Monitor Keeps Alcoholics, Drug Addicts Off The Road

Often He Steers Them To The Straight And Narrow

October 13, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

Bob Kirkland is the kind of guy people just can't say enough good things about.

He is known for helping people change their lives. Hisjob is helping alcoholics and drug addicts stay sober and out of trouble. County judges, his co-workers and clients say Kirkland does hisjob well.

Kirkland, 49, heads the Carroll Drunk Driving Monitor Program. His job is to help drunken-driving convicts stick to the terms of theirprobation by having them report to his office once a week.

A defendant who is convicted of drunken driving often is sent by a judge tothe county Health Department to be evaluated. If that evaluation reveals a drug or alcohol problem, the judge often will place the personin the monitor program.

Those convicted of drunken driving -- offenders, as Kirkland calls them -- are ordered to report to Kirkland'scourthouse office once a week. He asks them whether they are attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and whether they have had a drink lately.

Everyone in the monitor program must remain abstinent, Kirkland said.

Kirkland and fellow Carroll monitor Laura Beeker also check to see whether offenders are complying with other probation terms, which can include volunteer community service and completion of a alcohol- or drug-rehab program.

The monitors also can order urinalysis tests to see whether offenders are telling the truth.

If Kirkland or Beeker determine an offender has violated probation, the judgeis notified. If the judge decides a violation has been made, probation is often revoked and the offender sent to jail.

Many credit thestrict requirements of Carroll's monitor program with its success, but most court officials say kudos also is in order for Kirkland.

Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold was on the District Court bench when the monitor program began in 1983. Thanks to Kirkland and his personaltouch, the judge said, the program has been useful in keeping tabs on drunken drivers serving probation.

"I have never met a more dedicated person, and he's also a great guy," Arnold said. "He handles a tremendous amount of cases and he seems to know each one individually."

While there are no court statistics available on the percentageof drunken-driving offenders who are sentenced to the program, Kirkland says more than 900 come through his office each week.

Arnold said that while it is impossible for Kirkland to know what each offender is doing 24 hours a day, he doesn't seem to let any get away with anything.

"He seems to have an intuition to know if someone has been sober or if they've been drinking," Arnold said.

Kirkland says he understands the plight of offenders because he, too, is a recovering alcoholic.

"I know what it's like to want to be able to look atyour face in the mirror and not be disgusted," said Kirkland, who lives in Sparks, Baltimore County, with his wife, Doris, and two children, Arthur, 22, and Robin, 20.

"I know what it's like to want to hide every time the phone rings and the bill collector comes."

Before becoming a monitor, Kirkland worked as a custom cabinetmaker in Timonium, Baltimore County. He broke his back and went out on disability.

He was told he'd never work again but refused to believe it.

"Nobody would hire me," he said. "So I started using alcohol as a medicine to get me through my depression."

Kirkland said he was drinking a case of beer a day at first, before moving to a quart of vodkadaily.

After attending Alcoholics Anonymous for one year, he decided to start a group for young people with alcohol problems and beganspeaking at meetings.

That's when he came to the attention of theBaltimore County monitor program and was asked whether he would liketo be trained as a monitor for Carroll.

Gordon Miller, supervisorof the monitoring programs in Carroll and Howard counties, said Kirkland is effective because he knows the tricks of self-deception that are part of alcoholism.

"You can't con an ex-conner," Miller said.

But Kirkland attributes the success of his program to tenacity.

"We're the best because we care about people," said Kirkland, who estimates the program's success rate at 90 percent. "If there is one little fraction of some desire (to stop drinking) in somebody, we'll keep working with them."

Kirkland and Beeker acknowledge that is not always easy. Offenders who are sent to the program rarely want to check in every week and often come with a bad attitude.

But the monitors say they don't give up easily.

"People who fail to keep up with the program at the beginning come back to do well," said Beeker, who has worked with Kirkland at the Carroll office for the past five years. "We see the unwilling become the grateful."

One of the grateful people is Bob, a 35-year-old construction worker who completed the program several months ago.

"When I first came here, I thought it was a bunch of bull," said Bob, who asked that his last name not be used.

Offenders find that if they stay sober during their probation, Kirkland can be a valuable asset. He often testifies in court onbehalf of offenders trying to get their sentences reduced.

"We all have a lot of respect and admiration for Bob Kirkland," Miller said. "He is very dedicated. When he speaks in court, everybody listens."

Kirkland's dedication is not limited to his job. Early this year he was named Elk of the Year at the Westminster Elks Club. In March he persuaded the Elks to donate $400 to a child abuse seminar sponsored by the Westminster Police Department and the Carroll State's Attorneys Office.

Then he took four days of his vacation time to attend the seminar.

He also works with the Elks to donate $2,000 each year to the county's Youth Drug Summit.

But of all the things he does, he seems to enjoy his job the most.

"Seeing somebody get their life together, that's the best thing," he said.

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