn’t on the methadone program long enough. I didn’t have the coping skills …

“I’m sorry for my addiction.”

“You’re sorry for your addiction?” Crown prosecutor Bill Cadigan shot back as he stood up to cross-examine Saunders.

“You flattened her!"

“I’m sorry I did that …,” Saunders replied.

“I tried everything to get off drugs. I don’t want to be here any more than anyone else does. I want to beat this,” he added, breaking down crying once again.

In final arguments, Cadigan told the judge that Saunders is blaming everyone else, including the system, for his criminal behaviour and is not taking responsibility.

“Talk is cheap at your sentencing hearing,” Cadigan said.

“We see lots of addicts here in court, but they all don’t flatten middle-aged women.”

Cadigan recommended a three-year jail sentence.

Fitzpatrick, however, felt Cadigan was making fun of a serious problem.

“It’s highly commendable,” Fitzpatrick said about Saunders’ desire to be rehabilitated.

“You’ve seen his level of intelligence. Obviously, he did something stupid. It was a desperate act and he knew he’d get caught …

“He’s given heart-felt testimony, he’s shown genuine remorse and he’s trying everything to beat his addiction.”

She said while he has a criminal record, most of it is drug-related, with no prior crimes of violence.

She said a two-year sentence was more appropriate under the circumstances.

In the end, the judge opted to give Saunders a 29-month prison term, with 25 days credit for the time he’s spent in custody.

“You’re a person who can control your behaviour when you choose to,” Orr said, “but drug addiction certainly seems to be a factor in this.”


Organizations: Visa, Humberwood Treatment Centre

Geographic location: Corner Brook

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Recent comments

  • Sonya
    August 22, 2011 - 00:21

    I went to high school with this man and I can tell you one mistake can lead to another. He is NOT a bad person! And at this point whether you agree with his reasons for why the crime was committed you have someone who is remorseful and is asking for help. We let criminals get education in jail surely we can have compassion to get them addiction treatment. Responsibility for his action is asking for jail time and treatment.. commend that at least!

  • ruth
    June 24, 2011 - 20:02

    It is a shame that ppl can be so judgemental. Especially when they haven't been in the situation themselves. I notice the posters above agree with the statement "you don't know unless you've been there" as long as it benefits them and not when it is being used by someone else. Addiction to opiates is a serious disease. They did not CHOOSE to be an addict, they might have chosen to abuse opiates for the first time or what have you, but no one CHOOSES to be an addict. The methadone program he was on sounds like it failed him as well. What kind of treatment facility kicks someone out after one missed appt that was due to transportation problems? METHODICAL - you may not want to admit it, but you statement that you can't "function" without your opiate pain killers shows that you also are dependent on opiates as well. You know how you feel when you are without your pain medication? Methadone withdrawals are much worse than anything you are experiencing and they last much longer than normal opiate withdrawals. This man was suffering, not that this is an excuse for what he did, but withdrawals from opiates, especially long acting opiates like methadone can be excruciating. I think everyone should get off their high horses and quit nit picking everyone else about their faults and problems when you have things going on in your life that are just as bad, if not worse.

  • methodical
    June 22, 2011 - 09:57

    Nobody knows how difficult it is for real chronic pain patients to receive the medication they need because people like this have affected the way doctors and pharmacists, and the community in general, treat us. I cannot walk without strong pain meds, yet absolutely dread having to fill out drug assessments, pee in a cup, be subject to the doctor going over my body looking for track marks, have to lock up my meds, am screened at the pharmacy, and have to worry about getting out of the pharmacy, through the parking lot, and home, with what amounts to thousands of dollars of drugs if sold illegally. And most doctors won't even write pain prescriptions anymore. I am shuffled around and given excuses, warned that the DEA is watching me, and more. You don't know unless you've been through it is right!

  • Ellen
    June 22, 2011 - 07:20

    This young man deserves all the chances available for him. He has certainly brought tears to my eyes as I read his story. It is, and was, so obvious that he was crying out for help. Forget about why he started, or how, he did so and became and addict. This is no different than your son or daughter trying smoking at 12 or 14 and continuing into adulthood as an addict - don't be so judgemental. So very glad that the justice system has finally given him help in the form of the longer sentence. My prayers are with this young man that he will finally get his life in order and make it this time. God bless you and good luck!!

