Hannah Greer, 16, Pope High School
“I was clean for nine months until this month, when I slipped up and drank some whiskey. I’ve been to jail four times. My drug of choice, it’s embarrassing to say, was cocaine. Finally, it hit me that if I could go without it in jail, I could go without it at home.
“My resolution is not to go backwards at all next year. I had done so good with staying out of trouble for nine months and I’m not really sure what happened. But I poured some whiskey into a water bottle and my parents found it the next day and I went back to lockup.
“This coming year, I’m going to focus on schoolwork and stop trying to be cool. I can be lame; that’s OK. I like hanging out with my dog and watching Sponge Bob with my brother. I’ve said I was done with drugs before. But now, seeing how far I’d come and how proud people were of me, I don’t want to go back to where we started and let everyone down.”
Rachel Perdue, 16, Pebblebrook High School
I got caught using marijuana three years ago and have now been clean for seven months. For my New Year’s resolution, I want to lose 10 pounds, and stay sober, of course. To do that, I’m going to have to stay busy. I’m going to spend time practicing my cello, and keeping my grades up and spend time with my boyfriend, who is very supportive and a good influence.
“Plus, my mom and I have a lot of fun together. We’d be hanging out and best friends if we were the same age. And there are people that I used to smoke with that I’ll need to stay away from. Some of them, I’ve known since I was four, so that will be hard. But I want to get into Georgia or Georgia Tech eventually, but I’ll really have to pull up my grades to do that. So that should keep me busy.”
Tomorrow, Meet Hannah
Nick McCullough, 17, Pope High School
“I have a good head on my shoulders and for starters, I won’t do what I normally would do on New Years, which is smoke weed. I want to go to college and I have my mind set on that now. I am the captain of my hockey team and pretty much always have been. I like to be a leader instead of having a lot of people looking over me. I’m not crazy about being under people’s rule, so even this (drug court) is a big deal for me.
“My resolution is to keep my mind on the future. I’ve changed a lot of my friends and certainly have changed what I do on weekends. I have a curfew from the judge now, and I have to be home at 10 on non-school nights. That’s when I’d be starting my night.”
Tomorrow, Meet Dylan
Dylan Hamilton, 15, Pope High School
“I started smoking marijuana two years ago. I was skipping a lot of school, hanging with the wrong crowd, living the wrong life. This coming year, I just want to be clean and able to relax and do my best in school so I can start preparing for college. I’m a grade behind where I should be and I’m trying to make that up now.
“There were some wasted years, for sure. For me to reach this resolution, I just need to do what the judge says. I know she wants what’s best for us. And when I have more freedom again, I need to stay away from people who help me make bad decisions and get around people who will help me make good ones.
“That’s going to be hard because there are some close relationships that I’ve had to abandon. But if I do that, I think I’ll meet my goals.”
Tomorrow, Meet Rachel
Damian Browning, 16, Marietta High School
“I see 2012 as a chance to keep my grades up, think clearly and level headed and stay sober. I was 14 when I started drinking and 15 when I started smoking weed. The probation I’m on actually is a big help in keeping me sober, but my parents have really wised up to what I was up to and are paying close attention. Plus, I’ve got a new baby brother (born around Thanksgiving). When I see him, I just think what I was doing is not worth it.
“Right now, I’m making the best grades I’ve made ever and I’m beginning to think about college. I’d like to be an architect or design engineer one day. My resolution is to keep those things in mind and work hard toward achieving them and be a good role model for my brother.”
Tomorrow, Meet Nick
Erin Dale, a probation officer in Cobb County, Georgia’s juvenile drug court, has never come across a kid who started using marijuna as young as Zach Dykes.
“Seven years old,” Dale said. “Pre-teen, like 11 or 12, is the earliest I’d seen before Zach.”
Zach, 17, is currently in the Cobb County, Ga. Juvenile drug court program. Up until this April, the Hillgrove High School senior had smoked marijuana on and off – mostly on – since he was 7. He’s been locked up on drug charges and probation violation four times.
But you just can’t help but like Zach, Dale said, particularly now that he’s showing drive and dedication to accomplishing some things in his life.
“He’s always wanted to do right and he’s always honest and takes responsibility for his situation,” Dale said. “That is not usually the case with kids we see. Most will do whatever they can to get away with something, but not Zach.
