On the road to recovery, one man's success story

Graduation: A participant in the county's inaugural DWI/drug court program says, `You've got to want it for it to work.'

July 03, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A year ago, Karl Holly Jr. hit an all-time low after struggling with alcoholism for 30 years.

He was arrested for driving while intoxicated three times during one week in July. He also faced drug charges because marijuana and pain pills were in the car.

After years of substance abuse and having to serve jail time because of drunken driving, the Laurel resident decided it was time for him to turn his life around before he killed himself.

On Wednesday, Holly, 46, was one of two people graduating from Howard County District Court's first DWI/drug court class, a program with intense treatment and judicial supervision. The other graduate did not want to be interviewed.

Dressed in a new gray suit and mauve tie, accompanied by his mother and girlfriend, Holly said July 10 will mark a year of sobriety.

"If it wasn't for the program, I'd probably be a dead man," Holly said.

The District Court started the drug court program in June last year and expanded it to include DWI offenders at the beginning of the year after Howard, Anne Arundel and Harford counties split a $167,000 state grant to create the state's first specialized court programs for repeat impaired-driving offenders.

Howard's DWI/drug court has 24 participants.

Howard District Judge Louis A. Becker III, the DWI/drug court's primary judge, said the program successfully discourages recidivism by promptly dealing with offenders, while giving them incentives to avoid substance abuse, which he called a "modern day plague."

"It's not easy stuff, folks," he told the crowd in the courtroom that had gathered for the graduation. "There's no pill to be taken; no one day in jail is going to solve it."

To be eligible for the program, participants must be at least 18 and are usually repeat offenders. They must plead guilty to the substance abuse offense and may face jail time.

The county state's attorney's office and the Health Department screen potential candidates to determine whether they are suitable for the program.

The DWI/drug court also offers participants encouragement. At the graduation, those in the program received a gift card from companies including Safeway and Marshall's, and from the YMCA, to mark their progress.

Gray Barton, executive director of the Maryland Drug Treatment Court Commission, said those small incentives help change the usual criminal justice system notion built solely around punishment.

But, Barton noted, "It's not a soft-on-crime program. It's tough."

Participants have to go before the court about twice a week, submit to substance abuse testing, attend group counseling sessions and go to school or retain a job.

After Holly was arrested last year, he said he spent a month in jail and another month at an in-patient substance abuse treatment facility. He entered the DWI/drug court program in September.

"I'm 46 years old. I'm too old for doing drugs," he said of his decision to join the program.

Holly, a self-employed businessman working in home improvement, agreed with Barton's assessment of the challenging program.

"You've got to want it for it to work," he said.

Judge Becker said Holly has done "magnificently" through the DWI/drug court.

"It's fortunate we had the program here for him," the judge said.

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