Rebuilding a life

Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

Karen Edmonson was a drug abuser by age 11, a high school dropout by 10th grade and a convicted drug dealer by 21. Even after a year in prison, she relapsed into drinking and cocaine and was weighing whether to start dealing again.

Twenty years later, Edmonson, 49, of Roseville, Minn., has a master’s degree, a successful business and her health _ a phenomenal life, she said, especially considering that even when drug abusers get clean, they often lead marginal lives.

This week, she was celebrating after President Bush tacked on one more achievement, granting Edmonson a pardon and officially forgiving her crime 28 years ago. It was one of only 82 pardons and commuted sentences Bush has awarded.

Edmonson has spent the past 20 years working on social issues, particularly addiction.

"I felt like I had taken what was really an insane lifestyle, the bottom of life itself … and made a decision that I wasn’t going to be in a revolving door in and out of that system for the rest of my life," she said.

Pardons, a constitutional prerogative of the president, have been rare in Bush’s five-plus years. Since 1900, only his father, President George H.W. Bush, who served one term, has pardoned fewer people _ 77. President Bill Clinton pardoned 178 in his first seven years and 218 in his final year.

Edmonson said she applied for the pardon in 2001 knowing the odds were slim. She said she only wanted to be recognized as an asset to society. In 2003, she interviewed with the FBI, which also talked to her co-workers and neighbors. The pardon was issued Tuesday.

She said she is a Bush supporter but is also "militantly" supportive of abortion rights and hasn’t contributed to his campaigns.

White House spokesman Alex Conant said Edmonson "has repaid her debt to society by becoming an active citizen and making positive contributions to her community."

Edmonson said she started with alcohol and marijuana at 11 when she was living in New York and soon drifted into Quaaludes, barbiturates, LSD, heroine, methadone and, eventually, methamphetamine. "I’d always do whatever anybody had," she said.

She moved to Minnesota when she was 16, and in the late 1970s, she was caught dealing meth in St. Paul. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1978. She served a year and got clean after her release, but it didn’t last, she said, because she was still hanging out at the bars and pool halls. Drinking soon turned into cocaine.

"When I started thinking about dealing, I thought, ‘That’s it, man, you’re going to lock-up,’ " she said.

She has been clean for 20 years, has a master’s degree and is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and alcohol and drug counselor. She ran a program at the University of Minnesota focused on people with multiple addictions in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has traveled around the country giving speeches and selling treatment manuals.

She and her husband, Norm Skog, a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for 21 years, run a business called Amedco, which helps people get the medical and mental health classes they teach accredited. She has also been active in Narcotics Anonymous.

Skog, who has been married to Edmonson for 15 years, said the pardon is an appropriate reward for a "remarkable" person who has touched many lives: "It truly is recognition of how she’s been living her life."

Edmonson said that anybody can get clean, and that her experience has taught her not to rule out beating even the tallest odds: "Really, there’s not much that could happen for me, other than if I won like the Powerball or something."




(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,