“Until about a year ago, though, he was kind of floating around wanting to get through with probation and school, but something clicked. Since then, he’s raised his grades high enough to play football and he’s putting things in motion to do things with his life.”
Both Dale and Scott Merritt, a certified substance abuse counselor who has worked with Zach the last year or so, hope Zach stays focused on staying clean as opposed to being a caretaker of his older brother, Robbie, 23.
Robbie was released from prison earlier this month after serving 18 months on a drug conviction. Robbie says seeing Zach clean and sober is one of the greatest gifts he’s even been given. Both talk about helping the other stay clean. That sounds good, Merritt said, but it can become a not-so-good approach.
“It’s possible to feed off each other in a good way,” he said. “But when first opportunity comes along to use, I just don’t know Robbie well enough to know where he is in his recovery. I think where Zach is, he’s strong enough to make a good decision and not go down that path. But I’m trying to get through to him that he can’t be responsible for his brother’s sobriety. He can’t protect him and make his decisions.”
Added Dale: “Zach thinks his brother coming home is a positive, and we all hope it is.”
For all teenage recovering addicts, the holiday season can be tricky.
“A lot of people think it’s a great time for kids, and it can be,” Merritt said. “But it’s also just as stressful for kids as it adults. They experience the stress their parents are under and often have just finished some end-of-semester exams. And with school out, the structure is missing and the opportunity to use increases.”
Dale thinks Christmas will be a good time for Zach, though.
“How Christmas helps or hurts is a case-by-case thing. Sometimes, the holiday is a trigger for bad memories or just a trigger to get together with the wrong people and use,” she said. “But a lot of time, when families get together and take the time to see how much improvement there has been with someone like Zach, it can be a real positive reinforcement for all the hard work.”
On Monday, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission filed charges accusing the judge for allowing a man charged with cruelty to children and battery to improperly enter the drug court program despite not being charged with any drug-related offenses, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The defendant is the nephew of Brunswick, Ga., attorney Jim Bishop who Williams, according to court documents, said has “been there for me for years and years.” Williams is quoted in court documents as saying Bishop's nephew, Henry Bishop III, would lose his state insurance license if he was not diverted into the drug court program.
In November, Williams was charged by the Judicial Qualifications Commission with a dozen ethics violations relating to her time as head of the Glynn County, Ga., drug court program. She is accused of detaining defendants indefinitely and denying them access to their attorneys and family as well as making false statements and engaging in nepotism.
Williams relinquished control of the drug court following the initial charges. She also agreed to no longer preside over any criminal cases while her case is pending.
Longtime Georgia Juvenile Court Judge Peggy H. Walker was elected to the Executive Committee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) earlier this week at their 74th national conference in New York City. Spanning the next five years, Judge Walker will serve as NCJFCJ secretary, treasurer, president-elect, president and immediate past-president, respectively.
Founded in 1937, the Reno-based NCJFCJ is the nation’s longest running judicial membership committee with a roster of nearly 2,000 judges and related professionals. The council aims to provide judges, courts and related agencies with the necessary knowledge and skills to improve the lives of families and children affected by the juvenile justice system and domestic violence.
“The common thread among the NCJFCJ leadership is hard work and the courage to overcome adversity as we work to improve the lives of children and families,” said the newly elected Judge Walker. “Georgia is already focused on child well being. Having national leaders enhances the state’s efforts; it gives the judiciary greater credibility and allows us to engage government agencies and foundations that work with our children and families.”
A few major NCJFCJ initiatives include:
- The Child Victims Act Model Courts Project - a network of 36 model courts that serve as mentor resources to juridictions nationwide.
- Drug Court Training and Technical Assistance Project - working with the Office of Justice Program's Juvenile Drug Court Training and Technical Assistance Project to help juvenile drug courts implement and enhance their respective programs.
- The National Center for Juvenile Justice - Founded in 1973, NCJFCJ's research division is the country's only non-profit research organization specifically dedicated to the juvenile justice system.
Her election continues a notable history of Georgia juvenile court judges chosen to join the NCJFCJ’s Executive Committee. Most recently Judge Michael Key, juvenile court judge in Troup County, Ga., ended his term as NCJFCJ president July 26, 2011.
