By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
June 7, 2006
Lacey Matthews cries softly as she watches Jason Carter take his seat in front of the video screen at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility.
Carter, clad in the standard-issue orange overalls, is joking with another inmate as he awaits his televised appearance in Hood River’s drug court.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the drug court team remains cloistered behind closed doors. The audience members speculate they are making decisions about Carter and Matthew’s futures.
The conversation among clients and family members is strained and nervous. Most of the discussion centers on who is in treatment and who is not — who is in jail and who is out.
Someone finally brings Matthews a tissue and gives her an encouraging squeeze on the shoulder.
Earlier in the week, she and Carter violated their respective probations by drinking alcohol. Plus, he got intoxicated enough to physically assault her at the residence they share in Hood River.
After Carter was arrested and lodged in NORCOR, Matthews moved to another dwelling. But she will have to gain permission from drug court officials to stay there. The team is adamant that all their clients stay away from other addicts.
For the past two months, Matthews, 23, has not used methamphetamine, her drug of choice since the age of 13. Carter, 29, has stayed away from meth for four months, in his struggle to overcome an 11-year habit.
The looks on the faces of law enforcement officials and social service workers are grim as they finally file into the court room for the weekly session. They silently take their seats 15 minutes after the regularly scheduled time for the proceedings to convene.
Entering the courtroom seconds later is Ayla Nelson, the client with the longest sobriety record. She slides into her seat.
“Please tell me you didn’t just get here?” asks Judge Paul Crowley.
I just got here,” replies Nelson, 24.
“It’s been a heck of an interesting week this week. Probably our most interesting week thus far,” said Crowley.
He then decides to begin what promises to be a difficult session with Nelson. Even though she arrived late, she is excelling in the program and has been clean and sober for nine months. Nelson hastens to assure Crowley that in the confusion of working two jobs she mistakenly set her clock for 8 p.m. instead of a.m. She wants him to know that her tardiness is not the precursor to a relapse, that it is a simple oversight.
Nevertheless, Crowley denies Nelson the right to select a reward for her good progress. Area businesses donate gift cards for coffee and other services that are handed out at certain milestones for exemplary behavior.
Nelson does receive a round of applause and assures Crowley that all is well in her life before relinquishing the “hot seat.”
And then it is time to deal with the scenario between Carter and Matthews. He is ordered to appear in court the next week to answer for the probation violation and possibly face criminal charges for the assault. He is also in danger of being terminated from the diversion program and sent to jail for past infractions.
But it is Matthews who gets the most attention from Crowley. She is sternly chastised for drinking alcohol, failing a drug test (she claims to have ingested only cold medicine) and missing several substance abuse support group meetings during the past week.
“We had a lengthy bit of discussion about you and I’m of the opinion that you’ve not been honest with us on several occasions,” said Crowley, “As a sanction, you are going to jail. We want to work with you but things need to be a lot calmer than they have been.”
With those words, Matthews is banished to five days in NORCOR. Her appearance is followed by another client asking for inpatient treatment because she is in danger of succumbing to meth again. Yet another participant admits to meth use the previous weekend and she, too, thinks that inpatient treatment is necessary.
A third woman joins the list of five clients that remain out of the eight enrolled in drug court since it began last August. She fell off the wagon after four years of sobriety and was caught drinking and driving.
Before adjourning the court, Crowley gives one last word of advice to the addicts in his courtroom.
“This has been a problematic and interesting week of challenges. Some of you are doing very well and some are struggling. My real hope is that everybody makes it. What you need to do is keep your eye on the prize.”