Pubdate: Tue, 17 Feb 2015
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Susan Clairmont
Page: A1


'Jack' was on the right track until he slipped up. But a kind judge
has faith in him

On his lunch hour, Jack hustles to the courthouse to get his gold star
from the judge.

He's had a drug free week and the accomplishment is met with a star
for his journal and a round of applause from Justice Marjoh Agro and
all the lawyers, police, addiction experts and clients in the room.

They smile and greet each other with the familiarity of people who
meet at the same time, in the same place, every week.

Jack is not his real name. Some people in his life now do not know
about his past.

A year ago, Jack stepped into this court for the first

He was 30 pounds underweight. His skin sallow, his eyes sunken. He
looked older than his 38 years.

A hard-core addiction to heroin and pills will do that.

It was opening day of Hamilton's brand new Drug Treatment Court (DTC).
He was among a small group of offenders given the chance to accept
treatment as their sentence. Jack faced theft charges and breaches
after shoplifting electronics in Hamilton and Halton so he could feed
his drug habit. He was facing a year in jail.

When he called his lawyer, Beth Bromberg, he was desperate to get out.
Jack also wanted to get clean. As it happened, Bromberg was one of the
architects of the long-awaited DTC.

DTC is intended to deal with the root causes of addiction and is an
option for addicted, adults with non-violent charges. If they are
accepted into the program they must plead guilty and enter into a
strict treatment regimen that includes weekly court appearances,
community service hours and urine tests. Once they are clean for six
months, have stability in their life and a plan to work, go to school
or volunteer, they can graduate.

There are currently 10 clients in the DTC program. Over the year, four
clients have been expelled. Another three have withdrawn.

As Jack says: "There's no question jail time would have been

So far, there are no graduates, although one client is eligible next
month. Jack was on track to be one of the first to graduate. Then he
relapsed. He had used "recreational drugs" growing up, but upped to
heroin when he was 28 and living in the UK. A trained sommelier (and
yes, he is also an alcoholic), Jack was working abroad when drugs
"took over my life."

He came back home to Hamilton and started shoplifting. He racked up
convictions and breaches, "one after another after another."

His sentences were getting longer, "the judges were starting to get
sick of me and I was killing myself. I'd had enough."

In 2009 he got clean. He worked as a builder, did "lots of 12-step
work" and met his future wife.

"There was a huge stretch where my life was fantastic."

Until he got complacent. He started skipping meetings and working
longer hours to pay for the wedding. "I let it go. I stopped treating
my disease." By December 2013, when he called Bromberg from the Barton
Street jail, he was in a deep hole. He wanted DTC. He'd got clean
once, he believed he could do it again.

He was accepted into the program and it gave him the structure and
accountability he needed to get clean again.

For a while he was, as the judge put it, "the shining star" of the
program. A role model for the newer clients. He had gold stars for
five and a half months, earning back some freedom from the court. Then
he used. "The accountability was turned down a little bit as the
weening happened," says Bromberg.

For Jack, going in front of Agro after testing positive for drugs was
a moment of spectacular "shame and guilt." He was placed on house
arrest and an expulsion hearing was scheduled. Jack thought he had
failed. Bromberg sees it differently: "He'd been clean for nearly six

It was up to Jack and the DTC team to figure out what went wrong. The
team surrounded Jack, picked him up and now he's been clean again for
more than two months.

He has discovered yoga (it's now a DTC requirement) and looks forward
to graduating.

"I like Justice Agro. You create that rapport with her. I think she
wants me to get well. And," he laughs, "I think she wants me the hell
out of her courtroom."
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