A path out of drug abuse

Belknap County Recovery Court seeks to expand


LACONIA — Valene Colby grabbed an opportunity to recover from addiction at a time when all seemed hopeless.

The 35-year-old Laconia woman had a long history of drug use. She started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol as a teenager before graduating to LSD, cocaine, prescription pain killers and heroin.

Along the way, she walked out on her husband and children, was arrested and was sent to prison. After release, she re-offended and found herself back behind bars.

That's when the system threw her a lifeline in the form of Belknap County Recovery Court, which offers people intense therapy instead of incarceration.

If it wasn't for Recovery Court, I would either be dead or back in prison,” Colby said in a panel discussion Thursday.

The program has 11 participants. If it had enough money, it could triple in size and help more people in need of services, said Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center.

An infusion of more than $100,000 in state funding is expected later this year. Plans to apply for a federal grant had to be changed when it was determined regulations require that state funding be tapped first.

The experience of every drug court participant is different. All are subject to strict supervision and random urine tests. Some break the rules and return to drug use, which can lead to penalties, including a return to incarceration. But most ultimately benefit from the program.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals cite studies showing that 75 percent of graduates of such programs remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving and that these programs reduce crime 45 percent more than other sentencing options.

What we're doing is taking people who were a drain on our society, who were costing us money to support them in our jails and in prison, who were costing us money going in and out of hospitals uninsured, and teaching them that insurance is important, that insurance is something that will help them and giving them the resources to access the treatment they need to return to health and sanity and giving them the ability to be productive members of their communities,” Abikoff said.

Colby has been a success story.

She hasn't had any relapses and is in the final stage of an addiction therapy regimen that lasts about a year. She is working and has had reunions with her children. She serves as a coach to other participants.

This is a far cry from where she was a couple years ago.

I thought I hit rock bottom, and then I found out that rock bottom has a trap door,” she said. “One would think that once you've lost your kids or ended up in prison, that would be enough, but people don't understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral choice. It's a lonely and hopeless place to be when you stop caring if you live or die.”

Her addiction progressed in a way that has become common. She held down a job and functioned during the week, but used alcohol and cocaine heavily on the weekend.

Then she began taking powerful and highly addictive opioid-based pain killers. People can easily get hooked on these drugs, and then turn to heroin when they can no longer get them.

Absolutely, that's what happened to me and most of the addicts I know,” Colby said.

 As her drug abuse grew worse, she ended up selling drugs to maintain her habit and was arrested on a charge of intent to distribute. She spent time in Belknap County Jail and in the New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown.

Prison gave her additional exposure to the drug and criminal world and connected her with bad influences. It also did not end her access to drugs.

 There's just as much drugs in prison and jail as anywhere else,” she said. “It comes in in different ways. It doesn't take much to get it and use it.”

When she was given the option of the treatment program, she was finally ready to accept help.

I made the decision that if I went back to prison, I was probably going to repeat the cycle over again. I wanted to give myself a chance to change and change my life.”

Judge James Carroll, who presides over Recovery Court, said the decision to participate in the rigorous program is a difficult one.

I'll say to the potential participant, 'You've got to be kidding me. You really want to do this? Quite frankly, if they did their time it would be a lot easier on them. It's a year of intensive commitment, responsibility and being held accountable for literally 24-7.”

Numerous recovery sessions, community service and appearances before the judge are all typical. The aim is no less than to change the participants' way of thinking.

A key ingredient is the support that is offered.

I think it's important from my perspective that somebody believes in them, that they can be better than they are, that they can be the best at whatever they want to be,” Carroll said.

I think these folks are some of the finest people who have the most potential. If we don't make a commitment, we're throwing them by the wayside. I don't think there's anybody who should be thrown by the wayside. They deserve an opportunity and I tell you directly, it's not a gimme. It's not a mulligan. It's a commitment.”

