ROCHELLE — Madeline Martin knew she was going to die – and she didn’t care. “I was OK with it,” she said. “That’s how addicted I was to drugs.”
Martin, who drove all the way from Elgin, was one of three former drug addicts who shared their stories with about 65 people at the annual Drug Court Awareness Dinner at SALT Thursday night. All three are graduates of the Ogle County Drug Court, one of 3,000 throughout the country.
According to Ogle County Judge Ben Roe, a total of 32 former drug addicts have graduated from the local program, which started in August of 2009. They are among 150,000 nation-wide graduates.
The stated mission of drug court “is to reduce the cost of substance-related crime, while holding offenders accountable for their behavior and preventing recidivisim by effectively addressing substance-related crime in Ogle County through the education and intensive individualized treatment of offenders, thereby enabling them to become productive, responsible citizens.”
Besides helping the addicts themselves get off of drugs, Ogle County State’s Attorney Eric Morrow said the program also promotes public safety by getting those who were on drugs to stop committing crimes.
One drug court graduate, Joe Simms, can attest to that first hand.
The Rochelle man said he started out on alcohol and marijuana at a young age and eventually transgressed into heroin, which he said is easy to get – especially in Rockford — and is “actually pretty cheap.”
At his worse, the 41-year-old Rochelle man had a $400 a day habit, which he supported by robbery and burglary.
“I was a non-functioning addict,” he said, adding that he couldn’t work and was only living to support his habit anyway he could. “You don’t just steal from stores, but from your family and friends. You need to get your fix and everyone is a victim.”
Ironically, Simms said users only get high the first few times they use heroin. After that, they develop a tolerance and need it “to get well,” back to what he called normalcy.
Despite several arrests, two stints in prison and three overdoses, Simms didn’t hit rock bottom until his family left him. That’s when he knew he had to do something. According to him, he deliberately committed his last crime in January of 2017 so he would be locked up. It was then, he said, “someone saw something in me” and sent him to drug court.
After 15 months of hard work, Simms said his record is clear and – more importantly – he is done with drugs and is leading a normal life, which he credits to a higher power.
Ogle County Drug Court graduate Joe Simms (right) speaks with Representative Tom Demmer at Thursday night’s dinner at Salt 251.
“God sees a purpose in all of us,” he told the crowd.
The other two graduates told similar stories about their experiences.
“You guys are like real life avengers,” Christopher Jones told the crowd, composed mainly of family, friends and county officials, most of whom are involved in drug court. “It is like I had a certain life and I died, and now I have a new life. I love you guys so much.”
Jones – who has been clean since July 4, 2015 — said he failed at everything in life except drug court. Today, he has a job, has met the love of his life and proudly has full custody of his children, something he was told would never happen.
“I know it’s corny, but it’s like being re-born,” he said. “I have a life again.”
Admitting she thought her life was “unmanageable,” Martin said she “ditched and dodged” drug court until she finally decided to try it. At first, she was only going to go along until she could be cleared and then return to drugs.
“I didn’t want to be sober,” she said, adding that she thought the whole thing was set up for her to fail.
But something happened and she started seeing the benefits of it.
Today, she runs a business with 42 employees.
“My mother never gave me a key to her house, but now I have a key to the business and I make money deposits,” she joked, drawing a big laugh.
On a serious note, Martin said “drug court saved my life.”
Representatives from the New Horizons Ogle County Specialty Courts, along with Ogle County Drug Court graduates, judge and Representative Tom Demmer attended a dinner Thursday night at Salt 251.
If it’s true is takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a community to rehabilitate a drug addict.
That message resonated several times during the annual Drug Court Awareness Dinner, hosted by New Horizons Ogle County Specialty Courts, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of drug court, last Thursday at SALT in Rochelle.
“It is important for the community to support this,” Ogle County Judge Ben Rand told the crowd, noting the group recently received a $1,000 grant from the Rochelle Area Community Foundation.
Essentially, drug court helps those with drug problems get off drugs through education and individualized treatment, rather than simply sending them to prison. As Ogle County State’s Attorney Eric Morrow pointed out, this cuts down on costs, as well as crime since most of those on drugs commit crimes to support their habits.
Although drug court started years ago, Tom Demmer, Illinois State Representative of the 90th District, said it wouldn’t have meant anything if it wasn’t for the people who took that piece of paper and turned the program into what it is today.
It was announced that 32 former drug addicts have graduated from drug court and are now leading healthy and productive lives.
More than just law enforcement officials, Demmer meant everyone in a community must get involved, which can start with something as simple as your attitude.
Not everyone, he said, starts off in life with “great opportunities.” Many face struggles and challenges that others don’t. “I can’t imagine what it takes to face those challenges,” he said.
Rather than simply turning your back on those who may make bad choices and need a second chance, it’s better to help them if you can, which benefits everyone.
“The strength of a community is what it can do when it comes together,” he said. “That’s what a good community looks like.”
“I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but it takes a team to make this happen,” said Madeline Martin, one drug court graduate who spends a lot of time talking to groups about drug abuse.
“You can’t do it alone,” Joe Simms, another drug court graduate, added.
One Ogle County official, Ron McDermott, may have put it best:
“If you take unity out of community, you have nothing,” he said.