Patience. Persistence. The ability to talk to people, keep appointments and plan ahead.
These are skills that can help anyone succeed in almost any aspect of their life.
These are also the skills developed by people who participate in the Drug Rehabilitation Court program.
Six men graduated from the drug court last week, when Magistrate Valdis Foldats summarized the work each one had done. He saluted them for what they had accomplished: a minimum of six months of sobriety, steady employment and stable housing.
These were achieved with the help of the drug court team – counselors, legal advisers and other professionals – but the hardest work was by the graduates themselves. It took one man more than two years to meet the criteria to graduate; the shortest time to complete the process was nine months.
Along the way, they complied with court requirements or accepted sanctions for non-compliance. Mr. Foldats, as master of ceremonies and featured speaker, cited examples of what the men had learned.
Just coming to court was a learning experience, he pointed out. They were expected to present themselves at 2 p.m., but the drug court team had to complete their pre-court meeting, so sometimes participants had to wait. “That’s a life skill,” Mr. Foldats pointed out, “learning patience, dealing with anxiety.”
Apart from court, they had to attend counseling sessions, some of them one-on-one, some of them in small groups. “That’s a new skill – talking to strangers,” he said.
At a certain stage, participants are given the responsibility of phoning the drug court coordinator three times per week to see if they have to come in for a random drug test. That means getting access to a phone, having credit on the phone, making the call in the designated time frame and then, if required, finding transportation or hitching a ride to get to court. All of this requires organization, Mr. Foldats noted.
If coming to court means leaving the job, “You have to tell the boss. That’s a big step. It’s a credit to your maturity,” he said.
Participation in drug court began with accepting responsibility for one’s actions by pleading guilty to whatever offense brought them to court in the first place. Any failure to comply with court directives did not necessarily mean dismissal from the program, but it did have a consequence – having to do community service, spend a few days in custody or write an essay.
One man who was having difficulties was required to write a three-page essay on “Taking responsibility for my recovery.” He used it as an opportunity to evaluate his life, and completed the program with no further sanctions.
Another man came to the court with 100 convictions and he was not yet 40 years old. None of the convictions were for violence, which would have prohibited him from joining. He had received every type of sentence, from custody to community service to fines and good behavior bonds. “We knew him too well,” Mr. Foldats commented.
But the legal adviser who assessed the man, Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson, reported, “I believe he should be given another opportunity to achieve total sobriety.” The man ended up spending a Christmas and New Year in jail and had difficulty complying.
“He wanted his route to success to be his way, but then he accepted it had to be our way,” Mr. Foldats said in reference to the drug court team. Another participant got off to a rough start, Mr. Foldats said in reviewing another case file. This person was aggressive, sarcastic and hissed through his teeth. But the professionals on the drug court team knew how to handle such attitudes: “They were willing to take abuse to see if they could help.” Their patience and his overcoming of adversity resulted in new behavior as the man showed himself to be “personable, calm and having a sense of humor.”
The magistrate ended his remarks by quoting from the self-reports of the graduates themselves.
“The cobwebs are cleared. I’m feeling like a person again,” one man said.
“I have rebuilt relationships with my family,” shared another.
“The community looks at me differently,” a third man said.
A fourth man attributed his success to the structure of the drug court and halfway house as he celebrated “one continuous year of being clean” – a first in his adult life.
“This is the hardest I have ever tried at anything in my life, and it feels good,” another graduate reported.
As to the man who started out so rudely, he admitted, “I have attended meetings when I didn’t want to, and it helped.”
Mr. Foldats said it was wonderful to see these men smiling, laughing and enjoying life, as he gave his final assessment. “You didn’t change your character,” he told them. “You just found the person you really are.”