Mother's Sad Descent From Drug Counselor To Overdose Victim
When they found out she would be buried at 10 a.m., April Carpri's friends quickly made a memorial to place at the head of her grave.
A basic black frame contained a wallet-sized photo of the former social worker surrounded by tributes to her counseling skills. The three women at the gravesite all worked with Carpri at the Shelby County Treatment Center, a clinic that specializes in treating people addicted to opioids. The memorial cited her warmth, humor and even her diligence with patient charts.
The picture brought smiles to the faces of her former coworkers. They vanished when a cemetery worker gently told them that no markers could be placed at the Jefferson County Cemetery - a pauper's graveyard where plots are marked with numbers instead of names.
Her former boss, Susan Staats-Combs, hesitated with the picture and then threw it into the hole, where it landed on top of the casket. Nearly a month later, Carpri's friend and former colleague still remembered the clap of the frame against the wood.
"That thud," Jenny Thomas said. "It still makes me want to vomit."
Her friends have struggled to comprehend how Carpri ended up in an anonymous grave. As recently as four years ago, the University of Alabama graduate had a professional job, a house in the suburbs, a husband and a child. She lost it all to heroin - a substance she helped so many to quit.
Carpri is one of more than 150 people who have died this year in Jefferson County from drug overdoses, according to Deputy Coroner Bill Yates. Most died from heroin or fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.
Carpri worked at the Shelby County Treatment Center from 2011 to 2013 and spent much of her time counseling heroin addicts. She came to the center from the Shelby County Department of Human Resources, where she worked on cases of child abuse and neglect.
Carpri met Janee Dickinson at Shelby County Department of Human Resources. Both women started at about the same time and immediately hit it off. Carpri made waves in the office with her unusual style, Dickinson said. She sometimes appeared in court in brightly colored, shimmery dresses and stood out among her colleagues.
"She looked very punk rock," Dickinson said. "She had this flaming red hair. She had lots and lots of tattoos. That's not so typical for a social worker at the DHR."
The pair developed a quick rapport. After several exhausting years at the agency, they even quit on the same day.
Carpri soon found a job at the Shelby County Treatment Center and Dickinson followed her there. Carpri had no experience in substance abuse treatment, but took to the new job.
"She was an amazing social worker," Thomas said. "Patients were very comfortable with her. She was very approachable."
In early 2013, she and her husband bought a home and Carpri seemed happy, Dickinson said.
"She was moving into this wonderful home," Dickinson said. "She had a job that she loved. Her husband was working at Mercedes and she'd gotten her daughter into the Mercedes daycare. It was really great."
Her problems started later that year, when Carpri began seeing a man with a substance abuse disorder. The relationship quickly consumed her, her friends said. Dickinson urged her to end the relationship, but Carpri refused and the two friends didn't speak for months.
When Carpri got back in touch, she had news. Her new boyfriend had relapsed and was using drugs again, and Carpri began using too.
Dickinson was drinking a margarita at a Mexican restaurant when she took the call.
"I just started crying," Dickinson said. "And I begged her to come home to me."
By the time Carpri called, she was already shooting heroin. Her friends, who worked to save people from addiction, soon found they couldn't do much for her.
"It was the fastest I've ever seen anyone get addicted to something," Dickinson said. "She went from I've smoked marijuana a few times to IV drug use within months."
Carpri's life collapsed. She left her husband and lost custody of her daughter. Police arrested her for theft, drug possession and public intoxication. The relationship with her boyfriend eventually fell apart, Dickinson said. Her friends remained in touch, offering to help, but helpless to do much of anything.
"It's hard being on the outside," Thomas said. "It's actually horrifying to be on the outside. Because you are literally watching someone die in front of you and you can't do anything. The train's coming, they are tied to the tracks and you can't do anything. It doesn't matter how loud you scream, or how hard you push or beg or bargain."
An overdose scared Carpri into seeking treatment. At one point, she asked Dickinson for help seeking one of the state's scarce detox beds.
"[Dickinson] moved heaven and earth to get her a bed," Thomas said. "What she did was impossible. And within 36 hours she was gone."
The speed of Carpri's descent shocked almost everyone. A series of mugshots show her decline. Her porcelain skin puffed out and sagged. An attack before her final arrest left one purple eye swollen and almost shut. Dickinson and Carpri went to UAB to obtain Narcan, a lifesaving drug that can reverse overdoses. Dickinson still has the dose in her car.
"It was not about losing hope," Dickinson said. "It was about me accepting that she was going to die."
Even Carpri told her friends they would probably have to arrange her funeral.
"We knew she was going to die," Thomas said. "She was going too hard, too fast, too long. I just knew this wasn't going to last long for her."
She died on July 31 from a toxic combination of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol. First responders found fresh track marks and a needle in her arm.
"The police are well acquainted with the decedent and know her to be a local drug addict," according to her autopsy report.
They didn't know her as a social worker or drug counselor. But her friends still remember her that way. In sessions, Thomas now uses her story to show her clients just how low drugs can take them - all the way down to an unmarked grave in a pauper's cemetery.
The circumstances of her death and burial horrified her friends, but for at least one moment, Thomas said she found some peace at her former colleague's passing. She and Dickinson met by the graveside before anyone else arrived, on a hill overlooking a vast field.
"We looked at each other and [Dickinson] said,' it's almost exactly as it should be,'" Thomas said. "We are the two people who unconditionally loved her. In trying to make sense of that whole situation, it was almost a flicker, somehow, of beauty. That at the end of the day, at a nameless grave, we still stand there."
Date Posted: Monday, September 18th, 2017 , Total Page Views: 1448