Behind the curve

Courts that aim to treat, not punish, addicts gain a slow toehold in Texas

Back in the day, if you had asked Ruby Bouie about her drug of choice, she would have told you right out, "Whatever you got, honey." Booze, pot, ecstasy, acid, crank, coke, smoking it, shooting it, snorting it--she had been drinking and drugging since she was 16. Moving around the way her family did, she was always the outsider desperate to fit in. Drugs were her way of fitting in.

At 24, Bouie thought she was getting by just fine: She paid rent, owned a car, made good money as a waitress, and did large quantities of cocaine--quality stuff. "I didn't know any other way to get up and get functioning in the morning," she says. Sure, there was the occasional minor brush with the law--hot checks, outstanding tickets--but nothing heinous enough to keep her behind bars and away from her dealer, who was also her best friend.

In late December 1998, her boss grew tired of her showing up late or not at all and fired her. During the next two weeks, she spiraled out of control, staying "constantly fucked-up," she says. One night she was driving to a club off Cedar Springs to meet her dealer. A cop arrested her for the baggie of cocaine he found in plain view.

After making bond, she promised herself she'd change: She would use in moderation, only on weekends. But after a few days she was back at it, rationalizing that her case was no big deal, a state jail felony. She even got a call from some woman who said that being a first-time offender, Bouie was eligible for something called DIVERT court. If she signed onto the program with the 120 or so defendants who were already being monitored by the court, no felony case would be filed against her and no conviction would result if she completed the program.

"All I heard was that my felony would be erased from my record," she says. "I thought, 'I am going to con my way through this.'"

What she hadn't bargained for was a rigorous treatment program that combined nonstop therapy, drug testing, and sanctions. What she hadn't counted on was a streetwise judge hell-bent on changing her life.

Criminal District Judge John Creuzot has been volunteering his time for the last 31 months as the judge of DIVERT court (Dallas Initiative for diVersion and Expedited Rehabilitation and Treatment). Rather than being a neutral jurist, he acts more like a parent trying to get his kids to do right: He sets limits, he praises, he punishes. His court is part of what many legal experts consider a judicial revolution that views prison as a revolving door that just turns addicts into better criminals. What is needed instead are courts that supervise addicts, offering them intensive treatment with the carrot of avoiding prosecution altogether.

According to the Office of Justice Programs at American University, as of January, there were 440 drug-treatment courts in the United States, with another 279 in the planning stages. California has 108 drug courts either implemented or planned, Louisiana has 35, and Oklahoma has 27. In June, New York became the first state to require that nearly all drug-addicted nonviolent criminals receive treatment rather than jail time. Yet this "revolution" has failed to take seed in Texas, which has only five drug-treatment courts, one of which, the court in Fort Worth, recently shut its doors because of lack of funding.

Just why this state has fallen so dramatically behind the rest of the nation has as much to do with politics as it does with prejudice. But the Texas Legislature is now looking for ways to address this disparity, calling on interim committees to study the issue. What they may find is a growing number of addicts who have graduated from these drug-court programs: people who are clean and sober, people who are staying out of prison, people like Ruby Bouie.

The pattern was set for Ruby Bouie when she was 6 years old. She claims her father was a womanizer and an alcoholic who was fond of giving his four children "hot toddies" to put them to sleep. Emotionally distant parents left Bouie vulnerable to other family members who were also looking for love--or sex. The sexual abuse left much of her childhood a blur, though she does remember the day her father left and her foolish suicide attempt, hoping her overdose would could keep him there.

She was 13.

At 16, she moved to Pineville, Louisiana, where she excelled in school and sports but ran with a group of girls who liked to party. "You know that euphoric feeling that you search for your whole life," she says. "I got that when I had my first bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill."

She spent the next 10 years chasing the next high, grabbing hits of self-worth with every line she snorted. When she moved to Dallas at 20, she went "buck wild"--the small-town girl hitting the city hard. "Whoever had the most drugs was who I was going home with," she says.

Small wonder that the drug evaluation ordered by Judge Creuzot recommended that she go into inpatient treatment, a 90-day commitment to Trinity Homeward Bound. Once a month, on Tuesday evenings, she would also attend DIVERT court in Frank Crowley and tell the judge of her progress, which was virtually nonexistent.

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