STUART, Florida — Brianna Byrnes knew she needed help, but she didn’t know where to start. Her decade-old heroin addiction had destroyed her relationships and her life.
It was August 28, 2015. Byrnes and her mom spent the day calling detox centers around Florida and were coming up with no answers. They called dozens of rehab centers, Byrnes estimates, but without insurance, weren’t able to find placement.
They felt like they were running out of options. Byrnes’ mother went to church that day and prayed. She and other church members prayed Byrnes would find the help she needed.
Hours later, Byrnes was driving home. It was around midnight when an officer pulled up behind her white Jeep in Stuart, Florida.
Byrnes switched lanes, hoping the officer would pass her. He didn’t.
Detective Justin Albauer with the Martin County Sheriff’s Department pulled Byrnes over after she was swerving back and forth between lanes on Kanner Highway.
Albauer noticed Byrnes was nervous when he approached the car. After a few minutes, she told him why.
“She told me she had two bags of heroin in the car and that it was to prevent her from getting sick overnight,” Albauer said. Byrnes told Albauer she wanted to begin rehab and was looking for a detox facility.
“I never had it where someone is open and says, ‘I have narcotics in the car.'” Albauer said. “That’s what struck out as different for me. She wanted help … I don’t judge anybody. The job is not personal. We are here to help,” Albauer said.
Albauer spoke to Byrnes’ mom that night. She told him the same story; they had been trying to get into a rehab center all day. Her daughter was ready to get clean.
But before she could go to rehab, she’d be spending time in the Martin County Jail on felony charges for possession of heroin.
“Before she went to her cell, I let her know that she could call me if she needed to and that I wished her the best of luck and I hope she got clean,” Albauer recalled.
The call they’d been waiting for
Shortly after the arrest, Byrnes’ mother got the phone call they had been waiting for. A treatment center would be able to place Byrnes and get her the help she needed. She began her 46 days of detox and rehab when she got out of jail.
While she was in rehab, Byrnes’ mother sent Albauer a handwritten letter thanking him for the dignity that he showed in dealing with her daughter’s arrest.
She explained the hopelessness she felt on August 28:
“Just that afternoon, members of our church gathered and prayed! We prayed and asked God to just get done and do whatever it took. Officer Albauer, He sent you to get it done. I didn’t realize He would answer our prayer so soon. I also didn’t expect or plan on Brianna going to jail — but it is God’s plan — not ours!”
An unexpected reunion
Albauer continued his busy daily routine in the K-9 unit. A year after her arrest, Byrnes called the sheriff’s department looking to reconnect with Albauer. She wanted to thank him for changing her life, and she had her own letter to share with him.
“She explained that she has been clean and she wanted to meet with me,” Albauer said. “I didn’t know what to think. I’ve never been called to say, ‘I want to give you this letter of appreciation, I feel like you saved my life.’ That’s never happened in any arrest I’ve made. I didn’t know what to think.”
They met this month. Albauer said she was nearly unrecognizable from a year ago.
“If you see the booking photo versus how she looks today. She looks healthy and happy. Bright smile, and bright eyes. Just a night and day difference.”
In Byrnes’ letter to Albauer, she thanked him for the impact he had on her.
“Words cannot express how thankful I am for you. Ever since that night you made me realize I have a great purpose here in life. This past year has been the most amazing year of my life. You gave me a second chance at life! I have realized that I have so much to offer this world. So many goals I want to accomplish and so many people I want to help with this disease.”
She’s already seeing those results as her story resonates on social media.
“I’ve had people reach out to me from different states and everything has just been positive. And it brings a light. Because addicts aren’t bad people, we just go through a bad time,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes will begin working with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office to share her story with other drug offenders in the hopes they can rebound in the same way she did.
Albauer takes little credit for Byrnes’ recovery.
“All the effort was on her. She had to make the decision. She had to go through everything that she had to go through to get clean, to detox, and to remain clean. That’s on her. I’m happy that she thinks I played a small part in that, but really think that it’s all her.”
Byrnes sees it differently.
“He’s an angel. Everything happens for a reason. And he was truly put in my life for a reason. So, I’m forever grateful.”