Unwitting DUI Star Turns Her Life Around

By Will Godfrey 06/28/12

Chantel, the former meth-dealer featured on tonight's season opener of TLC's DUI, shares her remarkable recovery with The Fix.

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Chantel in court—and under the influence.

When Oklahoma cops pulled over a 22-year-old mom called Chantel earlier this year, and arrested her—on camera—for driving a car loaded with meth, she had no idea how her life would change. Tonight she hits our screens on the season premiere of the popular TLC show, DUI. The Fix catches up with the newly-sober reality star-to-be as she relaxes by the poolside with her one-year-old son.

Her drug use began early. "My mom was a drug addict, living a really rough life," she says. "I started with crystal, then alcohol, marijuana..." In fact, it was her mother who first gave her meth at the age of 11—although Chantel doesn't now blame a fellow addict who "didn't know what she was doing." Over the next decade she was a heavy drinker and drug-user, and began selling crystal meth for a living. Her eventual arrest found her "a little bit emotionless, I mean, I already knew what road I was going down." Charged with two felonies as well as a DUI, Chantel continued blotting out reality: when she made her first court appearance in Tulsa—hours late—the judge pronounced, "You appear to be stoned... Who's going to take care of your baby when I put you in jail today?" Sure enough, four different illegal drugs were found in Chantel's system. "Like every addict," she tells us wryly, "I thought I could manage the situation."

After several days in jail, she pleaded guilty and received a four-year deferred sentence—and the chance to live in transitional sober housing with her son. She's been clean and sober since March 17. She describes her five-woman household as "like a sorority for drug addicts," and appreciates the routine and support systems in place. A regular at AA and NA meetings, she prefers the former: "A lot of the time in NA we talk about addiction and the hard times; I like to go to my AA meetings where we talk more about our recovery." She's also had the chance to pick up new life skills, all of which makes her see her arrest as—"Most definitely!"—a good thing.

Chantel seems relaxed at the prospect of her arrest being played out in living rooms across the nation. She'd never have agreed, she says, but DUI's producers asked her, "If you could change one life, would you do it?" She firmly believes that tonight's episode could have this kind of impact: "I want to get my story out there, let people see the reality. It really could help change somebody." And while she's "excited" about a planned future that involves going back to school, for now she's just enjoying "a lot more time" with her son.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.