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by Jim Price

GDB graduate Alice Goetschius and her Guide Dog PanamaShe was practically giddy with happiness. She had recently graduated from college in political science and had finally married her long-time boyfriend. They had their own home, a houseful of beloved pets, and a great future.

Just months later, she was in jail, addicted to methamphetamines. Her marriage was over, her dreams shattered. And as if that weren’t bad enough, one morning she woke to the harsh realities of being behind bars and also discovering that overnight she had lost all vision in one eye. Within months the other eye was also useless. A lifestyle of uncontrolled diabetes coupled with poor choices had finally come crashing down.

Krystal White, 31 of Boise, had hit bottom. And soon she discovered that for her, the only way back was through the love of her family and taking her journey one day at a time.

She has come a long way since that bleak time, even though it has been just a bit more than three years since the police raid that marked the end of life as she knew it. “The worst part of all,” she said, her voice cracking and tears leaking from her blue eyes, “was losing the trust of my family. That crushed me.” She took a minute to calm herself, then continued telling of her parents and sister. “So we made a deal. I would turn my life around and they would come every weekend to visit me in jail.”

White was relaxing recently between sessions at the Gresham Lounge of Guide Dogs for the Blind. The building, just a few miles from the company’s Boring, Ore., campus, offers students a cozy resting place between training walks with their Guide Dogs. As she talked, her new partner, yellow Lab Dharma, slept comfortably at her side.

White’s journey from a Boise jail to downtown Gresham was long and difficult. Following four months of jail time, she spent seven months attending various classes for the blind and visually impaired. She learned how to use a cane and many other life skills, and also met a lot of people willing to help her. She fondly recalls watching her vocational rehab instructor interact with the woman’s new guide dog. “They had such camaraderie and worked so well together. I’m an animal lover anyway, and I knew that’s what I wanted,” she said.

Guides Dogs for the Blind won’t take felons who are on active supervised probation, however, so White had her work cut out for her. The judge had ordered rehab programs and community service, in addition to the jail time, fines, and seven years supervised probation. White completed all the prescribed programs, paid her fines and did hundreds of hours of community service, mostly with the Treasure Valley Chapter of the Federation of the Blind, of which she is now a board member. Finally she asked to go back to court.

The judge studied the reports showing she had completed everything and asked her about her hopes to apply to Guide Dogs for the Blind, and then wished her good luck as she suspended the “with supervision” portion of White’s probation order. “I’m really thankful to her for everything she made me do,” said White. “It has all helped me grow, and I’ve been sober now for more than three years.”

She’s also thankful to Guide Dogs for the Blind. “They have been so supportive and helpful. It’s been hard but we made it. Now I’m here. I’m excited. And I can already tell that Dharma and I are going to be a great team. She is so loving. Every morning when I wake up, there she is with her head on the bed watching me, ready to go to work. It’s only been a little over a week but already she has given me back my freedom.”