Drug court: a road to remaking addict’s life
Graduate to stay on, lead class
GREENFIELD — A local man with a history of arrests and drug abuses stood in the courtroom, waiting to see what Judge William Mazanec would say.
“I commend your effort,” the judge told Theodore Murphy. “People here look up to you.”
Murphy, 47, has spent the last two years in “drug court,” a program designed to curb criminal behavior by addressing the all-too-often underlying issue: addiction.
The program, which normally takes about 15 months, is supposed to provide a path to recovery rather than incarceration.
It started in 1999, spearheaded by the Reinventing Justice Initiative and former chief judges Herbert Hodos and Thomas Merrigan of the Greenfield and Orange district courts.
“Drug court was created in recognition of the fact that most people who end up in court are there as a result of substance abuse or addiction,” said Lucinda Brown, director of Reinventing Justice. “It uses the authority of the court to push people toward recovery. At some point, you can see them start to do it for themselves” and not just because they’re forced.
The program has taken root all across Massachusetts since its inception in Franklin County. There are now 20 drug courts in the state.
Murphy wasn’t always the best participant. He and Mazanec both said they clashed with each other frequently when Murphy entered the program.
He’s made great strides, however, and the judge recognized that.
“Judge Mazanec asked me to facilitate a group for drug court members, led by alumni,” Murphy said with pride. “I was shocked. I knew I would be involved with the group, but I never thought I’d be asked to lead it.”
He looks forward to helping others, and believes a peer-to-peer approach is the best way to do it.
“I’m not looking to talk to a counselor (about addiction),” he said of his own recovery. “I want someone who’s been there. Someone who can say ‘here’s what I did’ to get better.”
Murphy himself has a long history of substance abuse.
He said he began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana around the age of 12, and was in and out of trouble through his 20s. He cleaned up when he got married, he said, but the union — and his good behavior — didn’t last.
By 1998, Murphy and his wife were in the late stages of divorce, and he’d begun drinking heavily and using cocaine on a regular basis.
“I wanted to kill the pain of not being with my family and kids,” he explained.
His addictions quickly took over.
“I didn’t show up for life anymore. I was existing, instead of living.”
“I had been fully employed, but drinking and drugs took all my money,” he said.
In 2010, he wound up in jail for 45 days, for failing to pay child support for his three children.
A new relationship added fuel to the fire.
“We were completely out of control, we were always using cocaine and drinking alcohol.”
It was a volatile situation.
In July of 2011, Murphy said, he struck his girlfriend during a cocaine-and-alcohol fueled argument.
That was the arrest that led him to drug court, though he resisted the program at first.
“Two years ago, I stood here in front of Judge Mazanec, and I refused to sign the conditions of drug court,” he told those gathered Wednesday. “The judge asked me several times if I understood the ramifications” which would include jail time.
Someone at the back of the court shouted out “just sign it,” and, finally, Murphy said, he did.
Though he’d taken the first step, it would be a long, hard road. More than once, Murphy violated the conditions of drug court. After drug relapses and restraining order violations, he found himself cooling his heels in county jail.
Now, Murphy is six months clean and sober, and said he no longer craves drugs or drink.
Even when he did begin to comply with drug court’s conditions, it was still tough, he said.
“When you start, drug court takes over your life,” he said.
Participants attend a weekly minimum of five group meetings, including Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs. They also receive individual counselling, and several drug tests each week.
The program is broken into five 12-week phases. The first three involve weekly check-ins at court that take up most of the afternoon. Murphy said this, and the program’s other time commitments, can make it hard to hold down a job.
Though the program demands a lot, Murphy said it’s worth it.
“I used to swear I’d (get sober) my way, without the help of the court or anyone else,” he said. “The truth is, it’s not possible, and it’s not necessary.”
Murphy said he gained a lot from the MOVE group, an intervention program for men who have committed domestic violence.
“Something about MOVE was different, it struck me right away,” said Murphy. “It made me take a good look at myself.”
He said he began to learn to see the effects his actions and addictions had on other people, and realized that he had to change. With that came the revelation that the programs he was being forced to participate in were there to help him, not for punishment.
Those resources provide a network of support, and opportunities for sober socialization.
“The Recover Project has been a huge help,” Murphy said. The organization, on Federal Street, hosts group meetings and peer counselling, but also serves as a sober sanctuary.
“It’s big just to be able to know that, if I’m having a bad day, their doors are open from 9 to 5 every day,” he said. “It’s a safe place to go, and there’s always someone to talk to.”
He’s made friends there, volunteered to help with groups, projects and events, and picked up a new, healthy hobby.
Murphy said he’s fallen in love with photography and graphic design, and puts together brochures, fliers and other media for the Recover Project.
It’s something he said he might like to do as a small business, but he said he’d like to find a job driving or working construction for now.
“Maybe I’ll design websites when I’m too old to be jumping in and out of a truck all day,” he said.
For now, though, he’s taking things one step at a time. First, he’d like to find work, and move on from the Beacon Recovery House for Men, into a sober living house, and later to his own apartment.
Murphy hopes to complete the MOVE program in February, and with it, his probation, making him a free man again.
His biggest goal, he said, is seeing his children again. He hasn’t seen them for 29 months.
He’d start small, he said, with supervised visits, and hopefully work back up to the night and weekend visits he used to enjoy.
“I’m going to take it slow, though,” he said. “Every time I take on too much at once, I get frustrated and overwhelmed, and that leads to drinking and drugs. I’m going to do things differently this time.”
You can reach David Rainville at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279