Kassie Vesely finds strength to overcome meth-affected past
Her clarity came while awaiting a sentence that could send her to prison until she was 36. She was just 20 then, in 2006, and that was a terrifying thought.
“I knew I wanted to be clean, because I was clean,” Kassandra “Kassie” (Dilldine) Vesely said. “But I think it really hit me that I had to change absolutely everything about my life, even the people I was hanging out with.”
Kassie had been on probation for two previous methamphetamine possession and attempted distribution of meth convictions and was now facing a third — meth distribution — for sharing a drug dealer’s phone number. She’d been clean a year when she was arrested in December 2006.
But that didn’t matter now. She was learning a hard lesson.
“You just can’t be around (meth) when you’re recovering from it, and even afterwards,” she said.
She was spared prison, sentenced instead to 16 years of community corrections, known locally as Correctional Alternative Placement Services or CAPS. Since, she’s attended the mandatory meetings, submitted to the regular blood and urine analyses, abided by the 10 p.m. curfew and followed the requirements of her sentence strictly.
“If everyone would take their sentencing as seriously as Kassie did… there would be a better success rate,” her father, Matthew Dilldine, said.
That perseverance paid off July 14 when 14th Judicial District Judge Shelley Hill granted Kassie early release from community corrections after almost eight years served.
“I vividly remember your case, I have all these years because you came this close to going to prison, this close,” Hill told Kassie in her ruling. “And I trusted you that you were going to come around, and you have. And this is what the criminal justice system wants to see in every single case. I admire you. I admire you for what you have done, and you should be very proud of yourself, of your family, of your friends. And I grant petition. Go out there and continue to do well.”
Building a new life
As Kassie learned her future earlier this summer, a courtroom filled with about 40 of her family and friends erupted into tears and cheers. Kassie said the events of the day were “surreal” and a blur. She wonders if she told Hill what she had really wanted to.
“That’s the main thing that I wanted the judge to know,” Kassie said. “I’m not getting out so that I can have my first drink, not so I can smoke marijuana now that it’s legal. It’s so that I can go on vacation with my family, so that I can have a checking account, so that I don’t have a 10 o’clock curfew.”
Through her time in CAPS, working two jobs, making regular check-ins and staying clean, Kassie built a life.
She met Eli Vesely, her now husband of nearly six years, while attending mandatory self-improvement classes. Eli himself had a troubled past involving drug use since the age of 15. The two found a way to lift each other up.
“I didn’t want to live that life anymore. I didn’t like being in trouble,” Kassie said. “And I met somebody who was sober and helped me be sober.”
She and Eli welcomed their sons, Ryan, 5, and Zachariah, 2, as Kassie grew a business with her family. Kassie, her mother, Kandee Dilldine, and grandmother, Sandy Mansfield, own KS Kreations Craft Store and Bakery in downtown Craig.
“I spent the better part of my life in the court system, and I never saw anyone try as hard as she did,” Eli said. “She deserved (early release). Good behavior and doing things right should pay off. I’m proud of her.”
The effects of Kassie’s drug addiction weren’t easy. As a mom who had previously always known where her children were and who they were with, Kandee was scared about the decisions her daughter was making at college.
“We did everything right,” Kandee said about Kassie’s upbringing. “We built her a solid foundation and she fell. But when she fell, she fell on that foundation.”
Even so, Matt and Kandee made a difficult decision. Kassie’s first arrest was the result of a call made by her parents.
“I would rather see my child in jail than dead. It was a highly emotional time for all of us and I am so glad it’s in the past,” Matt said. “There are scars that are left now… that will be there until she goes to the grave. And that sucks. But my daughter’s alive today.”
Kassie’s sisters, Erica Dilldine, 20, and Allie Dilldine, 17, remember grappling at a young age with why their older sister was behind bars and had to wait to open her Christmas presents until March.
“I think going through all this has brought us closer and made us realize that not only does it affect you, it affects everybody,” Erica said.
Both Allie and Erica agreed that witnessing the struggles Kassie endured have helped them be stronger. They choose to surround themselves with people making positive life choices and they’ve learned about decisions themselves.
“Your mistakes don’t define you,” Allie said. “(Kassie) has accomplished so much and she’s a great example for people that are in the same situation.
“And she’s like a light, someone to look to.”
‘Turn the light bulb on’
While Kassie prides herself on being a role model to her sisters, she’s unsure about advice for others who are using drugs, or their families dealing with the fallout.
“It’s hard to say how you can help somebody because you have to help yourself,” Kassie said. “You have to say, ‘This is not good for me. This is not the life I want to live.’”
For many, that sobering realization may be prompted by the threat of prison.
When 14th Judicial District Chief Judge Michael O’Hara III hands down a sentence in a drug-related case, prison is his most severe option. He may also choose among community corrections and probation, but making that call is “tricky.”
“Sentencings are hard, always,” O’Hara said. “For me, I want to be somewhat consistent and I want to be fair. Those are probably the overriding concerns. I can never figure out what it takes to actually turn the light bulb on and make a change, a life change, that sticks. I don’t know how to do that. All we can do is try.”
O’Hara wasn’t able to comment on Kassie’s case specifically. However, he said that it’s refreshing to hear about success cases because judges so rarely get to follow up with people unless they return to the courtroom.
“Every judge wants to see that person that’s standing in front of them for sentencing succeed … and be a contributing member of the community,” the chief judge said. “That’s what we all want on the day of sentencing. It doesn’t always happen.”
In Kassie’s case, O’Hara said he’s glad to see it has.
“I hope everything is great for her,” he said. “I hope that she is successful, you know, because that’s what this is about.”
A new day
Now that Kassie is enjoying the freedoms of release, she said not much has changed. She’s still being a wife, mother, friend and co-business owner. She’s still active at St. Michael Catholic Church and its community soup kitchen. She’s still playing recreational league softball and volleyball and she’s still volunteering with hosting downtown events.
For her, the main benefit is the ability to enjoy everyday life with her family, like going on spontaneous camping trips and traveling out of state to see sites she’s only dreamed of. Kassie’s looking forward to things many take for granted.
“I will be able to do the things that I want to do with my family,” she said. “I’m still going to live a sober life, and I’m not going to have someone breathing down my neck telling me what I can and can’t do.”
O’Hara said Kassie is an example of what “makes you want to come back to work the next day.” While he acknowledges that a will to change has to come from within the people he sees in his courtroom, he hopes that his role in their stories has some positive effect.
“I do recognize that a lot of times we have a good person that made a bad decision. And there’s a consequence for that in our system,” O’Hara said. “But I hope, we always hope, that people are going to be able to put that experience behind them and close the door on that lifestyle and move on to a different lifestyle. And it sounds like she did.”
Editor’s note: Michelle (Perry) Balleck is a former Craig Daily Press writer, photographer and editor. She wrote this piece as a guest reporter as a follow-up to a story about Kassie she helped to cover nearly a decade ago.
Sharing thanks, enjoying some laughs, and shedding a few tears are an indicator of the emotional levels that always seem to come with Moffat County High School graduation.