Powerful Imperfection of Drug Court
Drug courts or any problem solving courts are not perfect. They can’t be, really. After all, they are run by human beings trying to help other human beings. Despite some inherent issues with problem solving courts, they at least strive to put the person first.
For the second time in a year, I’ve been privileged to give the keynote speech at a drug court graduation in two different South Dakota drug courts. You can read this or watch this to get a sense of how grateful and honored I am to be a speaker. Front and center in both experiences, as well as the numerous other graduations I’ve attended, is the journey of the participants, their families, and the drug court teams.
As one of the participants noted, “Drug court is supposed to be hard.” She went on, “Drug court is meant to test your limits.”
For some, the test is too much and they have to face certain consequences. Some are impacted positively by those “controlled” consequences; for others, the road to wellness or redemption becomes a little longer.
But through it all are the counselors, probation officers, lawyers, and judge working as a team to help the individual through a process of change and improvement. When you are in the thick of it, as one of the graduates recounted, positive change doesn’t seem possible. It doesn’t seem real.
For so long, all most of these individuals have known is pain, chaos, loneliness. They’ve never known what wellness, calm, and connectedness look or feel like. So how do you take someone who has been in their addiction for 5, 20, or 41 years (like one participant) and help them see the light of a well and happy life?
That’s the magic question.
As I shared this week, the judges have a remarkable way with that question. They don’t have the answer. But what they do have is a compassionate heart, a listening ear, and a desire to stand side by side those women and men in their courtroom.
A line in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous relates, “The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring through the lives of others.” With some individuals, these judges jump into the middle of that tornado that’s working through a few more spins. Life for all of us is complicated. For those with addiction, there are layers of complexity, uncertainty, and a distrust that keeps the tornado spinning.
It’s incredibly powerful to see judges and their team engage participants to help slow the storm and begin the healing process. I was moved by one of the speakers who said repeatedly, “I don’t know why they care about me.”
Society, the system, and the disease of addiction strip away that ability to understand or to accept a caring hand when offered. There’s so much damage, so much to rebuild. This is a lot to ask of a court in the American criminal justice system. But this week I witnessed five remarkable lives and the dozens of family and friends connected to them share a renewed sense of restoration and possibility. Drug courts aren’t the perfect place for healing people, but they are doing what they can. Our communities and many families are better off for them.