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Ronnie Thomas

Micheal Bell joined Decatur Work Release after serving in prison for possession charges. He is an employee for the town of Priceville.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Micheal Bell joined Decatur Work Release after serving in prison for possession charges. He is an employee for the town of Priceville.

'Taking a chance' on employee pays off

PRICEVILLE — When Micheal Bell was a child, his father, a Baptist preacher, shuttled the family around Mississippi, from Bell's birthplace in Wiggins, and finally to Tupelo.

Magnolia State travels with Glennis and Virgene Bell instilled wanderlust in their son. For 20 years, he drove 18-wheelers coast to coast. But his most important ride was a leisurely trip in a pickup in 1998 that led him to a life-changing experience.

He was passing through Trinity on his way to Nashville, when a state trooper stopped him for speeding and found an ounce of crystal meth on the passenger seat.

"I bonded out of the Morgan County Jail, went back to Mississippi and continued to sell drugs," said Bell, now 51. "I made a lot of money doing it. But while I was in prison, I lost all my physical things."

This is Bell's odyssey that started as "a boy raised right, who knew how to act, then lost my way."

He and some fellow drivers began taking pills to stay awake, but it reached a point where the drugs weren't as accessible.

"We started getting what was called crank. They call it crystal meth today," he said. "I got to where I was using it a lot, and it had control of me. Then I began to sell drugs to support my habit. I found I could make more money selling drugs than driving."

He also ran a truck shop where people came to pick up the meth and sell it for him.

"I pretty much had a network," he said. "Police arrested me twice — once for possession of drugs and another time for possession with intent to sell. I got probation out of one charge and they dropped the other."

Then came the stop at Trinity and, in October 2000, a final settlement in a Decatur courtroom.

"I was sentenced to 10 years and got a two-year split, meaning I'd serve two years and five years probation," he said. "While I was in prison, I was on probation, too. If I mess up, I go back and do the whole 10 years."

He began his sentence at the county jail, and in December 2000, he and other inmates began working for Chip Spicer, Priceville's building inspector and maintenance supervisor. Three months later, he transferred to Montgomery Work Release, where he went through a substance abuse program.

"In September 2001, I came to Decatur Work Release and called Chip," Bell said. "The jail was closed because of asbestos, and he wasn't getting any
inmate help. He got permission for me to work in maintenance and anything else the town needed done. That was public service work, and I did it without pay until my sentence ended in October 2002."

Spicer recalls Bell "having a great attitude, and it was evident that drugs were not his mainstay in life anymore. The Lord was. I went to the mayor and council and recommended him as a full-time employee. The town hired him Nov. 1, 2002. He is a wastewater operator and also does building inspections. We share the work."

Bell is indebted to Priceville "for taking a chance on me and to Chip for being not only my boss, but my friend.

"I started going to Somerville Baptist Church with him and his family. That's where God saved me on Sept. 16, 2003."

He said he no longer has a desire to use drugs or to sell them, and that his desire is "to serve God. All the good things that have happened in my life are a result of what he has done, and nothing that I've done."

Bell works with Reformers Unanimous at the church for people with any kind of addiction.

"I feel this is what God wants me to do," he said. "He wants me to reach out to others who are like I was."

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Ronnie Thomas
Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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