Drug court alumni paying it forward

People who gained from county’s alternative strengthen the program

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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For a year and a half, when Christina Traxler wasn’t in jail, she was sleeping on Discovery Trail.

Traxler’s meth-addicted lifestyle finally caught up with her in February 2005, when she was arrested for residential burglary and entered the drug court program.

Initially a skeptic, Traxler said her path to becoming clean started about six months into the program, when she met a recovered addict at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

The informal mentor helped her realize she wasn’t alone. A new life was attainable.

“I didn’t have any clue what I was doing,” Traxler recalled. “I remember what it is to be completely lonely.”

Now, the 42-year-old drug court graduate is paying it forward. She and 17 other graduates have started a mentoring program to help current Clark County drug court participants wade through the challenging process of becoming — and staying — clean.

There has long been an alumni group for drug court, which offers low-level offenders treatment instead of jail time for a minimum 12-month program. But last month, with the help of Clark County Superior Court therapeutic courts coordinator Brad Finegood, group members began meeting with “mentees” — new participants in the program. They help the participants by accompanying them to NA or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, answering questions about the program and simply being a stable support.

The goal is for every drug court participant to have a mentor.

Organizers say the intent of the new mentor program is to reach participants in the early stages, the first 90 days, when most people tend to drop out of drug court. That’s often because their lifestyle is still full

of drug-using friends and they aren’t yet aware of the treatment resources.

“If I’m getting out of jail and I don’t know anyone healthy, I’m going to go back to that dope man,” said organizer and drug court graduate Darrell Rooks.

About his reason for becoming a mentor: “In recovery, you gain by giving back,” Rooks said.

Rooks started drug court in 2007 simply as a way to avoid a three-year prison sentence. Because he didn’t have stable housing, he was ordered to live at the Rulli House, a house for alumni and current participants of drug court named for Superior Court Judge James Rulli, the founder of the program.

There, Rooks met a drug court graduate, Tim, who proved to be the stable person he says he needed.

One night, a clean Rooks went to his former dope dealer’s house to show off that he didn’t need drugs. He came home loaded.

Upon arriving home, he had a long talk with Tim, who encouraged him with tips on how shed his old lifestyle.

“That’s where my recovery took off,” Rook said. “I probably would have been off and running” with using meth had it not been for a mentor.

And the mentor program isn’t just about encouraging participants to attend NA meetings. They also invite mentees to informal functions and social events. This fall, Traxler invited her mentee, April Shanahan, to a haunted corn maze with fellow recovered and recovering addicts.

The turnout, 64 people, blew Shanahan’s mind. “She had never known there were that many people trying to do the same thing she was,” Traxler said.

Traxler gets tears in her eyes when she talks about her mentees.

“It’s like holding a brand new baby and telling them, ‘Here’s your new life,’” she said.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.