Given a second chance
Terry Puzick was traveling the road to calamity. “I was sitting on a bar stool dreaming of the life I’m living today,” Puzick said. The turmoil in his life was enormous because of his addictions, which landed him in court after he had been found with cocaine and charged with DUI. It seemed prison was inevitable. That’s when the Garfield County Drug Court put him on the road to recovery.Instead of doing hard time, he was sentenced to probation on reduced drug charges, and soon found himself before Chief District Judge T. Peter Craven.Craven, through firm-handedness and positive reinforcement from the drug court’s bench, showed Puzick the path away from addiction, just as he did for scores of others who graduated from drug court and now revere him as a symbol of a compassionate judicial system.After Puzick graduated from drug court, he began living his dream – he bought a house,
opened a small construction firm and relegated his days of addiction to accounts of a troubled past. “I’m living that life now,” he said. “It’s not a joke.”On Friday, the drug court held a special memorial service for Craven at the Garfield County Courthouse. Puzick and other graduates praised Craven’s unwavering positive reinforcement, and wished today’s clients well on their journey from addiction. Craven’s guidance was the keyFor Louis Girardot, at first, drug court served as an obstacle between him and the next hit of his drug of choice.
But after working hard at recovery and hearing Craven’s encouraging words, Girardot said he became a mentor to other drug addicts, and eventually graduated from the program with a new set of values and life free of addiction. Though graduating from drug court required a heavy dose of self motivation, program graduates say they wouldn’t be the successes they are today without Craven’s guidance. “The image he left for me was one that was not attached to mortality,” Puzick said. “He was that large.”But Puzick’s hero is gone. Craven, the “founding father” of the drug court, died unexpectedly in June, leaving the 9th Judicial District Probation Office determined to carry on his legacy, but uncertain of the passion with which the program will be implemented when Craven’s replacement takes the bench later this year. Craven isn’t the only person involved with drug court who is now deceased.Ray Combest was the chief probation officer for the 9th Judicial district when he died in a car wreck in February 2005. The Ray Combest Drug Court is named after him.The drug court was also recently expanded to both Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties and is only one of 11 such drug courts in the state.
A second chanceCraven, with the help of Combest and probation officer Kyle Miller, started the drug court in 2002 as a way to prevent addicts from continually ending up in prison.”Craven was quick to realize that addiction was driving criminal behavior,” said Chief Probation Officer Shawnee Barnes. “This was the fix.” Drug court is a four-phase program that guides willing drug users and addicts through recovery while living and working in the community – no prison time required. To get into the program, drug offenders have to be sentenced to probation, and must be nonviolent, have an identifiable substance abuse problem that’s related to their criminal conduct, and they have to pass a mental health exam. Addicts in the program have to be willing to take on the challenge of the drug court because it requires them to waive some of their rights, said drug court probation officer Terry Shanahan. “We use intermediate sanctions to motivate people toward treatment, and sometimes that requires people to be sentenced to short-term jail stays,” he said. Drug offenders work with a substance abuse counselor, often over a period of about 18 months, to first build trust, communication and anger-management skills, then later to learn job skills, and how to prevent a relapse into drug addiction. “We actually help them rather than put them away somewhere,” said Mike Flannery, a drug court substance abuse counselor. “We don’t shame them at all. We try and support them and get them going (in) the right direction.”
Regularly, they return to court flanked with a probation officer and an addiction counselor without a lawyer to report their progress to the drug court judge, who, until now, was always Craven. Graduation ceremonyAfter offenders passed through the program successfully, Craven would hold a graduation ceremony in court and present them with certificates, honoring their progress. Often, Craven would come down from the bench and hug the graduates, Barnes said. With Craven’s passing looming large over the drug court, those both in the program and running the program want to make its future success Craven’s lasting legacy. But the fate of the program rests on the passions and priorities of the future chief district judge, whom has yet to be named.”I really think it would be difficult to ignore the success of the program,” said Miller, who is now probation supervisor of the 5th Judicial District in Summit County. Initially, he said, drug court was paid for with grant money, and now, it’s entirely state funded and a fixture of the Probation Department with Shanahan as its full time probation officer.
“We’re pretty secure,” Barnes said. The drug court’s graduates want the program to remain, as well. Drug court graduate Chris Blank, who has been drug free for three years, said his drug use made him lose sight of himself, but Craven helped him find his way through the chaos of addiction. Blank stood before a room full of the court’s current clients and admonished them to succeed as a way to honor Craven. “Take it serious, man,” Blank said. “If you don’t, you’re spitting on his grave.”Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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