Pubdate: Mon, 08 Aug 2005
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2005 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


In just 24 hours, 24 young men and women living in Washington County went 
from the dim lights of District Court to the blue brilliance of Cape Cove 
on Great Wass Island in Beals

They took a hike.

And it was mandatory, one more court-imposed requirement on the never-easy 
path to sobriety and turning around lives.

The hikers were participants in the Washington County Adult Treatment Drug 
Court, a yearlong alternative to jail time for crimes stemming from their 
drug addictions and related problems.

On Friday they attended the weekly courtroom session in Machias in which 
they face Judge John Romei and his standard but serious drill: How are 
things going? he asks from the bench. Have you found work yet? What did you 
learn last week at the [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings? How long have you 
been clean and sober?

On Saturday they traipsed after the jeans-wearing judge as he led them on a 
challenging 5.5-mile hike around the Great Wass Island Preserve.

The highlight was reaching a cool, grassy knoll at Little Cape Point on the 
far side of the island. There, the members of "Drug Court" - what 
participants call the program for short - held an AA meeting before 
returning to the rocky coastal trail.

It allowed the participants a moment in the sun on the rocks, complete with 
breezes off the water, seals spotted through binoculars, a distant 
lighthouse and a bay dotted with lobster buoys. In getting there, they 
joked and bonded, asking each other how much trail remained to the next 
resting place.

They were living out the lesson that it is possible to enjoy planned 
leisure activities that do not involve drugs or drinking.

For the judge, it was a chance to help others see how close they are to 
discovering and experiencing Washington County's beauty.

"It's a long, tough hike," Romei said in justifying his choice of circuit 
trails. "But I just think it's a spectacular place. We want every graduate 
of Drug Court to have the experience of this hike."

For a few of the clients, it was the first time they had been on a hike, ever.

Jamie Campbell, 28, was one of those.

Technically she is no longer part of the Washington County Drug Court 
program, although she belonged until last summer. But just before the judge 
announced the annual hike at Great Wass last year, Campbell fell afoul of 
the program.

"I wanted to be clean, but I didn't know how to do it," she said. "I was 
lying, scamming and not being honest."

She was given one final chance to succeed, or else finish out her five-year 
sentence for burglary. She was directed to seek substance abuse treatment 
at the Wellspring Women's Program, a residential facility in Bangor.

She stayed there six months where, she said, she finally "got it."

Then she asked for permission to be admitted to Justice Andrew Mead's Drug 
Court in Bangor. The switch involved getting special support from Judge Romei.

She reasoned that she didn't want to return to her home in Machiasport, 
where her life had involved drugs and bad relationships. She was better off 
carving out a fresh start in Bangor, she felt.

She has been clean and sober 15 months. If all goes well, she said, she 
will graduate from the Bangor Drug Court in January.

Campbell had been alerted to the hike around Great Wass Island by a letter 
from Vanessa Cassidy, the program's case manager. She was eager to 
reconnect with the Washington County team of professionals that support the 
Drug Court clients.

"I feel really good that they asked me to come on this hike," she said. "I 
have a lot of gratitude today that I can be recognized for how much 
progress I have made."

"So far," the judge added only half in jest, knowing that as many clients 
fail to finish the program as those who make it to the end.

Drug Court, which the state Legislature started funding in six counties in 
2001, is demanding. Clients commit to sobriety and focus on their recovery. 
They are required to attend 90 12-step program meetings in their first 90 
days, either AA or Narcotics Anonymous.

They must attend at least five similar meetings each week for the rest of 
the year. They must keep daily journals, live with curfews, submit to 
random testing and meet with counselors. They must appear before the judge 
once a week.

Twice a year, Judge Romei makes them meet him outdoors. In January he 
organized an ice-fishing outing at Round Pond in Charlotte, also mandatory.

He has led at least one hike each year on Washington County trails. The 
hike at the Great Wass Island Preserve remains his favorite.

As participants gathered Saturday at the parking lot near the trail head, 
he told them how the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy had acquired 
the 1,579-acre tract in 1978 to keep it open and accessible to everyone.

He made sure all the hikers had water, then set out. While Dennis Perry, a 
court officer with the Washington County Sheriff's Department, set the pace 
up front, the judge stayed back with the slower hikers.

They covered roots, rocks and crevasses.

Everyone made it in the end. Which, not too coincidentally, is just what 
the judge would like to see happen in his Drug Court.
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