By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Stephen Edwards has a wonderful gift for Christmas that he’ll continue to unwrap for years to come: himself. The 28-year-old Davenport father of one graduated two months ago from Scott County Drug Court, an intensive supervision court program that takes a team approach to rebuilding lives.
Wearing a pink dress shirt and tie, he stood proudly with other drug court graduates Oct. 24 in Scott County District Court before a packed room of well-wishers and individuals just beginning drug court. Each graduate shared his or her story of redemption and beamed as Judge Marlita Greve (who was their presiding judge through most of drug court) described their transformation.
Among those in the audience were Stephen’s mother, an aunt and her boyfriend, and Kent Ferris, social action director for the Diocese of Davenport, who served as Stephen’s mentor.
Stephen’s life, like all drug court participants, had plunged into an abyss before he recognized the need to get help. Facing a 15-year prison sentence for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, he had time in Scott County Jail to think about his out-of-control life.
He’d managed enough self-discipline to be a boxer, but couldn’t extricate himself from the addiction that began in his teen years. Motivation to change plummeted after his girlfriend died in a car accident in 2010 in Davenport. Their son was 5 years old. “I didn’t care about nothing. I was upset, heartbroken,” Stephen recalled.
While awaiting sentencing in Scott County Jail in winter 2013, Stephen participated in an eight-week substance abuse treatment program, a prerequisite for many offenders seeking to participate in Scott County Drug Court.
“I didn’t want to be like this anymore. I was thinking about my son. He’s going to lose both parents. I didn’t want that to happen. It was all over drugs and alcohol. I was doing it for the high; I was hating myself for it,” Stephen said.
He and other supporters wrote letters to Jeff Fall, a longtime probation officer who coordinates Scott County Drug Court. Sister Nancy Schwieters, CHM, one of the letter writers, had taught Stephen at the former Holy Trinity Catholic School in Davenport.
“I thought he really wanted to change his life, to turn it around,” Sr. Schwieters said. “And that’s not easy when you’re addicted to drugs. It’s not easy at all. I wanted to do anything I could to help him. It doesn’t hurt to have a letter from a Sister.”
Getting into Drug Court isn’t easy. “It’s hard to know or discern if someone is really motivated and sincere as opposed to wanting to avoid prison,” said Fall, a probation officer for 36 years who has been with the program since the beginning in 2002. “We won’t take anyone younger than 25. They’re just not ready to surrender. They haven’t hit what people would call the bottom.” One of perhaps several-thousand drugs courts nationwide (including three within the Davenport Diocese’s boundaries), Scott County Drug Court is an intensive supervision program designed to take 18 months to complete.
“On average, it seems to take two years,” Fall continued. “We have had 170 offenders involved in the program (some more than once), of which 138 were males and 32 were females … Since our program’s inception, we have graduated more than 70 clients and provided enlightenment/enrichment to most of those who have not.”
Stephen hadn’t been to prison but entered Drug Court based on successful participation in the jail-based substance abuse treatment program operated by the Center for Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS). Approving his participation was a joint decision of the Drug Court team — comprised of a presiding judge, public defender, CADs representative, assistant county attorney and two probation officers.
“The whole team gets together on Thursday at the courthouse …. Jeff prepares a report and talks about what they are (participants) are doing and, if they’re having a problem, how we can intervene,” said Nik Kerr, program manager for CADS. “You’d never think of substance abuse, probation, and the judiciary coming together for the purpose of helping people,” he added. “So many people are so willing to extend themselves, to put themselves out there to help people make those changes in their lives.”
Judge Henry Latham II, who has presided at Scott County Drug Court since August, calls it a great resource. “Every time I see one of the participants graduate to the next level and continue to improve their lives – that’s as much satisfaction as you could ask for while presiding over Drug Court,” he said. “I think it improves your abilities as a judge; you have a better appreciation of (the powerful force) of addiction. You understand criminal thinking.” It also saves taxpayers’ money, the judge added.
Attorney Garth Carlson said his title in Drug Court may be public defender, but “it’s not so much defense. It’s ‘what does it take to help you with your program?’” Drug Court functions as a team, which Carlson has been a part of for 10 years. “It’s incredibly rewarding when you have the success stories,” added Carlson. But he also appreciates “the humility and thankfulness of all the participants. You definitely can see you are helping them.”
