Latest ceremony brings total Drug Rehabilitation Court graduates to 93
Six people took different paths through the Drug Rehabilitation Court process, but all arrived at their final goals that included a minimum of six months’ sobriety – no slipups, no back steps, just staying totally clean of any illegal substances.
Their achievements, which also included employment and stable housing, were applauded at a recent graduation ceremony held before a session of the drug rehab court. They had been participants in the program for at least 15 months: attending court regularly, going to group sessions and individual counseling, reporting for random testing and obeying directives of the presiding magistrate and drug court team of counselors and social workers.
Magistrate Valdis Foldats presided over the ceremony on Oct. 29 and shared highlights of the graduates’ journeys, noting that each had taken a different path through the phases of the program. To an audience that included graduates’ relatives and current drug court participants, the magistrate read excerpts from the individuals’ files and underscored just how hard everyone had worked.
One man may hold a record of sorts. It took him two years and three months to complete the program. “The drug court team could have given up on him many times, but we had a belief that his efforts were genuine,” Mr. Foldats said in a subsequent interview.
The man had received every sanction available – from custody to a period of reporting for daily drug testing. He was asked to assess what he had accomplished. Now 26, he said he had met his goals of “being honest to people and myself, learning to accept responsibility and avoiding negative people and places.”
The lone woman in the graduating group had at one stage asked for an electronic monitor because she realized she needed boundaries, Mr. Foldats said. At one point she was holding down three jobs, thus having little time for antisocial activity. Her work ethic made her “employee of the month” twice.
An assessment of her progress said she had adjusted her mind set to “taking a series of small steps instead of one giant step.”
One man who had been unemployed, homeless and living on the beach, reached his goals after a lengthy stay at Caribbean Haven Residential Centre and a spiritual commitment. “I have surrendered myself to the Lord and I won’t turn back for nothing in this world,” he said. “I feel lucky that I’ve seen what drugs do to people and to me. I feel lucky I could go to Caribbean Haven and change my life for good.”
Along with meeting the program’s criteria for graduation, he met some personal goals: “I gained respect from my family, friends and boss, and I’ve gained my self-respect, too.”
The youngest person in the graduation class was a new father. He would come to drug court exhausted because he had worked the night shift and then cared for the baby during the day while his partner was at her job, Mr. Foldats said.
One of this man’s sanctions was having to write an essay about being tardy. He included a helpful hint – keeping his appointment cards on the bathroom mirror so he would see them every day.
Another man substituted exercise for drugs. He took up running and swimming to keep physically fit. A special outcome for him was that “sobriety has helped me to successfully maintain a long-term relationship with my girlfriend.”
The sixth graduate inspired Mr. Foldats to quote U.S. president Barack Obama: “Awareness without action changes nothing.”
At age 53, when many people are set in their ways, this graduate had developed from being compulsive to exercising patience and tolerance. He willed to shift his thinking and be more open to feedback from the group and suggestions from the team. He believed he could change and acted on that belief by altering his behavior. One of post-graduation goals was “to remain teachable.”
Mr. Foldats said it was a credit to all six graduates that they were aware and they all acted on that awareness.
Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn, who presides at some drug court sessions, presented them with trophies as a reminder of their success. They were encouraged to maintain ties with members of the drug court team and consider them a continuing resource.
The Drug Rehabilitation Court held its first graduation ceremony in March 2009 – 18 months after its official start, following the passage of necessary legislation. Court officer Katrina Watler reported that 79 men and 14 women have completed the program since then. Of the 93 graduates, 24 have re-offended, but the categories of any new charges were not known – whether drug-related or something else. Of the re-offenders, three repeated the program; they were not counted as new graduates.
The drug court program currently has 37 participants.
Over the years, numerous defendants have applied to the drug court and have been rejected because the program will not admit anyone with a conviction for violence. Others began the program but asked to leave it because they could not take the strict regimen. Still others have been expelled for repeated non-compliance with rules. In all such cases, defendants are returned to the criminal court for disposal of their matters.