Off and on for about 25 years, Kristopher Hunley was involved with drugs.

It started with marijuana and moved into cocaine, pain pills and shooting up Opana and heroin. At one time, the Austin native had an $800-a-day habit.

To support his addiction, he began shoplifting and writing bad checks, and he wound up with 19 felony charges against him. That resulted in jail time starting when he was 33, and he spent time in five jails and a halfway house.

Hunley tried to clean his life up and got married, but then he went back to drugs and lost his wife to a drug overdose. He even considered taking his own life.

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But when he once again tried to step away from drugs, it finally was the last time.

Hunley now lives in Indianapolis, works for The Salvation Army, operates a transitional facility helping others get clean and goes into jails to minister to inmates.

Scars of the past

The scars on his arms from using needles and nearly losing his hand from shooting cocaine are reminders of his old self, and he’s not tempted to go back to that lifestyle.

“Every morning I take a shower, I look at that and say, ‘Man, you’re just lucky to be here,’” the 47-year-old said.

When he sees old friends he used to do drugs with, he doesn’t even consider going down that path again.

“I’ve been offered pain pills and stuff, and I just laugh at them and say, ‘I know what that cost me,’” he said. “It should have cost me. I’m a miracle just to be sitting here, and I understand that.”

Growing up in Austin, Hunley said he was always trying to fit in and be something that he wasn’t. He managed, however, to fit in with the right people.

But once they graduated from high school and went off to college, Hunley decided to stay home and work at the family business.

At 19, he ended up around the wrong crowd and experimented with drugs and alcohol. His grandfather also died around that time, and it hit him hard.

“That led to eventually trying things — smoking weed, snorting cocaine,” he said. “The next thing you know, 25 years later, I realize I’m a full-blown junkie out of control. I would do good for a while, and then I would hit the self-destruct button. For a long time, I was a bad person.”

Hunley wound up getting hurt at work and went to the doctor. That’s when he was prescribed the pain medication Lortab.

“I said, ‘Oh, I like the way those make me feel,’ and once I got a taste of it, I couldn’t put it down, and it just progressed,” he said.

When he was referred to a pain specialist, he received Oxycontin and Percocet and got hooked on those.

“You know how misery loves company, and (other people doing drugs) showed me how to break them down and shoot them up, so I started shooting cocaine and shooting Oxycontin and almost lost my hand due to shooting up,” he said. “I almost lost my life, but God saved me for whatever reason.”

Charges and changes

Most of his felony charges were related to shoplifting. The first time he was in jail was for stealing steaks from a grocery store. That was the first of more than 30 trips in and out of the five county jails.

In 2007, he spent five months at a halfway house in Scottsburg and during that time landed a job in Salem.

He had money built up in his checking account, but his workplace ended up closing. Instead of getting another job, he said he gave up and started writing checks to feed his drug addiction. That led to check fraud charges.

“I wrote $18,000 worth of bad checks on myself,” he said.

Hunley was picked up and sent to jail for his longest stint of 41 consecutive months — including stays at Scott, Jackson and Jefferson county jails and Branchville Correctional Facility in Perry County.

He was court-ordered to The Salvation Army in Indianapolis, and for 10 months lived in the adult rehabilitation center and worked in the organization’s store.

In 2010, he went to the Good Samaritan Inn transitional house in Salem for a discipleship program, and he was close to having his own church.

Hunley thought his life was getting back on track. He had been clean for about five years, got married and began working at a factory in Austin.

Back in a spiral

But then his wife began experiencing pain and went to a doctor in Salem, and she was prescribed Lortab. Hunley began abusing the pills again, and his wife also got involved in drugs. She had previously been in jail, too.

“I should have stood up and been a man and shut the door and say, ‘No, don’t bring them in here. You know that’s our weakness,’” he said. “But I went ahead and took it because I made that choice.”

His wife died April 24, 2012, from an overdose. He moved into a house with four other people in rural Austin and got back into drugs and shoplifting.

