When Evansville attorney Teresa Perry McKeethen passed the Indiana Bar Exam and began practicing law in 2000, she thought she was launching herself on the road to a successful legal career.
"It's all I ever remember wanting to do," she said.
In less than five years, McKeethen progressed from working at a local law firm to having her own practice and office, specializing in real estate and tax law. Her career looked promising.
Along the way she took an unintended detour, until eventually McKeethen found herself on another route — the road to recovery — losing her license to practice along the way as she became addicted to meth.
However, after 10 years of clean living and countless hours of mentoring others, McKeethen is once again a practicing attorney.
"It's definitely been a very long struggle," she said. "That chapter is closed and to me that is the biggest relief."
Currrently vice president of human resources and operations at Goodwill, McKeethen said she hopes to someday open her own law practice again but is happy to be able to put her legal knowledge to use in her existing job.
"It's really rewarding to work here," she said.
After her arrest on methamphetamine-related charges in 2007 (which have since been expunged), McKeethen voluntarily stopped practicing law. In 2009 the Indiana Supreme Court suspended her from practice for at least two years or until she served her sentence.
On April 5, the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated McKeethen to the practice of law following a hearing in which judges, fellow attorneys, law enforcement officials and acquaintances from the local recovery community testified in her support.
Attorney Scott Danks represented her during the various stages of the disciplinary process and at the hearing to reinstate her license.
"Trying her case was like watching a movie with a really happy ending. I had to fight back tears the whole time," Danks said. "Sometimes we make mistakes and get knocked off our saddle and are too bruised to get back up. Teresa not only got back on her saddle but won the Triple Crown. She has become a leader in the recovery community, has married and has two beautiful children and has her career back."
It started with her own recovery. McKeethen recalled that her own involvement in drugs was gradual. Growing up in what she described as an upper-middle class family with no exposure to alcohol or drugs. Through her first husband, she became acquainted with a different lifestyle and eventually began to meet other professionals who used drugs. Somehow, it made it seem more acceptable at the time.
During the hearing to reinstate her license in February, McKeethen described it: "They were professional, successful people, so in my mind I justified it a little bit; it made me feel like it was okay because I was doing it with them. It is crazy thinking, I know."
Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge Wayne Trockman, who oversees many of the county's treatment courts, said McKeethen has become a sought-after mentor.
"I think this is an example of the fact that drug or alcohol addiction can hit anyone at anytime," he said.
Sentenced to six years, McKeethen served six weeks of it in the Indiana Department of Correction before returning to Vanderburgh County to successfully complete 18 months of intensive, treatment-oriented supervision through the Forensic Diversion Program, followed by drug abuse probation and was discharged six months early for good behavior.
Even before her sentence, McKeethen began participating in treatment.
"Relapse … that was my biggest fear," she said.
What has been a fear and a struggle to McKeethen has not only been a motivating factor in her own recovery, but has led her to help others as well.
After returning from prison in 2008, McKeethen began working at Goodwill Industries, climbing to her current position.
"We are very fortunate to have her with us," said Walt Koch, Goodwill's president. "She has been an inspiration for people here. She has been a real inspiration for how you can change your life."
Goodwill's mission of working with the disabled and disadvantaged has been a perfect fit not only for McKeethen's business skills but also for her experience working with people in recovery.
Trockman said McKeethen has stayed involved in the treatment court programs, helping find participants employment through Goodwill and mentoring others.
"She has mentored a number of other women who are attempting sobriety," he said.
McKeethen has become involved in other treatment programs as well, such as Churches Embracing Offenders.
"She's very special. She cares about people. She understands brokenness because she has been broken," said Anthony Metcalf, the organization's executive director.
"Everybody in their lives make mistakes but for some people those choices have much more severe consequences," Metcalf said. "Rather than letting that defeat her she has taken that and used it to help others."