“Like Judge Michael Key, Judge Peggy Walker has been a tireless advocate for children,” Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, Supreme Court of Georgia, stated in a press release. “I am proud and honored that the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has chosen her to join the Executive Committee and become the Council’s president in 2014.”
Since 1998, Judge Walker has served as juvenile court judge in Douglas County, Ga., and a member of NCJFCJ’s Board of Trustees since 2005. She has also served as president of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, chair of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and a board member for the Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Just joining us? This is part five of a five part series. Start from the beginning.
Cobb County, Ga’s., Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman’s office overflows every Wednesday at 4 p.m. For an hour, with therapists and probation officers filling every chair and – with several sitting on the floor – Stedman and her juvenile drug court team do a rundown of every kid currently in the program.
One by one, Stedman calls out the name of each of 30 or so kids. The assigned probation officer and counselor chime in, giving her an update on how the week had gone for the juvenile.
For these kids, failing a drug test, disregarding a curfew or skipping out on house arrest, most likely means the judge isn’t going to let them go home. More often than not, someone shows up on Wednesday night with one or both of their parents, and ends up being taken to the county Youth Detention Center here in suburban Atlanta.
For the most-addicted kids, or the ones with the most rebellious attitudes, a stint in YDC is fairly common. But it doesn’t take long for kids to realize that Stedman, who can be as compassionate and loving a woman as there is, isn’t one to be tested.
"Todd, why do you think I'm so upset with you?" Stedman asked one of the teenagers in a previous class.
"Because I smoked?"
"You smoked pot three days after I released you. Did you not think I looked serious?”
"Yes ma'am, you did."
And she was. Todd went back to jail that day.
Not everyone succeeds in drug court. And almost all of them will relapse at some point along their path to recovery.
Lynn Abney, a licensed professional counselor and part of the drug court team, said watching kids relapse is one of the hardest parts of the job for her and her teammates.
“I’d say more times than not, we expect relapse,” Abney said. “It’s an unfortunate part of the illness. But I’m a firm believer that even with a slip up, the kid is further along than he or she was at the last slip up. A lot of times, it’s two steps up and one step back. If someone is truly an addict, you at least hope that the time between relapses gets wider and wider. Sometimes it’s about managing relapses.”
Abney, and a handful of other counselors working the Cobb County juvenile drug court, make in-home family counseling visits with the kids – maybe weekly at first, then less often. But it’s a way for this to be more than just a justice or law enforcement program.
“To me, the No. 1 reason it is as effective as it is, is the accountability of the legal system and the clinical treatment of therapy,” she said. “It’s like treating someone with a major depressive episode – medicine is OK and therapy is OK. But medicine and therapy is the best, together. Our program is more successful than just incarcerating or just doing therapy.”
Not everyone who goes through the drug court will succeed. The grip of drugs and alcohol can sometimes prove to be too much.
“It’s tough,” Abney said. “Sometimes what you can do is not going to be enough. I think sometimes, we try too long with some families. We’ve seen tragedies where someone did not have long-term success. Still though, we believe that something that was done or said was helpful. It might not have saved them or prevented relapse, but we were planting a seed. If it didn’t help that kid, maybe it helped his brother, or his friend. Those are things we have to hang on to when we see things go bad.”
Just joining us? This is part two of a five part series. Start from the beginning.
Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman, who presides over Cobb County, Georgia’s Juvenile Drug Court has gotten to know Kyle quite well the past three years.
Yes, he was one of the most dangerously addicted kids she’s seen. And she’d seen plenty of heartbreaking cases that ended in tragedy.
In the more affluent suburban high schools in Cobb County, north of Atlanta, Stedman said drugs, particularly prescription painkillers, stimulants and benzodiazepines (or benzos) are easy to obtain. And sometimes, these drugs aren’t dealt with seriously inside kids’ homes.
“There’s a sense that, ‘it’s only alcohol’, or ‘at least it’s only marijuana’, or ‘it’s just a pain pill,’” Stedman said. “To some permissive, or head-in-the-sand parents, as long as they don’t hear words like crack, heroine or meth, then it can’t be all that bad.”
That passive logic has landed hundreds of addicted kids in her court.
Hindsight being what it is, the Boyers now can see a few warning signs they shrugged off initially. The most glaring one was when Kyle was in eighth grade and was caught selling some pain pills he’d gotten from his parents’ medicine cabinet.
