By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — For most, appearing in court marks at best a detour and at worst a dead end, but yesterday Jessica Caldon and Ethan Anderson, the most recent graduates of the Belknap County Recovery Court, stood before Judge Jim Carroll with a quiet sense of pride and well of hope that filled the courtroom and touched everyone in it.
Addicts recover a day at a time and the scourge of addiction will be overcome one addict at a time. Now midway into its fourth year and marking its fifth graduation, the recovery court, a partnership of the judicial system, law enforcement and treatment providers, is where, by their own hands held by the helping hands of others, the addicted redeem and resurrect themselves.
Holding her 8-month-old daughter McKenzie, Caldon, 27, recalled bearing her first child when she was 15 – and about the same began using drugs.
"I missed out on being young," she said.
A second child followed and both were taken from her when her boyfriend was arrested. Then there was a third child followed by seven months in and out of jail. Released, she said that she was clean for time, but again turned to drugs and was arrested for violating her probation.
Caldon, again expecting, was accepted by the recovery court in April 2015. She summoned the strength to end an abusive relationship with the father of the child she bore. And, said Jacqui Abikoff, executive director of Horizons Counseling Services, steadfastly attended 33 three-an-a-half-hour intensive outpatient therapy sessions, becoming an outspoken and insightful leader in the group.
Choking on tears, Caldon said, "I'm so fortunate to be here today with a healthy mind and body and, most important, a healthy little girl."
Anderson, 26, started drinking and drugging in his early teens. He passed through various treatment programs, but always relapsed. Abikoff confessed she was skeptical when he applied to the recovery court, joking that Ethan suspected "I agreed to take him for the opportunity to kick him out." Her fears were not unfounded. "It took Ethan a while to learn things," she said, adding that he spent 17 months in the treatment program. She said he thought he could kick his addiction and still enjoy a drink and, with his infectious smile and twinkling eyes, pass muster with his providers. When charm failed, Abikoff said "we saw a different Ethan. A kind, caring, generous side of Ethan," who attended 43 of those intensive outpatient sessions.
Anderson, who owns and operates his own business in New London, said that standing for graduation is "a miracle." Turning toward Carroll, he said "We know how you care," then thanked Abikoff "for not giving up on me" along with the team at Horizons, especially his counselor Amanda, who he said enabled him to talk about things he had always kept close to himself.
James Vara, the Governor's Advisor on Addiction and Behavioral Health, noted the famous line of Rousseau's "Social Contract" — "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" — and recalled discovering that the chains are self-imposed. But, rejecting the notions that addiction afflicted weak minded and weak willed, he said flatly, "It's a disease, and anything said beyond that is wrong." He lauded the work of the recovery court, stressing that most change in the effort to curb substance abuse has come at the local level.
Calling the Belknap County Recovery Court "the only unfunded drug court in the country," public defender Jesse Friedman said that, when the court was established, what to call it became a thorny question. Although the term "drug court" had become commonplace and Abikoff pressed for its use, Carroll, he said found it "sort of negative" and suggested "How about recovery court?"
Carroll brought the same spirit to the graduation ceremony, welcoming everyone to "the most progressive court in the land." Then, following what Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke basketball coach, asks of all his teams, he told everyone in the courtroom to link arms with those either side of them and on the the count of three pull tight and shout "together." Describing Caldon and Anderson as "shining examples," he told them, "We have a roomful of people here together for you."
Next the judge drew on Rascal Flatts and, without singing, read the lyrics to "My Wish," which includes the verse:
I hope you never look back but you never forget
All the ones who love you
And the place you left
I hope you always forgive and you never regret
And you help somebody every chance you get
Oh, you find God's grace in every mistake
And always give more than your take.
Jessica Caldon, left, and Ethan Anderson, right, hold certificates noting their graduation certificates from the Belknap County Recovery Court, having successfully fought drug addiction. Caldon holds her child, McKenzie. With them are Judge James Carroll and Jacqui Abikoff, executive director of Horizons Counseling Services. (Michael Kitch photo/Laconia Daily Sun)