When Stephen was accepted into Drug Court, he entered the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center on North Brady Street in Davenport for a six-month boot camp of sorts. The Salvation Army collaborates with the Drug Court team to help participants prepare for the real world. Operating like a small, contained city, the religious-based treatment program teaches men (and soon, women) job skills such as welding, forklift operation, appliance repair, food service, retail, sorting, organizing and teamwork. Participants receive counseling, attend church services and follow a disciplined schedule – up at 6 a.m. and lights out at 10 p.m.
“You have classes every day; you work 40 hours a week at the Salvation Army,” Stephen said. “If you mess up there, they’ll kick you out.”
Participants are here “because they want to change,” said Salvation Army Captain Alex Velasquez, who oversees the sprawling, 6,200-square-foot rehabilitation center. The Chicago native is a Salvation Army success story. He understands the tenacious grip of addiction and how to overcome it. The key is to “get individuals working with a focus on changing behavior.” Velasquez proudly notes that “100 percent of our graduates graduate with a job.”
Stephen successfully completed the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Program and secured a full-time job with a Walcott firm making John Deere tractor tires. But as he advanced to more independence in the Drug Court program, he relapsed. He was caught drinking and failed to report for curfew. He spent a week in jail as a sanction before resuming the Drug Court program.
“Initially, he did what he needed to do to get by – he wasn’t investing himself,” Fall said. One of the Drug Court team members suggested Stephen might want to talk with Kent, who’d been attending drug court sessions every Friday for months. Kent is working on initiating a mentoring program composed of parishioners from the Davenport Diocese. Encouraged by the Drug Court team, he visited Stephen in jail and the two began meeting once a week, usually at a coffee shop.
“Having Kent around is wonderful,” Carlson said. “Everyone (on the team) is always looking at “how to do things better. Can we add a resource we haven’t had before? The (Davenport) Diocese has reached out to us with Kent,” Carlson adds. “I don’t know if Stephen would have gotten through without Kent.”
One of the turning points for Stephen was having Ferris for a mentor, Fall said. “One Saturday I was talking with Steve. He had a (boxing) match in Des Moines and Kent showed up, and that meant so much to Steve. Here was someone he’d just met, who took time out of his life to go all the way to Des Moines. That was a big turning point for Steve – his involvement with Kent.”
Mentor and mentee still get together for coffee on Mondays, at Marie’s restaurant near the courthouse in downtown Davenport. “Kent is not just my mentor; he’s my friend,” Stephen said. “I think the world of him … I can talk to him about anything.”
During their coffee break last week, Stephen talked excitedly about the possibility of moving from second to first shift at work, allowing him more time with his son, Michael. Kent encouraged Stephen to continue focusing on sobriety so that he’s ready and able to achieve all of his dreams.
“So much of the time the way we help a person is by doing things for them,” Kent said. Drug Court sees a more effective way. “It’s sharing the journey with them.”
Drug Court goals
Scott County Drug Court, in existence since 2002, was designed as a prison diversion program targeted at habitual offenders who continued to commit crimes to support their drug habits. Drug Court takes a team approach and is composed of current presiding Judge Henry Latham II; Public Defender Garth Carlson; Jail Based Treatment Program Manager (CADS) Nik Kerr; Assistant County Attorney Joe Grubisich; Probation Officer/Coordinator Jeff Fall and newly appointed Drug Court Officer, Johnna Kay.
“One of our Drug Court program’s goals is to give addicted offenders an intensive and holistic opportunity to recover from their addiction and avoid continued involvement in crime,” Fall said. “We work on this by providing assessments, counseling, treatment, education, employment and accountability to our clients, which is all geared toward productive, law-abiding behavior and long-term recovery for their drug addictions. Another goal we work hard on is to provide a cost-effective alternative to incarceration throughout community monitoring and treatment-based services for the participants.”
Since its inception, the program has graduated more than 70 clients and more than $235,000 in restitution has been satisfied, Fall said. “We have collected over $30,000 in enrollment/supervision fees and over 58,000 hours of community service work has been performed. We are proud of our success.”