It’s been quite a road for Amber Portwood. Just a few years ago, the 24-year-old Teen Mom star was caught up in a vicious cycle of popping prescription painkillers, flying off in fits of rage—often culminating in physical assaults on ex-boyfriend and baby daddy Gary Shirley—and sneaking drugs into her court-ordered rehab stints.
In 2012, she finally turned a corner when she opted out of drug court in exchange for a five-year prison term. “It was the most terrifying day of my life, but I had to do something,” she tells OK! “I didn’t have any other options—it was prison or death.”
Last November, after serving 17 months, Amber was released early on good behavior and has spent the past year turning her life around. Finally sober, she’s written a book about her struggle, Never Too Late. She’s on good terms with Gary, 27, and has found a renewed sense of purpose in co-parenting her daughter; her new house, in suburban Indiana, includes a “princess room” for Leah, 5.
Amber, who recently signed on for next year’s installment of MTV’s Teen Mom, talked to OK! about making the most of her second chance:
OK! Magazine: You opted to go to prison, knowing you wouldn’t see your daughter for years. What drove you to that?
Amber Portwood: I’d already done rehab, and nothing was working. When you’re walking to your drug test with Fentanyl patches in your mouth, you know you have a problem. There was nothing left, and I didn’t want to die—I wanted to be there for my child.
OK!: What is your day-to-day life like now?
AP: I’m in school, and I want to study sociology—I think it will help me understand people better. In the future I want to open a rehab [facility]. I know it’ll take a while, but I hope by the age of 30, I’ll have it underway.
OK!: Is Leah a motivation to stay sober?
AP: She is, 100 percent. She was the driving force for me to get out [of prison], so why would I want to mess that up?
OK!: You and Gary once had trouble being in the same room. How’s your relationship now?
AP: It’s good; not like it was, with screaming and cussing. We have difficult times, but we get over it, and we don’t do it in front of Leah. It’s not the greatest, because he’s still my ex—but it’s not drama all the time.
OK!: Are you trying to get joint custody, or are you happy with Gary having primary custody?
AP: For now, everything is working, so I’m not messing with it. I can call Gary and say, “Hey, I want to pick up Leah.” It’s freer [than a legal agreement]—and I get to see her more.
OK!: You’ve gotten lots of Internet criticism. How do you handle it?
AP: It’s weird to still see some of the hate. Putting myself in prison was terrifying—obviously I tried to change for the better, so what are people not getting? But you realize they’re just immature and ignorant, and you have to ignore it and move forward. A lot of my fans are nonjudgmental, beautiful souls. I’m really happy with who I am today, and that’s what matters.
OK!: Why did you decide to write a book?
AP: I was offered a book deal when I was 21, but I never did anything about it. There was no purpose back then. But when I got out of prison, I was like, “I really have a story to tell—and if I want to help people, this is a great way to reach out.” I can show people that they can change.
Do you think Amber has changed for the better? Will you buy her book and watch her on Teen Mom? Share in the comments or tweet us @OKMagazine.