By Susan Spencer
UXBRIDGE – Chelsea, a young woman convicted of a drug-related crime, approached the bench in Uxbridge District Court and told Judge Gerald A. Lemire the good news: She had been clean for more than 100 days, she enrolled at Quinsigamond Community College to start in summer, and she hoped to transfer from there to get a bachelor’s degree in human services.
“I’ve got big things going,” she said.
The courtroom burst into applause.
Chelsea was among eight women and four men, young adults ages 18 to 33, participating in the new intensive supervision program for offenders that meets with the judge and a team of probation officers, clinicians and case managers every other Wednesday at the Uxbridge court.
The program, which began in March, is modeled after the drug court set up in Dudley District Court three years ago, the first such specialty court in Worcester County, according to the state trial courts’ website. Several other courthouses, including East Brookfield, Fitchburg and Worcester, have also launched intensive supervision programs.
Judge Lemire said the distinction between an official drug court and an intensive supervision program was largely a technicality. “The objective and structure are similar,” he said. “We’re out here doing what we think is best. I’m not too concerned with a designation. Everyone’s on board here.”
Participants in the program – all volunteers – have typically been given the choice by the judge of six months in jail for their offense, or a year of probation with conditions to stay drug- and alcohol-free and to participate in what most refer to as the drug court.
Motivation is critical to success, and clinicians from Harrington HealthCare’s outpatient behavioral health office in Dudley work with the courts to screen who might be appropriate.
After two or three weeks of daily intensive outpatient treatment for addiction, participants continue individual and group counseling and work with case managers from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office — Regional Resource Center in Webster to pull together employment, education and health insurance support. They are regularly tested for drugs to make sure they’re complying with their probation conditions.
Before each court session, the team of court officials, case managers and clinicians meets to review probationers’ progress.
At the start of Wednesday’s session, Assistant Chief Probation Officer Lynn Dadekian announced there were enough in the program now that group treatment would be held at the courthouse at 2 p.m. every Wednesday. Court sessions would follow afterward, every other week. She said participants would also need to complete “reflection” sheets to document the minimum of three Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings they must attend each week.
When some grumbling arose about the active schedule, Ms. Dadekian reminded the group: “Treatment is not easy. It’s a commitment.”
For some, overcoming a lack of transportation when they’ve lost their driver’s license is a big hurdle.
Alisha told the judge she had been clean for 59 days, and was looking for work in landscaping, but of three companies she had contacted in the Blackstone Valley, “They all want a license.”
Judge Lemire scribbled a phone number on a slip of paper and handed it to Alisha, telling her to call that business.
Occasionally a participant experiences a setback, such as Michael, who had recently returned from detox after he began drinking again. He hadn’t had drugs or alcohol in over a week, though, and was committed to getting back on the program.
“I want to thank you all for believing in me and giving me a second opportunity,” he said to the court.
When probationers weren’t showing commitment, Judge Lemire ordered them into custody, pending a probation violation hearing.
Kayla left the courtroom in handcuffs.
Probation Officer Janice Hinson told the court that Kayla had been disruptive in group and missed her therapy appointments, despite phoned reminders.
“She tells you what you want to hear,” Ms. Hinson said. “I don’t think she’s serious.”
Robyn also wasn’t keeping up. She told the judge she was waiting for money from a relative for insurance, a similar story to what she had said a month ago.
“Let’s cut to the chase: She’s done nothing,” Judge Lemire said.
But most participants openly shared their struggles and successes, and were warmly supported by the others.
“Today we put two in custody. That’s the last thing we want to have happen,” the judge told the group. “If you want to be in, you have to work it.”
Afterward, 29-year-old Tina, of Uxbridge, told a reporter that she had been clean of heroin for nine months when she relapsed three weeks ago. Northbridge police revived her from an overdose.
“I said I need help. I’m going to address my substance abuse,” she said.
Tina is enthusiastic, motivated to stay clean by her young daughter and her “sober network” in recovery meetings.
“To anyone who thinks that you can’t do this, you’ve got this,” Tina said. “It’s your life. I’ll do anything I need to do to stay alive.”
“They eventually start thriving off the success of each other,” Clerk Magistrate John F. Kennedy said, recalling how two young women got jobs together through the program. “The objective is to give these members hope. The ultimate goal is to give them confidence in their lives and how to live.”
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, whose Regional Resource Center in Webster and Community Corrections programs in Fitchburg and Worcester work with recovering offenders to help them with the transition back to productive, law-abiding lives, said, “You’ve got to offer support, and there have to be consequences.”
He said the Webster resource center was the only one in the state that offered van transportation, through a state grant, to bring probationers from Uxbridge and Douglas to the resource center.
Whatever it takes, Judge Lemire and the intensive supervision program team were willing to try.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of it,” Judge Lemire said. “No one gets off on their own. No one quits opiates cold turkey.”