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Part 2 

Looking for a Way Out

In his years spent on the bench, Wilkinson has learned a thing or two about drug addiction and how the courts have handled it. The problem is worse now than any time he remembers. "I don't think we've beaten the war on drugs," Wilkinson says. And drug courts aren't providing any new kind of solution that isn't already in place, he says. Programs that address substance abuse already exist, and judges often require offenders to participate in them. Rather than emphasizing drug court, the existing programs should be evaluated and improved, he suggests. "I'm all for substance-abuse treatment as an effective means for rehabilitation," Wilkinson says. But, he adds, "I don't care how good the program is, you're not going to take someone off drugs until they're ready. "I know this may upset some people, but I say an addiction is doing what makes one person feel good at the expense of the rest of the world." For the offender, he says, "It's a question of whether you want to live your life on drugs or live your life as a free man." Moreover, he adds, "I'm not sure that we can tell people out there who have a serious addiction that they have a problem we're so convinced we can fix." How well does the Richmond program work? No one knows precisely. Because Richmond's drug-court program is in its first year, there is no data to suggest the program's success or pitfalls. There has been no program-outcome evaluation. Judge Margaret Spencer would like to change that. Currently, she's working with the drug-court team on a follow-up effort with graduates to check on their status and to encourage them to be mentors. Participants now enter Richmond's drug-court program at a rate of two to three every other Friday. Judge Spencer and the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office must approve all applicants. All participants are addicts; nearly two-thirds have additional crimes on their records. Nonviolent offenders charged with or convicted of felony drug-related crimes are eligible for the program. Drug dealers and those with violent offenses are not. Treatment moves through a four-phase program that decreases gradually in intensity and involvement. In each stage, participants must remain sober and follow the rules or face sanctions. The program requires continued and intense therapy with a substance-abuse clinician and regular meetings with a probation officer. Attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings is mandatory. In addition, drug-court participants must have a full-time job or be a full-time student. They must appear before the judge in court every week or every other week. Although it is a 12-month program, most participants are in the program for 14 to 18 months. It's understood that relapse is often part of recovery. And if participants do slip up, there are sanctions ranging from more meetings to community service to jail time. Drug-court hearings are held every other week on Friday afternoons. Here the judge offers support and, often, praise or punishment. Days at the new drug-court office on East Franklin Street are spent in constant discussion about "client" progress, potential for relapse and treatment. "We can joke, play, fuss and fight, but everybody's input counts," says Aaron Evans, a probation officer. "Here, the offender is a person and not a number. There is the opportunity for the person not to become a victim of the system." Black plastic chairs in the meeting room are placed in a circle, and a TV and VCR loom in the corner. The courtroom is where justice is administered, but it's here that each participant reports for follow-up. "We'll do anything it takes to make sure clients stick with the program," says Gloria Jones, a drug-court coordinator. "What makes it work is that probation and treatment can come together," says substance abuse clinician Madeline Berry. Like most addicts, Moseley remembers instantly dates that reveal the depths of despair. On March 31, 1994, Moseley had scored a big package of drugs from a dealer who would sell her crack even though she was pregnant. "I think I knew I was in labor, but I kept using and using all night long," she says. As her baby struggled to be born, Moseley locked herself in the bedroom of her Jefferson Village apartment and refused to open the door to go to the hospital. Her son was born with drugs in his system. "But he's fine now," she says. Sam Cook, Moseley's boyfriend, sees the tears well up. He grabs her hand and squeezes it tight. She rests her head on Cook's shoulder for a moment. "By giving him to his godparents," she says finally, "I believe he's the only one of my kids I haven't harmed for good because of my addiction." (Chad Hunt / Style Weekly) Less than a year later, Moseley got pregnant again. This time, she called her probation officer for help, and she was placed in a residential drug-treatment program. She had the baby; he was turned over to Social Services. She stayed clean for nearly a year. But then she was back on the streets, homeless and depressed. Still, she says, she denied the reality of her addiction. Finally, on her birthday in 1995, Moseley tried to end her pain with a bottle of sleeping pills and crack. "I woke up two days later to find I was still living and that was depressing," she says. "I thought, I guess I'll just use till I drop dead." Finally, Moseley was arrested for possession of crack in 1998. She had been using for nearly six years and had spent short stints in jail for petty charges like shoplifting. Judges knew her well. One judge told her that if she came back into court she'd better bring a toothbrush, "because I was going to be in jail a long, long time," Moseley recalls. She used 24 hours a day. "There's no way I could put a dollar amount on how much I used," she says. She couldn't sleep or couldn't find the peace of mind to. In a week's time, she says, she'd sleep about eight hours. "My addiction didn't give me time to think how messed up my life had become." From February to July 1999 Moseley was locked up in the Richmond City Jail for violating the parole of her 1998 drug conviction. In October 1999, she agreed to go through Richmond's drug-court program. If she hadn't, she'd be in jail today, serving five years for another felony drug possession. At the most recent graduation ceremony of the Richmond Adult Drug Treatment Court, Moseley wears a black suit. She sits in the front row of City Council chambers. Pinned to her shoulder is a white carnation, a gift from the drug-court team to each of the five graduates. "Let's show them our compassion and support," Judge Margaret Spencer says. "[They] have triumphed and turned obstacles into opportunities." They get a standing ovation. "Alondra has accomplished a lot," Cook says. They plan to get married in July, he adds. "We'll see," Moseley says. There's a lot to be thankful for. She's no longer afraid to meet each day because, she says, "I'm in a different place." She's worked for 15 months for Merit Oil Co. and hasn't missed a scheduled day yet. "I feel like I'm part of normal society again." And Moseley has built up the courage to face her kids. She wants to build a relationship with them, she says. But even with the strides she's made to reclaim her life — her job, apartment, Cook — Moseley can't forget that she lost the right to raise them. In June 2000, she lost all her parental rights. "I took too long to get my act together," she says. Moseley's oldest son is now 18. He visits her several times a week at the three-room North Side apartment she shares with Cook. Moseley joins her daughter for group therapy sessions, and says she hopes Social Services will let her take more of a role in her life. "She's a real withdrawn child," Moseley says with concern. "I have accomplished my sobriety and I have earned it. I know now that I will stay clean for good," she says. On Feb. 10 it will be two years. "It's not like my life is without problems," Moseley says. She laughs at the obvious understatement and nudges Cook. "Every time I turn around I have a garnishment," she adds. "But that's part of being responsible." At the graduation ceremony, Judge Spencer calls Moseley's name. Moseley stands proudly and walks up to shake the hand of the woman who had sentenced her to drug court nearly two years before. "It was a beautiful feeling," Moseley says after the ceremony. "I got a sense of excitement at having completed something and that's something addicts rarely do. But most of all, I want to thank Judge Spencer for sending me to jail." Jump to Part 1, 2
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