  • meme
    June 22, 2011 - 01:21

    everyone has a story!!! Most of the time they blame it on drugs or mental illness!! When will the system stop believing this crap???? Drugs is your choice mental illness is being abused!!!

  • Don
    June 22, 2011 - 00:43

    I think our government and the system is at as much fault as the man who committed the crime. They acknowledge the seriousness of his addiction by placing him in the metadone clinic and then dismiss him for missing one day? Thus putting an acknowledged drug addict who was addicted to drugs that were VERY addictive back in to the world with no help. If this is the way it went down, I'm sorry but the system is to blame too. Decisions can be made to put you in your situation of being a drug addict, but once under the shackles of addiction I'm sure most everyone would consider themselves not their actual self. I think it's important to understand that.

  • PR
    June 21, 2011 - 20:49

    People should not pour out pity for a criminal based of a heartthrob newspaper article or court report. In most cases you need to know the person; not a half a dozen mis-construed facts to reach an accurate conclusion.

  • tom
    June 21, 2011 - 19:05

    Its so funny how they are all so sorry when they caught,,i promise not to do it again ,,ya right i seen it 2 many times

  • Frankie Willard
    June 21, 2011 - 12:58

    How much "education" and "knowledge" does one have to have before they realize that "drugs are bad for you, and if you 'choose' to do them, prepare for the worst to happen to your life. It truly is unbelievable that people are still holding onto the card of "I thought I could handle it and now it's too late". Nonsense.

  • t
    June 21, 2011 - 12:25

    Addiction is too often used as an excuse for un-excusable actions.

  • PR
    June 21, 2011 - 11:44

    I personally know this guy and it is obvious his solicitor doesn't. He accepts no responsibility for his actions and lies like a blanket. The world will be a better place for 29 months. I could say pages more but you wouldn't print it.

  • flexxa
    June 21, 2011 - 09:43

    ...here's a novel idea - don't do the drugs in the first place so you don't risk getting addicted. Pretty simple concept actually. Now if only he same we could get all the drunk drivers to ask for thing. Streets and roads would be a lot safer.

  • james
    June 21, 2011 - 09:40

    their all sorry when they get caught

  • Winston Tizzard
    June 21, 2011 - 09:33

    Totally agree with your comments JT. The guy has a problem because he chose to have the problem when he chose to do his first drug. Or did someone hold him down and administer the drug HA.

  • Kent
    June 21, 2011 - 09:17

    Very sad to see someone's life spiral out of control like this... Hopefully Saunders gets the help he needs and puts this behind him for good.

  • John
    June 21, 2011 - 09:07

    Theis seems to be a case of bureaucry run amok. The individual was trying to get to his appointment on time but couldn't make it. By the account of his life in the paper, he was doing extremely well while on his methodone . Because of his "missed" appointment, rathe than showing some CDF (common sense), he is now back to where he was prior to his treatment starting. It seems to me that they should be waiting at least 1/2 an hour for somebody to not show up, read them the riot act and tell him it 's strike 1 and 2 and after strike 3 you are out. (S)he may have a long wait but it will also mean he's still in the program

  • JT
    June 21, 2011 - 08:18

    Saunders, like many others made a consious choice to use drugs, and in using drugs, he must have known that there is the possibility of becoming addicted. The fact is, that no amount of education will prevent certain people from using drugs. people such as this guy are terrorizing innocent people who are trying to earn a living working in convenience stores, and it can not be tolerated. It is time for these people to take responsibility for their actions.

    • LJ
      June 22, 2011 - 20:50

      I have to agree with Ellen, this young man deserves another chance, so sad he was crying out for help. It is an addiction like anything else once your addicted to something it's not that easy to give up. My heart goes out to him and his parents, he is some mothers child, I can't imagine having to go throught what is parents is feeling right now. Maybe they are relieved he is getting the help he needs.

  • Mary Benedict
    June 21, 2011 - 07:52

    Clearly this man is genuinely remorseful, he needs someone who cares enough to put him into a recovery program and make sure he stays there until completely recovered because he genuinely wants to make a useful life for himself. Please God someone will wake up and give him a chance at life, obviously he made a mistake sometime ago when he was much younger but that dosen't mean he has to pay for for the rest of his life. I will pray this will happen for you Jamie Cox..

  • eric ralph
    June 21, 2011 - 07:44

    There is NO excuse for the robbery.Imagine the fright that lady got in the store. I believe this could have been avoided,problem is the people that have the power to help are not listening.This case is a prime example. Thanks Eric