January 04, 2018 06:29 PM
Anthony Poyirier knew the court system well.
"I was in and out of incarceration, I was running from probation," Poyirier remembered. "I was not checking in, I was using a lot."
Pills were his drug of choice. He got hooked after he broke his collarbone.
"They were prescribed from the doctor, but after that, I would just find any way to try to get 'em from them," he said.
He was sitting in a Cook County jail when his probation officer approached him and gave him two options.
"I had a lot of time hanging over my head," Poyirier said.
He could serve that time, or he could be the first participant in Cook County's new drug court program.
"Traditional probation is more of a punitive or incarceration-based program," Cook County Attorney Molly Hicken explained. "And recovery court is more treatment response."
Poyirier didn't want to go to prison. He has two kids. So he chose drug court.
"I was doubting it," he admitted. "I said, I've been living this way for most of my life, since I was a little kid."
But he hung on and followed every step. More than a year later, he became Cook County's first graduate.
"Now that I'm sober, and I think about it, I can see everything that I've done. And I'm ashamed of it, but I realized that's what made me stronger now," Poyirier said. "Seeing how I was before and knowing that, I don't ever want to go back to that no more."
That's always the criminal justice system's goal, Hicken said. But addicts are not always set up for success.
"Sending someone to prison simply because they're not able to stay sober through probation is not necessarily the answer. In fact, it could be an illustration of the system failing," Hicken said.
Hicken said the people who are eligible for recovery court are nonviolent offenders who are high risk and high need. She desribed them as "frequent fliers" of the system.
"The experiences that they associate with the courtroom are negative experiences. They've been punished in a courtroom," Hicken said.
Drug court tries to flip that perception, offering incentives for milestones and encouragement from the judges and law enforcement officials offenders are used to receiving punishments from.
"I never would have thought I would have completed it and never thought I would have stayed sober, but I did," Poyirier said. "And I'm proud of myself."
Hicken said he was an inspiration to her.
"Because he's sober, he now is full-time employed, helping to support the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino and make that a successful business," Hicken said. "Because he's sober and not in jail, he can be a parent to his children."
Those kids keep him going. He has custody of his daughter, 8-year-old Anelicia and son, 4-year-old Anthony Jr. Plus, he takes care of his nieces, Ariana and Rhonnie.
"I just want to keep my life on the right track so I can try to steer them away from that negative life that I had," Poyirier said.
His mom had been one of the pillars of his support system. Even after she passed away, he has managed to keep it up.
"I wish she could be here to see it, but I know she looking down on me," he said.
He recently hit 1,000 days sober. He called drug court the best thing that ever happened to him.
"Drug court came long, and that changed me. Changed me forever," he said.
There have been three graduates from the Cook County program, and they hope it will continue to grow in the future. Hicken said funding is their greatest challenge, and they are constantly looking for grants and donations.
She said it is a more expensive program than traditional probation, but it saves taxpayers money in the long run because it is proven to reduce recidivism and help turn people into productive members of society.
"In a small community, any event -- good or bad -- has a more intense impact," Hicken said.
She is currently screening candidates to be admitted into the program and hopes for the same results as Anthony.
Updated: January 04, 2018 06:29 PM
Created: January 04, 2018 06:26 PM
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