Grads here knew failure first

Family Treatment Court honors those who break addiction cycle

HUDSON–It was similar to many graduations, with proud parents and grandparents, tears and cheers, the conveying of diplomas, the recognition of achievements and a speech by an alumna.

It was different from many graduations. The attendees gathered in a courtroom, not a school. And the only one wearing anything that resembled traditional graduation garb was the judge in his black robe.

It was the Columbia County Regional and Family Treatment Court graduation in the main courtroom upstairs at the Columbia County Courthouse, November 20, with County Judge Jonathan Nichols presiding.

All five graduates, whose identities the court has asked be protected, have committed crimes, have been in jail and have abused drugs and/or alcohol.

But somewhere along the line, someone, maybe the town justice they stood before or the police officer who arrested them, saw some flicker of hope or potential within them that led to a referral to treatment court, which Judge Nichols called an alternative to serving time in jail.

Court personnel, assistant district attorneys, probation officers, public defenders, police, recovery counselors, social workers, social services personnel and advocate attorneys all participate in the treatment court team dedicated to supporting program enrollees in their journey to a clean and sober life.

They were there to witness the graduation. Judge Nichols introduced each of them and spoke about their roles in treatment court.

“We don’t just take the easy cases. We take the hard ones. We don’t turn people away just because they present a challenge,” said the judge, noting the underlying factors in some cases “go beyond substance abuse and may be driven by something else.”    

Among the people the judge introduced was Gwendolyn Gibbs, treatment coordinator, who spends her time “on the front line with participants everyday.”

The guest speaker was Sharon, a program graduate, whose drug of choice was alcohol, but she liked heroin too. She had been clean for two and a half years.

“I made bad choices, I couldn’t think for myself,” she said. “I knew they were there,” she said of treatment court personnel. “I developed a bond with them and did what they told me to do,” she said, expressing thanks for the privilege of participating.

“If I went to jail, I would have just turned harder. The more I learn, the more I know I know very little… roll with it don’t sweat the small stuff,” she advised the graduates. “Good luck and hopefully I’ll see you around.”

Brandon, a tall, lanky young man, was referred to treatment court by Stuyvesant Justice Carrie O’Hare. She was there to congratulate him on his graduation with a big hug. “I presented you with the opportunity for success, you took that opportunity and ran with it,” she told him. Clean for 523 days, Brandon is a student at Columbia-Greene Community College who maintains a 3.64 grade point average.

Graduate Ivan sported a funky hairdo. “I’ve watched Ivan through many different hairstyles” and jewelry stuck in his face “that had to come out,” said Judge Nichols, who described Ivan as having “spirit.” The judge said he had to explain things to Ivan clearly. “You’re wrong and I’m right,” the judge said he told him.

Now 590 days clean, Ivan said he wanted to “get clean” but had hit bottom before he could do it. “I relapsed, but I had the choice to pick it up or not.”

Cortney’s mother died as she struggled through treatment court, but she had the good fortune to have a stepfather, brother and grandmother who stuck by her. She’s been clean for 512 days. She thanked everyone for not giving up on her. “I wake up with hope now,” she said.

Jennifer has been clean for 494 days, and 9 months ago she gave birth to a drug-free baby girl she named Serenity. Emitting an occasional squeal and intrigued by her own hand waving the graduation program, the child was present for the ceremony. Judge Nichols said Jennifer was lucky to have parents who never walked away from her despite her crimes.

David “is an example of someone who changed his life and never gave up,” said the judge. Though David relapsed many times, he finally went to a treatment facility outside the area breaking the cycle of “old habits, old friends and the same old problems.” He started in the program 3½ years ago and has been clean for 396 days. “Sometimes that’s how long it takes,” said the judge. David now has a commercial driver’s license, is a member of the Teamster’s Union and is a truck driver for Snapple.

Treatment Court helps program participants become contributing members of society by using treatment resources to shatter the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction, according to the program literature.

Treatment Court “entails judicial supervision of structured community-based treatment; regular status hearings before the judge to monitor treatment progress and program compliance; mandatory periodic drug testing; increasing defendant accountability through a series of graduated sanctions and rewards,” the handbook states.

Participants must voluntarily sign a contract agreeing to 23 detailed requirements for completion of the program. If they do not successfully complete the program they could be sentenced to jail or prison.

Before directing everyone at the graduation ceremony downstairs for some refreshments, Judge Nichols thanked the people in the audience for coming, saying it meant a lot to the graduates “who are, frankly, on the way to the rest of their lives.”

To contact Diane Valden email .

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