“I actually was trying to kill myself with shooting Opanas and as much heroin as I could get a hold of,” he said. “I didn’t have any desire to live. I was careless, hopeless, thoughtless. I didn’t care.”

God’s hand

One day, his housemates went into a bedroom and shut the door to do drugs. That’s when he said God intervened, and his life changed for the better.

“It’s like God just took it away from me. I heard God say to me, ‘Uh-uh, I’ve got something for you to do,’” Hunley said. “The Bible says that no man can open a door that God closes.”

Hunley contacted The Salvation Army and returned to the organization on July 11, 2012. His mother was happy to see him turn his life around.

“My dear mom, I put her through pure hell, and she looked at me and said, ‘I’m tired,’” he said. “I put her through so much, and she’s fought cancer for 15 years. When I do good, she does good; and when I do bad, she would do real bad. I told her the other day, I said, ‘You don’t have to worry about doing bad anymore because I know I’m not doing bad anymore.’”

With The Salvation Army, he spent nine months in rehab and worked in the store, processing donations and driving a truck.

Around Easter in 2014, Hunley became a soldier with The Salvation Army. He had gone through soldier class for 11 weeks, learning the Bible along with the doctrines of the organization.

Hunley is still a truck driver and a soldier, and he also is about to become the owner of Noah Transitional Housing Program, which houses men coming out of jails and graduates of The Salvation Army’s adult rehab program.

Hunley said The Salvation Army has facilities in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne with nearly 40 men from this area, and he would like to someday see a facility built in southern Indiana.

Hunley said he considers himself fortunate to be in a leadership position after all that he has gone through.

“I never thought that would ever happen — an old junkie and drug addict like me that everybody counted out and said I would never amount to anything,” he said.

Hunley said he gives a lot of credit to God.

“God made good out of all the bad,” he said. “Thing is, you’ve got to have a willing heart, too, and you’ve got to recognize God’s calling because God calls all of us to do something. I know what it has called me to do because he doesn’t call you if he doesn’t equip you, and he has equipped me.”

Message of hope

The Salvation Army has allowed him to spread a message of hope, he said.

“I get phone calls every day from people I used to get high with wanting help,” Hunley said. “God used The Salvation Army to give me the tools to fight this disease that lives inside of me, and God has used that program to help me. Now, he has made a way for me to become a soldier with them, and I’m pulling people out of the fire, so to speak.”

And if it wasn’t for The Salvation Army coming into his life when it did?

“I’d be dead, and my poor mom would be grieving,” Hunley said. “That’s why I do what I do for them. It doesn’t pay a whole lot of money, but it’s me giving back what they gave me because they gave me my life back, and I can never repay them for that.”

Hunley also spends time doing jail ministry in Jackson, Scott and Washington counties. He said he often preaches to men who were in those jails when he was.

One time, while walking through the Scott County Jail to minister, Hunley met up with a jailer who knew him from his many stints in that facility.

“He said, ‘Man, I never thought I would not see you in handcuffs,’” Hunley said.

He told the jailer about God changing his life, and his goal is to get that message across to the inmates.

“Addicts and alcoholics have to see proof that there is hope and there is help, and that’s what God raised me up to do because I’m showing them that there’s a different way to live,” he said.

While Hunley celebrates turning his life around, he said it was tough to hear about the HIV epidemic in southeastern Indiana, which is centered around his hometown. The number of HIV-positive cases is now at 150. All four of Hunley’s former roommates in rural Austin are now HIV positive. He is the only one who doesn’t have it, he said.

“God had his hand on me, and I know that,” he said. “Not to say that they didn’t have his hand on them, but he pulled me out just in time, and they kept on in their misery.”

Hunley said addiction has been a problem in Scott County for a long time, but he said drug use is everywhere else, too.

“There’s only one thing that can fix it, and that’s the touch of God,” he said. “All these churches, they need to knock down the barriers and come together in one accord like the Bible says, and they can fight this thing.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.