A young person, seventeen years old, is standing teary-eyed and apologetic before the drug court judge. He has fallen off the wagon and been caught with a positive UA after six months of being clean. Of course he will have his excuses – addicts always do. But this kid is different, and that is why we all hope he will be able to get sober: He is not making any excuses.
He stands before the judge, facing a very long prison term if he is sent back to mainstream court. Think about this teenager getting out of prison after spending more than half his life in it, and you get the idea. The judge is looking at him as if she wishes she could see into his future, and she really is trying to see that far.
“I am sorry you have had this setback. But you need to know, that although I am disappointed, I haven’t given up on you. I have never doubted that you can graduate from drug court and have a good life. I believe you can do this. But you have to believe it.”
She turns to the prosecutor, who by law gets to make the recommendation on whether to send this kid to mainstream – adult court – and from there to an adult prison. He asks for a week in jail punishment, and then one more chance to stay in drug court. The prosecutor looks at him like a parent would look at their own beloved teen who just did something stupid that will cost them dearly. That torn heart feeling of wanting to protect them, and knowing they must have their consequences, that their very life may depend on it.
“It’s so hard, because I don’t want to give up on you! I feel just like the judge. No one here wants to see you go to prison. I want you to stay in the program, but you have to make that final decision, and not look back. I know it’s so hard to do, but believe me, as an older person talking to a younger one, it only gets harder. It will never be easier than it is today, with all this support, this prison hanging over your head, your youth, and your dreams to fight for.”
It is the client’s chance to speak. He makes no excuses. He blames no one. He doesn’t even claim it is a mistake the lab made. He doesn’t talk about how important he is and how he is just about to do great things. No. He says he is sorry. The judge shakes her head.
“You don’t need to apologize to me. Apologize to yourself. You let yourself down. You owe yourself better than this. You have already done so much. I tell you what. I am going to follow the state’s recommendation and give you one last chance. You will spend a week in custody. Then straight back to treatment and your clean housing and your job. And you get back to it. And you stay with it.”
The client tries to speak, but he is so disheartened and clearly disappointed in himself, he just chokes and swallows tears.
The judge is still looking intently at him. She leans forward.
“You can do this, my friend. You can. I have never had a doubt about you, from the day I met you. But you need to convince yourself. Spend the time in custody deciding that you can do this. Become sure of it. Stop doubting it. Convince yourself, once and for all. The rest will be easy. You will feel a relief that you have never known. Trust me. I know this. I am going to be at your graduation, and I am going to remind you of this day. Please be convinced of this.”
The client puts his hands behind his back to get cuffed.
Like the judge and the attorney, I don’t want him to end up like most addicts, who cause more harm than they could ever make up for. Who suck their loved ones dry and then turn on them. I want him to have the chance to become a fully fledged adult. Not an object for contempt or pity.
The judge has given him one more chance. I hope his story has a happy ending. I hope this for himself, his future partner, his unborn children, and anyone else who needs to trust him. I hope this for all of us.