Andrew Turner is hoping Janet Mills will expunge his felony record.
Andrew Turner, 32, is hoping to be granted a pardon from Gov. Janet Mills for a felony he committed when he was 18 years old. Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Turner

At 32, Andrew Turner has dreams of raising a family in a nice neighborhood and helping as many people as possible through his Florida addiction treatment center, but a felony he committed when he was 18 is complicating his ability to achieve those goals.

It has been 14 years since Turner, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, broke into the home of an elderly couple in Hampden and took an empty pill bottle and cellphone. He was charged with burglary, a felony in Maine, and served six months at the Penobscot County Jail.

“Once I came to in a jail cell and realized what I had done, I felt horrible,” Turner said.

After battling substance use disorder for years and overdosing four times, Turner entered a treatment center in Florida, got sober and turned his life around. He has since started his own addiction recovery organization in Florida, but as he strives to create a good life for himself and help others in recovery, he’s haunted and hindered by his prior felony charge.

“I’m just trying to help people and have a somewhat regular life, but it’s next to impossible,” Turner said. “I own that I made choices that put me in this position. I just want a chance and I don’t know what else I can do to prove myself.”

Turner’s story is one consequence of Maine’s yearslong struggle to get opioid addiction under control. The opioid epidemic has hit the Bangor area and Penobscot County disproportionately hard, and driven crimes like the burglary Turner committed. Turner says he is no longer using opioids, but today he can’t put his conviction behind him.

Described as a sweet, shy and sensitive child by his father, Ralph, Andrew Turner was introduced to alcohol and marijuana when he was 13.

Three years later, he started using crack cocaine and became addicted to OxyContin. At the time, Turner said he didn’t understand how addiction or withdrawal worked, and he used drugs to self-medicate untreated mental health disorders.

“I was playing doctor, trying to find the right medication for myself — something that made me feel OK,” he said.

One night in August 2008 when he was 18, Turner said he was at a party when he and a few friends decided to enter a few cars while under the influence. Though he doesn’t remember much, he said he entered the home of an elderly couple and took an empty pill bottle and cellphone.

The following April, he was found guilty of burglary, a felony, and 10 other misdemeanors, including burglary of a motor vehicle and theft by unauthorized taking. He was sentenced to five years in jail on the felony charge, with all but six months suspended.

He ended up serving multiple stints in jail from the ages of 18 to 20. When he was released for the final time at the age of 23, his addiction had never been treated, and Turner said his drug use escalated to the point where he used heroin and cocaine daily.

“When he got into drugs, it changed him and his attitude completely. He was angry and violent — it wasn’t him at all,” Ralph Turner said. “He did whatever he had to do to support his habit, whether it was selling drugs or stealing, and that’s what got him in trouble. He robbed us blind, and I never noticed a lot of it until it was too late.”

He sent Andrew to addiction treatment centers in Florida three times but to no avail.

Turner said he was finally determined to get help and stay sober after he overdosed and was revived with Narcan four separate times.

The first time he overdosed, Turner said a friend brought him to the hospital, and he was minutes from death.

“My oxygen had gotten so low and I wasn’t breathing,” he said. “When I finally woke up, the nurse was screaming my name, then said, ‘Welcome back, Mr. Turner. Twenty more minutes and you wouldn’t be here.’”

He later overdosed twice more in gas station bathrooms and a last time in a treatment center, which immediately sent him to the hospital.

“Every night I waited for the phone to ring to tell me he was in jail or dead,” Ralph Turner said.

Around that same time Andrew Turner was watching many of his friends die from drug overdoses. That and his own overdoses convinced him to seek treatment again.

“I thought about all the people around me who didn’t make it,” he said. “I thought about my family, my nine nieces and nephews, and what I put them through. I realized that if I didn’t do something serious, I’m going to die alone. For the first time, I was willing to do whatever it took.”

He entered a small treatment center in Davie, Florida, began a 12-step program and finally sought treatment for his underlying mental health disorders. He also found motivation in the people who worked at the center because many of them were in recovery and now had stable careers.

“Honestly, the most attractive thing was they seemed genuinely happy,” Turner said. “I wanted what they had and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve it.”

Turner changed everything about himself and his life, including the people he spoke with, where he spent his time, and his perspective. He has now been sober for 6½ years.

After six months of sobriety, he was given a job at the facility as an overnight behavioral health technician, which he described as “the bottom of the barrel in the industry, but I was so happy to get my foot in the door.”

He worked there for nearly four years and was given opportunities to learn more about addiction treatment and recovery, all while maintaining his sobriety.

In May 2021, he opened Prevail Recovery Center, a 24-bed drug and alcohol addiction treatment organization in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, alongside people he had met in the recovery center. Today, he serves as the organization’s director of client services.

“My partners and I, we’re all in recovery,” he said. “The goal has always been to save as many addicts as we can because we’ve been there and we know there’s another way of life.”

The organization plans to open another location in New Jersey next year and will then turn its attention to adding a branch in Bangor. Turner said he knows there’s a need for more addiction treatment in Bangor and many existing options have long waitlists. Realizing that plan will likely be more difficult for Turner, he said, because of his felony record.

“I’m still able to do my job and be a partner in the organization, but my criminal record makes it a lot more difficult,” he said. “I know I can make a difference, but with my record, it’s a process and I have to jump through hoops.”

Aside from his professional endeavors, Turner said his felony has made it difficult to find housing and move out of his unsafe Hollywood, Florida, neighborhood. He said he was looking into buying a house in Florida, but once the homeowners’ association learned of his record, he was no longer considered a candidate for the property.

“Where I live, gunshots in my neighborhood are a regular thing,” he said. “I can deal with it, but do I want my future wife and kids living in an area like that? Of course not. I want to have a family of my own. I’m 32 and have worked hard to change everything about my life for the better but I can’t live in a nice place. On paper, I’m still a criminal.”

In the past year, Turner said he applied for a pardon from Gov. Janet Mills, which would expunge his felony record but hasn’t heard back.

Turner isn’t scheduled for the Maine Department of Corrections’ next pardon hearing in October, according to Susan Gagnon, the department’s director of adult community corrections.

“At 32 years old, is he going to pay for something stupid he did at 18 for the rest of his life?” Ralph Turner said. “He’s a productive member of society, but that just won’t let him go. It haunts him all the time.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...