The consequences of addiction are very real for thousands of Americans who resort to crime to feed their drug habit.
When they get caught and prosecuted, many end up behind bars. But more and more are heading to drug court and rehabilitation because statistics show it’s working.
DC4 in Nashville is the nation’s first court-operated residential drug court. There, men from all different backgrounds from across the state of Tennessee are learning how to heal themselves.
The men share a common bond: they’re all convicted felons and addicts.
Justin is serving three eight-year sentences for drug-related crimes. Over the past decade, he has spent a total of five years in the county jail.
Justin said he had been offered help before, but didn’t want it.
“I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. I wasn’t desperate enough. I didn’t care,” Justin said.
Facing the possibility of 24 years in prison, Justin chose to go to DC4. It’s an 18-month inpatient treatment program for non-violent felons looking to avoid prison time. They do group and individual therapy, vocational training, and rehabilitation.
“You can leave here anytime you want. You can walk straight up that driveway and ain’t nobody going to stop you. For people to stay there’s some part of them that wants this,” Justin said.
“I’m satisfied with what it’s done,” said Judge Seth Norman, the founder of DC4.
Norman founded DC4 in 1996. Since then it has successfully rehabilitated more than 1,000 convicted felons.
But Norman said over time, drug addiction in Tennessee has become much more severe.
“When we first started 20 years ago, powder and crack cocaine were the big things. Then we went to meth. Now we are dealing with opioids and heroin, and it has just ballooned,” he said.
About 75 percent of the participants in this program have used opioids or heroin, and that number is growing. Each of these men how hope to rid themselves of the addiction that pushed them to a life of crime and stripped their freedom.
That feeling is very familiar to recovering addict and DC4 graduate Nancy Kemp.
“The worst part of that for me was the look on my mom’s face when I had to go and turn myself in and her having to see me led away in handcuffs,” Kemp said.
Kemp was caught stealing pills from the website where she worked. Sober for more than four years now, she said she’ll never forget breaking down in a courtroom in front of Judge Norman.
“He said, ‘Well I’m sure when you were growing up you wanted to be a veterinarian or doctor, but you didn’t want to be a drug addict.’ I immediately felt he had compassion,” Kemp said.
That compassion comes from personal experience. Norman has been a recovering alcoholic for the past 30 years.
“I think it’s everybody’s duty to help an individual if they can possibly do it. That’s the democratic way, as far as I’m concerned,” Norman said. “If I can help somebody, I’m going to do anything I can to help them.”
After graduating from DC4, the inmates are still on probation for the remainder of their sentences.