A lot of problems can be solved by an attitude adjustment. Wednesday, I listened to 17 people talk about getting off drugs, out of crime...
A lot of problems can be solved by an attitude adjustment.
Wednesday, I listened to 17 people talk about getting off drugs, out of crime and into productive lives with the help and guidance of drug court. What they needed most was help seeing themselves and the world differently.
They got that help because of people in the criminal-justice system who see their jobs differently.
A couple of weeks ago I described some of what happens in King County Drug Diversion Court. The court was set up in 1994 as an alternative to warehousing nonviolent drug offenders.
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Every other month, people who’ve completed the program participate in a graduation ceremony at the courthouse.
None of them asked us to feel sorry for them. What’s important is to see them not only as criminals, but as people with a disease that can be treated for our sake as well as theirs.
Judge Wesley Saint Clair said the criminal-justice system has realized that warehousing drug offenders doesn’t work.
He said there are now 1,600 drug courts around the country and 900 more are planned.
Clients are supervised by the courts while they get counseling, mentoring and other help straightening out their lives. They comply or go to jail.
Judge Michael J. Fox, who has run another King County drug court for the past eight months, has been a judge for 20 years and a lawyer for 20 years before that.
“Those of us who’ve had careers as lawyers are used to an adversary system of justice,” he said. The understanding required in drug court takes a different mind-set, but it pays off.
At the ceremony, Fox played part of a blues recording that had this line: “More loving, less attitude.”
A lot of folks come to drug court with attitude. Like Clifton Turner.
“I’m a rebellious person,” Turner said Wednesday. “I came in fighting.” But in Saint Clair, he met someone as stubborn as he is.
“We butted heads until I realized he had more power than I did,” Turner said.
Before drug court, Turner thought he had all the answers. He’s changed his perspective.
“I was my biggest obstacle, not society, not the system.”
Three previous prison terms didn’t teach him any of that.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Turner said. “I appreciate the law-enforcement officers who are beginning to take the time to realize addiction is something an individual struggles with.”
Turner said when he tried to quit crack on his own, “I was fighting a war I would never win.”
The war on drugs is like that. We need to look at it differently, to shift from fighting a war we can’t win to healing a disease.
The sizes, shapes, colors and accents of Wednesday’s graduates were all different.
But they share a disease — addiction — that drove their lives into a sewer.
To conquer the disease they have to confront reality. They have to look at themselves and the world in new ways.
As recovering addicts, their work will never be done. But they now have tools that will help them, and ultimately us, too.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.