As they have to do every week, some 30 people packed into a courtroom at the Berkeley County Courthouse for another day of drug court. Defendants were called to stand before the judge and the Honorable, Dale Van Slambrook used a polite and steady tone to remind them of the unrelenting risk of failure - that's only one dose away.
Participants are in the constant throes of an emotional drubbing. They are addicts battling to get clean after years of addiction and sickness have siphoned dry self-awareness and personal responsibility. All this, while the courts meticulously watch their every move during a brutal journey to personal rediscovery.
While the program offers some support, there are five phases participants have to get through in drug court, which takes about 18 months to complete. Once a week they must attend court, see a judge, attend two to three treatment sessions and two self-help classes, and prove they have found and kept a job.
The drug testing is ceaseless, and there is a weekly fee of $30, as well as the expected payments on any restitution owed to the courts from arrests. Failing to honor any one of these could end it all after months of working at recovery.
But it can be done. The first two success stories from Berkeley County’s Drug Court were celebrated at a commencement in the courtroom earlier this month. The Feb. 5 event also reminded others that success is possible.
According to Roy Arrowood, no drug was off limits to him, though he preferred meth. He had a long list of drug charges, facing four years in jail; but his charges will soon be expunged, and he said he feels as free as he’s ever been.
“Life is good today, and I don’t want to go back to where I used to be,” Arrowood said. “I don’t have another run out there; I have another run, but I’d never make it back.”
He praised the court for giving him a second chance.
“I love my life, and I want to thank the drug court for the opportunity to have my life,” Arrowood said.
Maddie Ingalls, a retired law enforcement officer, said her grandson Tyler has also completed the program. He recently purchased land and will soon be getting married, she said, while fighting back tears of gratitude.
“I realized exactly what this is all about versus my cynicism as a cop,” Ingalls said. “I can’t begin to tell you what it is to get my grandson back. It is thanks to all of you and thanks to his mind set and what you’ve taught him."
For a number of years the program has been implemented and quite successful in Charleston County. Many of those from Berkeley County failed because of the distance and limited support from others in the program. In September 2017 Berkeley County drug court started with 12 participants, but that number has since more than doubled.
“When I walked in the door, I was blown away seeing you all here,” said Scarlett Wilson, 9th Circuit solicitor, to participants at the commencement.
Wilson commended program graduates for their willingness to start again and courage to correct their past behaviors and start new chapters.
“Without you, Berkeley County would not have this tremendous opportunity to have people getting back on the right track," she said. “Nobody can underestimate the trials and tribulations that you will have, but you have witnessed what it can be like."
The program is also credited with limiting the constant catch-and-release of addicts. To be considered, offenders must plead guilty to their drug charges; and if drug court is not completed, they must agree to serve whatever sentences they initially received. Sentences can range from two to 12 years.
The next commencement ceremony is planned for April.