Penny Sue Wood-Rusterholz, of Pekin, IL, recently died at 55-years-old from cancer. It is not her name that is best known by people but her photos. She was the face of methamphetamine addiction featured on posters and billboards both in the United States and abroad.

Wood-Rusterholz did her part to try helping people who face addiction. She allowed her two mugshots to be used and placed side-by-side on posters visually depicting the aesthetic effects of methamphetamine addiction from 1998 to 2002.

Novel approach after meth arrest leads to mugshot posters and billboards worldwide

Following her 2002 methamphetamine-related arrest, Stewart Umholtz, Tazewell County State’s Attorney, thought of a different approach in her case. She was facing the possibility of 30 years in prison. Instead of prison, Umholtz presented her with the option of permitting her images to be used for anti-meth posters in exchange for probation, as long as she abided by a strict no-drugs agreement

In her 1998, mugshot, Wood-Rusterholz appeared healthy yet somewhat hardened at 36-years-old. Her 2002 mugshot, however, shows her disheveled, gaunt and sporting tooth decay. The target audience, seeing the posters, were people visiting drug clinics, seated in schools, and trekking in probation offices.

Umholtz did not come up with the poster idea to “punish Penny,” he said. He thought they could help try “to save lives,” according to Wood-Rusterholz’s hometown newspaper, the Pekin Daily Times.

Initial regret of giving consent to use meth mugshots

While the poster did not bear her name, it wasn’t long before people in her region recognized she was the mugshot model.

Once the poster was transferred to billboards in England, news media descended on her hometown to interview her. Wood-Rusterholz expressed regret over the agreement she made with Umholtz.

She said that she had become an embarrassment to her family, she could not find work, and that she was the “butt of jokes,” the Pekin Daily Times reported.

She was, then, 42-years-old and said there were days when she thought prison would have been “a lot easier.”

Her daughter, Amy Mallery, interjected perspective, telling her mother that the posters and billboards were helping, especially her grandchildren. She reminded that the visual venues were “showing how terrible meth is,” reported the Pekin Daily Times.

It was not long after having that mother-daughter conversation in 2004 that Wood-Rusterholz had an epiphany, WCOC TV noted. She was begging for a cigarette at a clinic. She went outside to the smoking area and asked God to give her a sign. If she didn’t see a sign, she told herself she was leaving, according to Mallery.

Her mother, then, spotted a billboard that read: If you’re looking for a sign from “God, here it is.”

Legacy of making unique bargain for use of meth addiction photos

After finishing treatment, Wood-Rusterholz attained a drug counseling and sociology associate’s degree. She obtained employment as a health care worker. WCOC TV reported that she was “surrounded” by love from her coworkers and in-home care residents, as well as the love of her family.

Umholtz didn’t know that the mugshots would spread worldwide, according to WCOC TV. She did know that the former meth user credited the posters and billboards for “turning her life around” so that she was able to enjoy her family life. She told him that the posters were the best thing that “ever happened” to her.

Penny Sue Wood-Rusterholz was born February 21, 1962, and died July 18, 2017. She was a mother of five, she was a grandmother of 20, and she was a great-grandmother to nine. Mallery said her mother appeared happy, relaxed and relieved.