Pubdate: Sun, 27 May 2007
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Barbara Ramirez
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


CORPUS CHRISTI -- Philipe Rodriguez, 16, spent much of last year
getting high.

On the days he made it to school, he would smoke marijuana before
school, at lunch and after school, sometimes smoking as many as five
times a day.

He gave up on most of his goals and turned to violent behavior. That
landed him in juvenile detention, which led to his recovery and his
current role as a mentor to kids struggling with some of the same
issues he faced.

After he was detained in February 2006 for resisting arrest and
assaulting a police officer, Philipe ended up in County Court-At-Law
No. 5 Judge Carl Lewis' juvenile court, where he was given an
opportunity to change his life and lessen his yearlong probation
sentence through a program called the Juvenile Drug Court.

The counseling-based program, which was started about eight months ago
through a $20,000 John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Foundation grant, is
for juveniles already in the system for drug-related offenses or who
are identified as having substance abuse problems.

Lewis reviews the juveniles' cases and selects those he believes would
benefit from the program.

The counseling, provided by the Council on Alcohol and Drug
Abuse-Coastal Bend, is conducted in individual and group settings.
Individual counseling is based on the juvenile's needs, and averages
about two sessions per month. Group counseling is conducted once every
two weeks in Lewis' court, and family members are encouraged to attend.

At those meetings, juveniles share their stories and lend advice to
newcomers. Probation officers and counselors also attend the sessions
to update the judge whether the juvenile has made progress.

"To be able to turn and hear someone else's story ... it's like 'Whew,
I'm not the only one going through this,' " Lewis said.

During a recent group meeting of about 10 juveniles in Lewis'
courtroom, one boy's mother talked about how her son was missing
school because he would stay awake all night and sleep until 3 p.m.

"I think I'm having withdrawals," the boy said, hanging his

Another boy who just returned from a rehabilitation drug center told
of his newfound respect for his family and himself and how he
struggled to leave his past behind him.

"When I first got there, I didn't want to quit," the 15-year-old
former cocaine user said. "But after a while, I realized the

He said he wasn't happy he had to attend ongoing counseling sessions
in Lewis' court because it kept him from his friends, but said he has
not used drugs since September.

An advisory committee for Lewis' court decided to start the program
after noticing an increase in the number of drug cases.

The Kenedy Foundation grant provided funds for the first six months,
then Juvenile Probation provided $20,000 for the next six months. The
divert court will require additional funding in August to be able to
continue, said Dee Ogle, executive director for the Council on Alcohol
and Drug Abuse-Coastal Bend. Fundraisers are being planned to help
cover costs, Ogle said.

Lewis said more than half of the juveniles he sees have a substance
abuse problem.

"It's escape behavior for a lot of them," Lewis said. "They don't see
that it just sinks them; it's a burden on their lives."

Anna Zarling, drug court treatment coordinator, said the group
counseling allows the juveniles to interact with people who face the
same struggles and likely are working toward the same goals.

"It's an environment where they fit in," Zarling said.

Philipe, one of about 10 who have graduated from the program, said he
knows how much peer support means. That's why he still attends the
sessions to share his success story and offer encouragement to others.

"I try to tell them that it doesn't take the judge and all the
counselors to do the work," Philipe said. "You have to meet them halfway."

The counseling has impacted more than just Philipe's

At a recent session, Philipe's father, Jose Rodriguez, discussed his
alcohol abuse problem and the pact he made with his son that if
Philipe stopped smoking marijuana, he would stop drinking.

"We used to be in two different worlds," Rodriguez said, looking at
his son. "Now we're in the same one."

Philipe's mother, Norma Guerrero, credits the program with saving her
son's life.

"I'm glad he realized that a drug life is not a life," Guerrero said.
"Unfortunately, he had to learn it from experience."
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