“We wrote it off,” John Boyer said. “I talked to him, and I believed him when he said he did a stupid thing and wasn’t going to do it again.”
Police thought it was far more serious. Kyle was arrested, charged with distribution of a controlled substance and put on 12 months probation.
By then, Kyle had the beginnings of addiction.
Twice in seventh grade, he’d been prescribed pain pills – once for appendicitis and once when he broke his knee. Kyle discovered he felt better on the pills than he did when he wasn’t taking them. So at the age of 12, he began to lie when asked how his knee or appendix was feeling.
Long after the injuries had healed, he’d tell his parents they still hurt. In truth, Kyle was hurting – it just wasn’t his knee or appendix.
He and his family had moved from Austell to Acworth, Ga., in Cobb County, when Kyle was in fourth grade. A bit large and sluggish for his age, classmates picked on him over the years. He was put in some special education classes, widening the target.
“I didn’t feel like I fit in, and the drugs were my escape,” Kyle said. “When I was high, I didn’t care what people thought of me. Pretty soon, any chance I had to get high I would, even if I had to steal it from someone’s house. At first, that just meant when I was at a friend’s house, I’d snoop and look in medicine cabinets.
“Eventually, by the time I was a freshman at Harrison High School, I started not caring about anything. I didn’t care about friends, family, anything. All I cared about was getting high. If you weren’t getting high, I didn’t want anything to do with you.”
Kyle said it is ridiculously easy to buy pills at any of the high schools he’s attended. Harrison was more affluent than either Allatoona or Kennesaw Mountain, also in the North Atlanta suburbs. That meant it was the easiest of the three, and finding a dealer never was much work.
“It was easy to get and I started the day by taking 8 to 12 Vicodins or maybe four OxyContins and go from there,” he said. “I’d do anything I could to get my hands on something that was making me feel so much better about myself. Oxy and morphine tablets were my drugs of choice.”
Many of the pills were cheap. OxyContin was not. Kyle said he could buy Vicodins for a few dollars each but that each 40 mg tablet of OxyContin would cost him about $20.
Most of the time, Kyle would get high in school, or at home after school, in his room, in front of the TV. He wouldn’t go out, break curfew, and come home stumbling. He’d just chill. And that made it all the harder for his parents to detect.
“I preferred to get high alone,” he said. “I didn’t put two and two together. I knew I was sad a lot, but I think I was denying the fact that I was clinically depressed. I had low self-esteem and was almost never happy.”
But he wasn’t opposed to getting high at school either. Kyle was kicked out of Allatoona High School for having alcohol he had bought on school grounds.
“I poured a tad bit of coffee into a travel mug, then the rest was vodka,” Kyle said. “The two are not a great combination, but it smelled like coffee.”
For the next couple of years, this was Kyle’s pattern. Aside from his stays in the youth detention center, and getting tested for drugs monthly, he spent 30 days at Ridgeview, an Atlanta youth rehabilitation center. Usually, he’d stay clean for a few weeks or so before jumping back, head first, into his addiction.
Judge Stedman could have kicked Kyle out of her court and let the state deal with him, particularly after three relapses. The drug court, which comes with family counseling, periodic drug testing and mandatory attendance in a weekly court session, is not set up for kids to get chance after chance. It’s a privilege -- a chance to stay out of the state system and take advantage of counseling and therapy.
The Boyers know that Kyle had to try Judge Stedman’s patience.
“I think she saw something in Kyle,” John Boyer said. “He never lied to her. When he used, he’d tell her, ‘There’s no need to test me, judge. I’ve used.’”
Steadman did give Kyle more rope than others. What is usually a six-to-nine-month program became a two-year program for Kyle.
“Kyle was one of the most addicted kids I’ve seen.” Stedman said. “We were really worried about him. But his mom and dad came every week, sat on the front row, and were so supportive of him and what we were doing, that we knew he had a chance. That kind of support system is very important.”
How significant was the grace and love and discipline offered by the drug court folks?
“There’s no doubt in my mind that without drug court, we’d have buried our son by now,” said Suzanne Boyle, Kyle’s mom.
John nodded in agreement.
So did Kyle.
Continue reading: Kyle finds hope in a classmate who offers friendship and a way out.
Multimedia credits: Clay Duda