Before entering Montgomery County Circuit Court Adult Drug Court, Angela Brown’s life options were limited.
“Jail or death,” said Brown, 43, of White Oak, who graduated from the program in 2010.
The year was 2008. Brown was in jail again. She had lost custody of both of her daughters and said she had stopped caring about life.
She smoked crack while she was pregnant with her oldest child, whom she delivered during a previous stint in jail. She stayed clean during her second pregnancy, but relapsed after that.
“I cared, but I didn’t care,” Brown said, “because I didn’t change. I didn’t find a solution to my addiction. I wanted to get high.”
Thanks to drug court, Brown is no longer Angela Brown, the crack addict.
She’s a proud mom, a career woman, a student. Brown is clean and sober, living a life full of options.
“I thank God for the drug court program for helping me change my life around,” Brown said.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Adult Drug Court is an 18-month alternative sentencing program for repeat drug offenders.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. created it 10 years ago, looking for a better way. He remembers former graduates like old friends and nearly came to tears when talking about some during an interview.
“It’s about changing the whole person,” Rupp said. “It’s not just about staying clean.”
Participants who complete drug court are honored at a graduation ceremony.
This year’s spring graduation was held May 14 in a crowded Rockville courtroom, minus the typical decorum. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy’s speech included a song and dance to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.”
Brown was one of this year’s keynote speakers. Case workers described her as a “hot mess” when she began, but she became a drug court success story.
Brown has reunited with family and has a job in management. She is studying psychology and hopes to start a group home for teens struggling with addictions.
“If I can change, I know somebody else can change,” Brown said.
Maryland’s drug courts formed as part of a national push to change how drug offenders are punished, said Gray Barton, executive director of Maryland’s Office of Problem Solving Courts.
Barton said Florida is credited with creating the first drug court programs during the 1980s. The state’s jails were flooded with drug-related offenders who kept coming back despite harsh sentences.
In Maryland, there are 12 Circuit Court-based adult drug courts. According to Rupp, 140 people have graduated from Montgomery’s drug court program since its inception in 2004. The program has an 85 percent success rate, he said.
McCarthy lauded drug court for helping to get offenders out from under the justice system. Two prosecutors from the state’s attorney’s office are assigned to drug court.
“Being in drug court, you get the opportunity to see the back story,” said Sherri Koch, an assistant state’s attorney involved with drug court from the start. “We don’t always get to see the rehabilitation.”
Drug court participants report to Rupp or Circuit Judge Joseph M. Quirk on Thursday nights. They must attend therapy sessions and meetings for drug addiction and undergo drug testing nearly every day. Participants also must keep a job. Violating the rules could mean jail time.
“We recognize there are going to be bumps along the road,” Rupp said. “The vast majority go through ups and downs.”
That’s what happened to Samad Cassim, who failed a drug test during his first few weeks in drug court in 2011. He was ordered to spend a month behind bars. Cassim said the experience scared him.
“I was on this steel bunk bed with no mat, nothing. Just steel,” said Cassim, 31, of Potomac. “I was handcuffed to the bed post. I couldn’t move because I was withdrawing. They thought I was going to do something to myself. My bones felt like breaking. I thought I was going to die.”
An addiction to prescription painkillers led Cassim to drug court in early 2011. He recreationally used Percocet to cope after the mortgage firm he worked for closed in 2009.
That escalated to a $1,000-a-month Oxycotin addiction, facilitated by a doctor who gave prescriptions for cash.
When the doctor stopped giving out prescriptions, Cassim said, he resorted to concocting bogus precription slips with a phone number routed to a friend who’d pretend to be the doctor. The scheme was up when the friend got caught with Cassim’s pills.
Cassim graduated from the program in November 2012 and has remained sober.
“When you’re done with the program, life continues on as if you’re still in the program,” he said. “For me, I feel like, ‘Oh my God, if I do drugs or alcohol, the judge will find out.’ I’m still paranoid about that.”
During this month’s graduation ceremony, Rudolph “Rudy” Washington, 46, of Gaithersburg, sat smiling quietly among the spectators.
Washington, a 2012 drug court graduate, said he started drinking as a teenager, “hanging out with the fellas.” Drinking became all-consuming and was a factor in a serious car crash that left him with a brain injury during the 1980s.
Washington said it’s taken time to repair damaged relationships — drinking, he said, helped break up his marriage.
“It’s like God has given me a second chance to correct my mistakes from the past,” Washington said. “I don’t know too many people who get those opportunities.”