Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A S.H.O.R.T. story about drugs

So to earn a little extra cash I signed myself up to be the prosecutor for the Travis County SHORT program. No, I know what you're thinking but I'm actually quite tall.

It's about drugs.

Basically, and to quote from the official web page, "[t]he purpose of the program is to address the needs of the substance abuser while they are in the community, utlitizing the programs that are currently in place." Here's the rest of the official stuff.

A laudable goal, right? Turns out to make for very interesting Wednesday evenings for me. Basically about sixty participants, all of whom have pending felony drug cases, show up to court for a kind of progress report.

But it's not like any kind of court I've ever seen. The judge knows the men and women who appear in front of him, he jokes with them sometimes and he's stern when he needs to be. His one and only goal is to get them off whatever their drugs of choice is (and we have a variety: meth, heroin, weed, alcohol, cocaine....) If Judge Bennett needs to use a stick he does, but there's much more of the carrot. And he's surrounded by counselors who know about addiction.

Who are the participants (I don't feel like calling them defendants, it doesn't seem accurate in this setting)? Men and women (more of the former) from pretty much all walks of life. There are some from poorer backgrounds and some who are not. Many come in baggy pants and some come in a shirt and tie. And regular pants.

The most interesting thing seems to be the transition from grouchy, unwilling, addicted participant to forward-looking, grateful, functioning citizen. I've not seen the start-to-finish transition myself -- I've only been there a few months and the fastest "graduation" is a year -- but I know it happens because when someone graduates, Judge Bennett makes them address the full courtroom.

And the message is pretty much always the same: if you fight the program you will lose and remain a using addict. If you trust it, and the counselors, you will be clean. There is pride in the eyes of those who get their T-shirts and graduation certificates. But there is also a great deal of pride in the eyes of Judge Bennett and the program counselors.

As well there should be.

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