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‘Running girl’: Former public defender hits her stride with three years’ sobriety from addiction

Nov. 20, 2022 Updated Mon., Nov. 21, 2022 at 7:43 a.m.

Sunset Hill commuters call her the running girl.

Her name is Kendra Allen-Grant, and the 37-year-old runs the route almost daily in any weather. She smiles and waves to passersby.

“I’ll be at the grocery store or at the gym, and people come up to me and say, ‘You’re the girl who runs up Sunset Hill,’ or ‘You’re the running girl,’ all the time,” Allen-Grant said. “People honk and wave.”

Her uphill climbs aren’t just about exercise. It’s more like a marathon on the road to recovery, after life collapsed for the former Spokane County public defender.

In October, Allen-Grant marked three years of sobriety following a long climb out of addiction. A longtime alcohol and drug user, her addiction escalated in 2016. She had first kicked a heroin habit, but soon turned to meth, which became her world.

She struggled after treatments in early 2017, each time returning to the drug. Her troubles spiraled out of control – more arrests, homelessness and prostitution, she said.

In June 2017, she resigned as a public defender and within weeks was facing possession charges. That fall, she flew to California in a delusional search for Lady Gaga and became homeless there for a year, when she wasn’t in jail .

She returned to Spokane around November 2018, after promising relatives she’d do treatment again. She didn’t. She was homeless here for nearly another year, and hit “rock bottom” in jail in 2019.

Once in recovery, Allen-Grant turned to running, and she kept on running after moving three years ago to Ascenda, a sober-living community along the Sunset Hill.

She first ran on a trail but gravitated to the hill for its lighting and a bike path. “I just like going uphill. It feels good, and it’s good for my mental health.”

Allen-Grant said she still feels remorse about drug use that spiralled out of control while a public defender. Hired in 2012 after graduating from Gonzaga University’s law school, it was a dream job that she did for five years, handling up to 150 cases at a time.

In retrospect, Allen-Grant described mistakenly thinking she was a “responsible, recreational user,” who kept drugs to the weekends. She now understands her issues began during her teenage years with alcohol abuse.

Raised mostly in Boulder, Colorado, until age 15, then Honolulu, she was a shy bookworm in middle school. By high school, “I was a blackout drinker,” and struggled with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder diagnosed during treatment. Today, she goes to therapy and sees a psychiatrist monthly.

As a student, Allen-Grant juggled studies with weekend partying but still got good grades. A counselor suggested she attend Eastern Washington University to pursue a career in criminal justice.

“I was just very committed to my education,” she said. “I pretty much knew from college I wanted to be a public defender. I could relate to people who find themselves in a position where they need a public defender. There are a lot of people with mental health issues, and drug or alcohol problems. I felt like I wanted to help.”

Andrea Crumpler, her former court partner and colleague from the public defender’s office, said Allen-Grant did make a difference for clients.

“Kendra was an amazing attorney,” said Crumpler, now with the county’s Counsel for Defense office. “She worked hard, she cared, she was a great advocate for her clients, and then things started falling apart.”

At EWU, Allen-Grant made the dean’s list, even as she partied.

“It was more of a weekend thing,” Allen-Grant said. “One time, I woke up in the men’s bathroom in the dorm buck naked in the showers and ran out, hoping no one would see me. By then, I used drugs. Pot was basically every day but the harder drugs – ecstasy, cocaine and the mushrooms – were kind of recreationally on weekends.”

She recalls at least one all-nighter studying while on cocaine. She graduated, then stayed in Spokane to be near a boyfriend and took the law school admissions test.

At GU, Allen-Grant closely read case studies and memorized 40-50 page outlines of notes.

She drank alcohol most weekends while in law school, and sometimes every night. “I partied with drugs occasionally, but not as frequently as when I was an undergrad. There was cocaine every now and then. My ex-boyfriend liked opioids, so we used to do OxyContin – smoke them and snort them – as more of a weekend thing.”

She said their weekend rule mostly applied at first while she was a public defender, until the lines blurred.