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Belknap County Recovery Court participant Valene Colby, left, participates in a panel discussion Thursday with Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center and Belknap County District Judge James Carroll. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)


Dump Run Cafe returns after winter hiatus

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Judy Rouleau and Ray Wyss display the homemade doughnuts that Wyss made for a grand reopening event Wednesday at the Dump Run Cafe in the basement of the Gilmanton Community Church. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)


GILMANTON — For the first time in its five years of existence, the Dump Run Cafe in the basement of the Gilmanton Community Church had to call it quits for a couple of months. The harshness of this winter caught up with the informal community gathering spot.
"This is the first time we closed for two months, and we closed for January and February because of the weather," said Judy Rouleau.
Rouleau, who stayed busy in the kitchen on Wednesday, March 1, offered homemade doughnuts during a grand reopening event.
The church's meeting room bustled with music, food and conversation, as the cafe welcomed back its faithful.
"We had people coming in today that said, 'I'm so glad you're open,'" Rouleau said.
The Gilmanton Dump Run Cafe, located in the basement of the church on Route 107 near the intersection of Route 140, will continue to feature $3 simple breakfasts, homemade baked goods (donations are welcomed), coffee and games, every Wednesday, from 8 to 11 a.m. The kitchen opens at 8 a.m., and people come in for doughnuts, coffee and games. At 9:30 a.m., the 18-piece band — the aptly named Dump Run Gang — arrives to perform.
"They play all the oldies but goodies. We just have the best time," Rouleau said.
Carline Kallgren, organist with the Dump Run Gang, said the musical ensemble enjoys providing sit-down concerts at the cafe.
"We had a group of folks who wanted to play but there was no place to have a thing like that so we consulted the pastor of the church, and he said, 'You know, we have a perfect basement. And I'll check with the selectmen to see if we can use the facility safely,'" she said.
The church received the go-ahead, and a popular institution was born.
"We have a lot of fun," Kallgren said.
The Rev. Christopher Stevens said the church enjoys hosting the weekly gathering.
"It is just the old-town kind of down-home event," he said. "People get together on a weekly basis, they are able to connect with one another, which doesn't happen oftentimes in towns like this because there is no place to connect."
Stevens said the Dump Run Cafe — so-named because it's on the same road, Route 107, that leads to the local transfer station — helps both the community and the church.
"It provides a wonderful outlet for them, and we've enjoyed it and we've appreciated every bit of it," he said.

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Carline Kallgren, organist with the Dump Run Gang, performs "Amazing Grace" during the grand reopening of the Dump Run Cafe. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Goldman succeeds Hayes at Fire Aid Center


LACONIA — After nearly four decades in the fire service, including three of them in Gilford, Jim Hayes is retiring as chief coordinator of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Emergency Communication Center. Hayes will be succeeded by Jonathan Goldman of Sandown, who brings 22 years of experience in emergency communications to the position.

Since 1971, Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid has provided emergency communications 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for fire and emergency medical departments in 35 municipalities in five counties, covering an area the size of Rhode Island and housing more than 115,000 people. Hayes said that is 2016 the agency, where two dispatchers are on duty around the clock, dispatched emergency personnel to more than 26,000 incidents.

Goldman is steeped in emergency communications. He has worked for Boston MedFlight as well as the Pelham Police Department and Rockingham County Sheriff's Department and the Derry Fire Department, which provides fire and emergency medical dispatch services for five towns along with the Border Area Mutual Aid Group.

"I've worked with law enforcement, but fire and emergency medical services is my preferred discipline," he said.

Goldman currently serves as a commissioner on the New Hampshire Enhanced 911 Commission and as the emergency medical services captain with the Sandown Fire Department. He is also vice chairman of the Sandown Board of Selectmen. As there are no specific plans to expand the service area of Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid, Goldman said his highest priority will be to ensure that the agency keeps pace with the changes in communications technology.

Hayes noted that as a firefighter and fire chief he represented the customers of mutual aid while Goldman, with his background in communications, brings the perspective of a provider to the position. Moreover, with his appointment, the position of chief coordinator will become a full-time position.

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Jonathan Goldman, left, will succeed Jim Hayes, right, as chief coordinator of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Emergency Communication Center. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)