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

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

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on June 21, 2011
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.”

rgillingham@thetelegram.com