“I would end up sneaking around during the work week, getting pills, hiding them and doing it so my boyfriend wouldn’t know, because Monday would come around and I wanted more.”

The heroin started in 2016, she said, after a man who supplied her and her then-boyfriend with OxyContin lost his prescription. “I went from doing pills on the weekends to I was doing a lot of heroin for three or four months.”

She described going to a friend to get a heroin shot before work, on lunches, and after work before returning home. It became a $50 to $75 a day habit.

Her mom and friends tried intervention, and co-workers started seeing signs.

“I just remember being at a meeting with all the public defenders. I kept nodding off during the meeting. I had just done a shot of heroin. Afterward, people were asking me, ‘Are you OK?’ “

Her boyfriend then gave an ultimatum, choose him or heroin. She chose to quit, ended up hospitalized, and used medication-assisted treatment Suboxone to stop. But soon after, a friend invited her to use meth.

“Real quick on meth, I went downhill. At first, I felt like superwoman, because I could stay up all night prepping my cases. Then it got to the point where I was up a week at a time and not eating much. I totally substituted one addiction for the other.

“Meth, I loved more than heroin. I have some insecurities about my body and weight, and meth takes your appetite away. I started shedding weight, had a lot of energy, felt happy most of the time, unless I thought I was dying.”

Crumpler said during a few months in 2016, Allen-Grant started showing subtle signs such as tardiness and uncharacteristic lack of attention, but when questioned she was always quick to deny that anything was wrong. By December 2016, it was obvious, and Crumpler and another co-worker confronted Allen-Grant at a hotel where she was staying.

Allen-Grant recalled that moment. “They said, ‘We know you’re on drugs, and management knows you’re on drugs. If you want to save your job, you need to go to management and say you have a drug problem and want help.’ If I did, I could receive treatment and try to keep my job, so that’s what I did.”

She entered inpatient treatment three times, and after each time used again, she said. After the third stint, she quit her job. “I decided that I liked meth more than I liked my job. I thought it was doing more good for my life than it was causing harm. I just didn’t see it.”

Throughout, Crumpler has remained her friend and served as her main contact when she left Spokane. Allen-Grant was disbarred as an attorney while in California, said Crumpler, who filed the complaint with the Washington State Bar Association.

“I did it because I care about her,” Crumpler said. “I was confident she wasn’t able to be an attorney at that point. I did tell her.

“Even through her struggles, she wanted to do the right thing.”

Allen-Grant calmly describes the chaos her life became. On short-term disability pay and with little money left, at Thanksgiving 2017 she flew to California. She had a big crush on Lady Gaga. “I was convinced that she wrote her music about me. When I was on meth, I thought everything was about me – delusions of grandeur.”

She thought celebrities would pick her up from the airport. When no one did, she took off her clothes and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Later, she tried to climb a fence at Lady Gaga’s residence and was arrested.

“I was kind of nuts,” said Allen-Grant, who also described a suicide attempt. “I started prostituting myself for money or drugs. I was homeless. I was in jail a handful of times.”

Later in Spokane, Allen-Grant said she finally made the decision to stop. She knew the system, and with three or four felonies by 2019, she knew her next arrest would likely mean prison.

“I knew that I can’t keep myself out of trouble when I’m on meth, that I’m fighting myself,” she said. “I went from being a lawyer to a street whore. I just remember I broke down and cried for two days straight.

“Andrea is the one who helped get me into inpatient (treatment) for the fourth time, when I was actually wanting it.”

Allen-Grant entered a Spokane Valley treatment program, and later a Spokane facility of Oxford Houses of Washington State, a group of recovery houses. Moving to Ascenda, she said that community is like a family. She’s also built back relationships with friends and relatives.

It hasn’t all been smooth. Her twin sister Kyla died of COVID in 2021. On two occasions on Sunset Hill, she found meth stashes but got them disposed of, without backsliding.

She’s now considering getting a part-time job. “I hope to help other people caught up in the drug world who have maybe given up hope, that they can get their life back.

“There are a lot of great government-assistance programs that help people with mental health problems and addictions. You can get out of that if that’s something you want. You have to really want it, and a normal life.”

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