New York Times bestselling author Brandon Novak took those attending the Sullivan/Wyoming County Drug Treatment Court graduation Thursday night on a roller coaster ride from being a skateboarding champ to 13 different incarcerations or rehab placements.
“The fact that I’m not dead defies logic,” Novak told a group of around 190 persons assembled at the Triton Hose House in Tunkhannock to hear of the graduations of five local residents.
He detailed a life that had a major high at age 14 when he was known as a skateboarding champion, and was doing endorsements for Gatorade at the same time that basketball star Michael Jordan was doing likewise for mostly older followers.
“I excelled at everything I did because I was not going to be that person who falters,” he said.
But Novak realized he was setting himself up for a lot of pain.
And ended up at age 18 in Times Square with a need for heroin.
But, he added, “the disease of addiction is not a death sentence.”
In closing Novak said to the night’s graduates, “You can be the living proof that treatment works.”
The success stories in addition to Novak’s also belong to Roger D. Williams, John J. ‘Jake’ Dymond, Jonathan Hollister, and Bailey J. Hansen.
Williams said he wasn’t sure where his life was headed, but he was grateful that Treatment Court gave him a new lease. His wife acknowledged having lost a sister and he a brother, “but they are in a better place now.”
“We thank you so much for all you supporting us.”
Dymond said that when he was on drugs, he lost sight of a lot of things. “I realized this was no way to live and treatment court really did save my life.”
He acknowledged after two years of sobriety, “I never thought life would be like this and I thank all of you for helping me change my life.”
Hollister also told of successes and getting his kids back.
His sponsor said she remembered how much heroin he used to do long before treatment court and it was great to see the man he is today.
Hansen was introduced by the judge as having really turned her life around.
“I was looking at years in prison and losing my children forever,” she said.
“But I got accepted into treatment court by the grace of God,” she said, “and I realized, you’ll make it if you want to.”
Her mother spoke on Hansen’s behalf remembering the old days as being so demanding, heartbreaking and overwhelming. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer a knock at the door for fear of what it might be.”
“But look at her now. She’s changed course and has pride in herself.”
The fifth graduate said he had a release signed by the judge that neither his photo nor name be used in this story, and so it does not appear.
About its 11 years, Judge Shurtleff spoke glowingly about the 88 individuals who had gone through the treatment court experience with only five actually committing new crimes.
A handout of “fast facts” noted the total participant performed service community hours at 19,271, with the total amount of money saved through those hours as $139,714.75.
In addition, the total fines, fees and costs collected from participants is $553,699.71.
The primary drug of choice for participants was opiates (65 percent), methamphetamines (15 percent), alcohol (15 percent) and cocaine (5 percent).
The total number of clean drug tests was 11,689.
The success has been phenomenal, he said, and with a treatment court team “second to none.”
In the early part of the program, he acknowledged Sandy Vieczorek, whose family had lived through the nightmare of a downward spiral that addiction seemed to be destined to before her son’s death, and her sheer joy in see the successes it has endeared.
The judge also asked the entire treatment court team to come forward for a special commendation which was accorded to Tunkhannock resident Barb Landon for a tireless investment of time to make sure the program succeeded behind the scenes.
She also got a standing ovation from those in attendance.
I do this because I love to see people get better,” she said.
Shurtleff said, “Barb you are a true hero for all of our participants.”