MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Now that fall is officially here, our theme this week is Falling. Get it? Falling for fall. Falling. Fall. Anyway, moving on, we'll start off this part of the show with a story about people who've fallen to the fringes of society. And a county program that fell out of favor. We're talking about the Loudoun County Drug Court, which since 2004 had been working with people convicted of drug related offenses.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
In a split vote earlier this year, Loudon County supervisors voted to cut funding for the program. Drug courts are based on the idea that non-violent drug addicted offenders need intensive treatment and close supervision to break the cycle of addiction-driven behavior. Jonathan Wilson headed to Berryville, Va., to meet up with Loudon's former drug court coordinator, Michelle White. As they sat outside, she explained why she had to fight for the program every year and what it was like to finally lose that battle.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
That first docket -- do you remember that? I mean, were you in the courtroom?
MS. MICHELLE WHITE
Certainly. We had one person on the docket. Everybody starts with at least one. And it wasn't perfect. I can say that for sure, it wasn't perfect. It was a learning process. I don't think we ever stopped learning in drug court. Because you can't. You have new people with new issues coming along every single day, and so part of it is the art of learning how to deal within the system to get those people what they need.
Some of the prosecutors, some of the judges didn't get compensation for working these extra hours, and yet they all seemed to be, or at least the judges seemed to be, very supportive of the drug court. Is that correct?
It is. Extremely supportive, yes.
So why was it still hard to convince people? What would people say to argue against drug court?
Sure. And this is, these are not arguments that are only ever heard in Loudon County, of course. These are things that are heard in many, many places. So some people believe that it's coddling. Some people believe the people should just be incarcerated. That drug addiction is not appropriately dealt with in the system other than incarcerating people so they can't use.
How did you guys make sure that you weren't coddling these people?
Well it's funny, you could probably ask any one of them if they felt coddled at any point in time and I'm sure they would say no. When there is someone over your shoulder, particularly in the beginning of the program, saying what did you do today, what are you going to do tomorrow? Call me tomorrow and tell me what you did. That's a lot of oversight.
Then you have someone coming to your employer, you have someone coming to your house, you have to go to treatment intensively every week, you have to come to court to tell two judges whether you've done what you're supposed to do or not. And then if you haven't, you face consequences. When a person would test positive in the Loudon program for any kind of illegal substance, they went to jail. We have expectations of you. And if those expectations are not met, and you're out of control and a danger to yourself, you have to stop the behavior and start over.
Did this year feel different than previous years, and was it something that got you emotional? I mean did you ever have trouble, and I know this is your job and you're a professional person, but did you ever have trouble when you're talking and fighting keeping your emotions in check?
The worst part in all of it is not, you know, poor Michelle because, you know, her job is on the line yet again. It is that you saw it working. You saw people transform themselves from homeless, jobless, criminal activity committing drug addicts. And I'm not trying to say that they're bad people. I'm saying that they were in bad places and that we helped them. It wasn't always pretty, it wasn't always fun, but we helped them and they, I think they learned about themselves, and they grew as people.
And when that had to be taken away and they would say I know, I've been in the regular system. It didn't work, that's why I'm here. And then we say to them, I'm sorry, but the regular system is all that is left for you. That's the worst part. A job is a job whether I loved it or not. It's their life. We had people in drug court who died because of their addiction. And so when we would say to people, we are trying to save your life, we meant it.
That was Michelle White, Loudon County's former drug court coordinator talking with WAMU's Jonathan Wilson. This story came to us via WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their experiences with us and a way for us to reach out for input on stories we're working on. You can find more information about the Public Insight Network by visiting metroconnection.org/pin.
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