My name is Trace Taylor. I am an artist currently working on a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. During the summer of 2011, I was given a unique opportunity to document the recovery experience of drug court participants at Dekalb County’s Superior Drug Court. This body of work is titled, The Discovery Project.
In the United States 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older are in need of treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem (SAMHSA, 2011). Drug courts have received a great deal of attention owing to their effectiveness at helping people move into recovery by integrating treatment and judicial supervision. The programs work with nonviolent offenders, whose offenses are driven-by addiction; their charges range from possession to forgery to shoplifting. One of the remarkable things about drug courts is that they confound the long held belief that an addict must be ready for change. In fact, few participants are when they enter these intensive programs, and yet enduring, often dramatic change does take place for many. There are more than 2,400 drug courts in the United States; more than 22,000 people have graduated from a drug court program (Huddleston & Marlowe, 2011). Yet we know very little about what happens to the individuals who go through a drug court program, especially from their own perspective.
In the months of September through December of 2011, I interviewed more than forty participants enrolled in the DeKalb County Superior Court Drug Court program. Using audio and photography, I was able to capture both a conceptual and authentic landscape. The concepts that this project focuses on are unmanageability, surrender, relapse and accountability. The images provide abstract interpretations of these concepts while the audio component includes actual testimonies from participants who describe their experiences as they adhere to these separate themes.
Ultimately, the Discovery Project attempts to translate the effectiveness of drug court and how it applies to the rehabilitative experience from a qualitative point of view.
This study would not have been possible without the remarkable support from the Dekalb County Superior Drug Court staff and the extraordinary commitment from each participant. Thank you to my professors: Dr. Leah Daigle and Dr. Wendy Guastaferro for your guidance and continuing mentorship. I would also like to thank Andrew Cummings for all that you have done in making this project a reality.
Addiction can destroy a life. It is a powerful disease that willingly feeds on an individual much like a parasite. The addiction is an unrelenting, permanent drive. It is selfish. It affects relationships with friends, families, and communities. Often the ones closest to the addict are left hurting the most. Their children, parents, spouses and siblings all become prey to the disease. Because of these devastating factors and the incredible association between crime and addiction, drug court programs are becoming more prevalent in the criminal justice system.
“My life was two questions: How much do I have and how long will it last me?”
This transitional phase of recovery is arguably the most important, and at the same time, the most difficult. It can be challenging because these are uncharted waters, so there must be a great level of trust involved to accompany the fear. As an impetus for growth, the act of surrendering self-will must take place before any progress can occur. It is the acceptance that a person’s thoughts and will have been hijacked by the disease; that neither can be trusted until stability is restored. Here, the drug court can provide a healthy foundation for participants to build upon until treatment gets traction. This is ultimately where the work begins.
“The first thing that I had to learn was that, in here, surrender was not a bad word”
Relapse is a commonly misunderstood part of recovery because it is not just a physical phenomenon. Instead, a relapse begins with a mental lapse that can be triggered by a host of environmental factors that may or may not be predictable. It is an incredibly subtle matter and avoiding relapse is no trivial task. It takes an extreme amount of self-awareness, preparation and hard work in order to fight off temptation. Drug courts respond to this by introducing replacement thought strategies that are used to counter potential risk behaviors that may jeopardize sobriety.
“Anyone can relapse, addiction knows no bounds. You can have fifty years clean and that doesn’t make you immune from relapsing. I have a little bit over a year and I know that at any point in time I can relapse and you have to keep that in check.”
As human beings, it is hard for us to admit guilt or wrongdoing and it is often difficult to accept responsibility for our own mistakes. The easy thing to do is to shift the blame, and point the finger in the other direction so we can avoid the truth. This alleviates nothing. There comes a time where we have to focus on ourselves and take responsibility for our own actions. Drug courts provide an environment for participants that emphasize the value of responsibility, honesty and accountability.
“Learning to love myself and love someone else and let someone love me, for a change. For a change.”
Just as addiction bears the responsibility of destroying, drug courts bear the responsibility of restoring. Upon completion of the program, participants will receive a plaque indicating that they have done everything as required by the court to graduate. Although the program may be over, the ultimate test begins. Because now there are no more court sessions to maintain enthusiasm, there is no more authority to guide and inspire motivation. This transitional phase is extremely critical. This is where the structure and security that drug court provides yield itself to the individual, allowing them to use all the tools that he or she has learned. It is the time where the individual will apply what they have learned to the world where a renewed life is awaiting.
“Everybody in drug court believes in me and I’ve never had nobody believe in me before. That’s one of the reasons why I’m going to graduate from this program. When I was on the streets, I didn’t have nobody believe in me, not even my own family.”