Editor’s Note: This story is the continuation of a series covering Perry County’s drug court program.
ASH CAMP, Ky. — It was December, not quite Christmas, when Scott Thompson found himself in an all-too-familiar position.
He had just been involved in a hit-and-run incident in Hazard. Fortunately, no one was injured, but he was using again, and after 30 months of participating in the drug court program in Perry County, he realized his time as a client was over. He was resigned to leave the program and serve in jail whatever sentence he would receive.
Then, in a complete turn about and after a few days of working with officials with Probation and Parole, he was given another chance to again seek treatment and attempt to restart the drug court program anew. But that also meant that he would remain in jail, away from his family, until he could be enrolled in an in-patient treatment program.
Scott had been in jail for around two months the last time he spoke with the Herald, awaiting the day he would leave Hazard for Ash Camp, Ky. and begin a rigorous and tightly-controlled program at a drug treatment facility called WestCare. Now, as he is closer to his third decade in age than his second, he is determined to make the most of what he termed a last chance and kick the dangerous habit he has fought but maintained since he was a teenager.
Nearly eight weeks after the incident in Hazard, Scott noted that with every clean day he could feel himself getting stronger and his mind becoming clearer. He is currently around four months free of drugs, the last two of which were in treatment in Pike County. Scott said he is feeling the benefits of the struggle to break his addiction.
“I am on top of my game down here,” he said during an interview from inside WestCare earlier this month.
Scott is no stranger to drug treatment, noting that he has attempted treatment 10 times before, and this is actually the second time he has gone to WestCare. He said that many of the places he has gone are different, and might center on sitting on couches drinking coffee and talking about your feelings.
WestCare is a completely different approach to rehabilitation than these types of centers, and it’s one that he said he needs and believes in.
“Here, they put the baby powders up,” he noted. “They don’t baby you around here.”
WestCare is incredibly structured with each person in the center having a job to do. They are split up into six sides based on personality so that each person will be surrounded with people most like them. These sides then have chores, primarily cleaning, and various sessions with counselors and groups. In total there are 90 men at WestCare at any given time.
The residents’ days are planned down to every minute, even free time. These times allow the residents to do personal chores such as bathing and folding clothes. Each resident only gets to make two phone calls per week, and only one family visit.
The residents are put in a class to teach them about addiction, and then they must eventually run classes on their own to help them get comfortable talking in front of groups and to prove their familiarity with the 12 steps of overcoming their addiction. Scott said that he truly believes in this type of system since it is the only type that has been even remotely successful for him.
“I did have some success when I left here, so there is something about this place,” he said.
After having 10 months clean following his last stay at WestCare, however, he fell back into an old routine.
“I was out one day and I had no business driving around in Hazard. I had no place to be and I ran into a guy and I got high. In just a split second,” he remembered. “Then you start crossing those imaginary lines, progressing in your addiction.”
His relapse led him to eventually spend a few days in jail before returning home. After only a few weeks home he was arrested again. Since then he has been under some sort of supervision 100 percent of the time. He has since gotten healthy, gained weight, and said he has even mended some of his relationships that have been strained by his addiction.
He has also begun to make plans for the future, and while he is still taking it day-by-day, he remains hopeful and confident that he can overcome his struggle. He is even thinking about going back to school so that he may one day help people like himself.
“I know I can do it, be a drug and alcohol counselor maybe,” he said. “Karen (Holland, with the drug court program) and them will tell you that I know more about it then they do, but I have never put it into action.”
Holland remarked during a recent interview that Scott does well in treatment, and agreed that he is one of the most knowledgeable people about addiction.
“Scott does do well in structure,” she said during an interview last week. “I talked with him yesterday and he is counting his days down to when he gets to come home. He knows it, but applying it, it goes back to people, places and things.”
Since he has done so well in treatment, he has been given several large responsibilities inside WestCare. He runs sessions, and acts as the man that tests how accountable people are for their actions. He has also been giving tours of the facility to medical students, family members and the public.
He will be at WestCare for around four more months. Following his stay there, he will completely start over in the drug court program. If everything goes according to plan, he will still have two and a half more years before he is completely out of the criminal justice system. He noted that while he does well in structure, he is excited to go back to having a normal and sober life.
But even so, he knows all too well that his progression can be reversed in a matter of seconds, and that’s something with which he will continue to struggle.
Service projects have multiple benefits, Judge says
Since its creation less than a decade ago, the Perry County Drug Court program has included a heavy emphasis on community service, and that was never more evident than earlier this month as several participants were hard at work cleaning up several areas in Hazard.
While most drug court programs do include a community service component, it is not mandated or set up by the national or state drug court associations. Circuit Judge Bill Engle noted that for the Perry County Drug Court, completing service projects has multiple benefits for clients and the community.
“If you can help somebody kick their addiction problem, it’s not just a simple matter of them not using drugs anymore, it is getting them into a culture where you understand that you have to work, that they understand the need for an education, and the importance of giving to the community,” Judge Engle said.
For many of the drug court clients, they have not held a regular job or schedule, and one of the most important life lessons for them in transitioning from being an addict to a productive member of society is learning how to live within structure. While all drug court participants have to either be working at least 30 hours a week, or enrolled in school full time, for those participants that are not in school or have a job they are required to perform community service.
Participants are expected to undertake 30 hours of community service each week, which Karen Holland explained can be a great transition into the workforce.
“Like you would like any normal job, you get up, you get ready, you go to work,” she noted.
Prior to being placed in drug court, many of the clients have held jobs, gone to school, and been professionals, however many of the clients have never had any real responsibilities and drug court can be a difficult program at first. In addition to public service, participants must undergo drug testing, counseling and a myriad of other requirement aimed at a common goal of keeping them off drugs.
“One of the most difficult transitions for people coming into drug court is going from a completely unstructured life to having all of these obligations,” Judge Engle explained.
Even those who have work and education requirements must perform mandatory community service projects like the PRIDE clean-up at Buckhorn Lake each spring. For those clients that are having to perform mandatory community service, it can be a struggle to find community service opportunities, but they do often help out across the county.
Every year drug court is involved in the March of Dimes, Repair Affair, both the PRIDE weekend and the PRIDE lake clean-up. They also help set up for plays at the Hal Rogers Forum, the Vicco Fourth of July celebration, and the Black Gold Festival. They have recently spent four days helping the Hazard Housing Authority clean the areas around various housing projects.
Often the clients will also do work in the courthouse cleaning and doing filing, but Judge Engle said that they look to do more meaningful service work since that is what will hopefully affect change and understanding between both the clients and the community.
“Just from being an addict they take so much from the community,” noted Holland. “They are careless you know, they don’t think. Driving down the road, out goes the pop can. Then they have to go back and they pick that up they will think, once they are straight and living a productive life, about that pop can that goes out that window.”
Community service, Judge Engle added, helps many of the clients to see the physical repercussions of some of their thoughtless actions.
“All of us here get benefits of living in the community,” he said, “but we have obligations, too.”