Here we were, two intrepid reporters from the Dallas Observer, sitting in a small, dark library next to the chambers of state District Judge John Creuzot as the wiry jurist prepared to jab sharp needles into our ears.
"All you're gonna feel is a minor prick in your ear," Creuzot said reassuringly, and we felt pretty certain the diminutive judge was referring to the needles and not himself.
Judge Creuzot was about to turn our ears into pin cushions in order to demonstrate a form of acupuncture that he advocates--and sometimes administers--as a treatment for drug addicts who appear before him in a special court he runs at the Crowley Criminal Courts Building. The purpose of this auricular acupuncture, he explains, is to get the body back into balance and to help rid it of poisons.
"Even poison pens?" we asked.
"I don't have enough needles for that one," he said.
We laughed nervously, hoping to humor the man who held our fates--and ears--in his hands.
He rolled up his shirtsleeves and got down to work. He handed us cotton balls doused in alcohol to clean the folds of our ears. Then he carefully unwrapped the spindly, pointed needles from their enclosures--five for each of our ears.
"These are Japanese needles, the best I know of," Creuzot said. "They're shaped to separate the skin, to go in smoothly, not like hypodermic needles or the kind you're used to at the doctor's office that draw blood or administer medicine. Those are the kind people are fearful of."
At the moment, it sounded like a difference without a distinction. Despite the judge's soothing bedside manner, we frankly remained unconvinced that this was going to be painless. After all, how many judges would have loved to be in this position--armed and dangerous with two smart-ass journalists at their mercy?
He poked the first needle into the fold in the upper part of the outer ear and gave it a little twist. This needle was to unlock the energy in the body's nervous system, the judge explained. The next needle, strategically placed on the flat surface just above the first needle, was to tap into the body's spiritual energy.
The third needle elicited a decided wince and a little yelp of pain from my colleague as the judge stuck it into the flat section in the middle of the outer ear--to help the kidneys, he said. After adjusting the third needle slightly to ease the discomfort, the judge inserted the fourth and fifth needles in the outer ear, one to act on the liver, the other to help the lungs.
When he was done, Creuzot left us in the library, where he instructed us to sit quietly and relax for 45 minutes while waiting for the results to kick in.
To say Judge Creuzot is a hands-on kind of guy is an understatement. Since last January, he has spent his Tuesday nights presiding--for free--over "divert court," Dallas County's new way of handling offenders who are hooked on drugs. Instead of trying and convicting them, the objective is to treat them first. Within 10 days of their arrest, offenders who meet certain criteria--no prior felony convictions, no evidence of violence or dealing, relatively minor drug-possession charges--are offered the chance to get the monkey off their back and the charges off their record.
The program requires frequent drug testing, twice a week to start; mandatory participation in a drug-treatment program; and regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. In addition, participants must appear weekly in Creuzot's divert court, which meets for two and a half hours each Tuesday evening. In exchange for successfully completing the program, participants' cases are dismissed.
Whether the offenders are motivated by the chance at a clean slate or a clean bill of health or both, Creuzot's program boasts some impressive results. As of the end of July, 83 percent of the offenders were still enrolled in treatment in his divert court--the official name is Dallas Initiative for Diversion and Expedited Rehabilitation and Treatment. The national average for similar drug courts around the country is a 72 percent retention rate. The program lasts from 12 to 18 months, so final results aren't in yet.
"I think we're helping a lot of people," Creuzot says. "I think it's really worthwhile."
Last spring, when Creuzot was offered the chance to further help the offenders assigned to his court, he jumped at it. Several of the treatment providers the court contracts with began offering an acupuncture component to their treatment plans, and Creuzot liked what he heard. Research shows that when it is done in conjunction with traditional counseling, acupuncture improves the chances of success by relieving withdrawal symptoms and reducing the physical craving for drugs.
How this happens is unclear. According to an article Creuzot's staff keeps on hand, researchers believe this ancient Chinese healing art, commonly used in the treatment of chronic pain, causes a release of endorphins, the brain's naturally occurring chemical painkiller. Scientists theorize that endorphins relax clients and reduce drug cravings by blocking the brain mechanism involved in addiction.
The New Place, a substance-abuse treatment facility in East Dallas, also suggested they send a counselor to provide treatments during court, as a courtesy to the people in ongoing treatment and as a way to expose the newcomers to what acupuncture is all about.
Creuzot says he thought it was a great idea.
"Judge Creuzot is real involved in this court and is progressive and open-minded about things," says the court's program manager, Carol Todd.
Creuzot knew some people around the courthouse--a distrustful lot by nature--might question this nontraditional approach to dealing with substance abuse. Creuzot decided the best way to handle any criticisms or challenges that came up was to respond from personal experience. So last spring, he was trained as an auricular acupuncturist during a marathon 72-hour session at The New Place. After administering 40 supervised treatments of what is commonly referred to as acupuncture detoxification, Judge Creuzot received his certification.
On occasion, Creuzot will take off his black robe, step down from the bench, and help out the drug counselor on Tuesday nights by performing acupuncture treatments himself. "I think they like the hands-on contact from the judge," Creuzot says. "I think it shows them I'm not just someone on the bench, but by touching them it reinforces I really care about them."
The addicts in divert court are not required to undergo acupuncture, but about a third of the offenders have been willing to give it a shot. So far there is only anecdotal evidence of its success. Deon Jones, for instance, likes the acupuncture treatments so much, he stops by The New Place every day for a session--even on the weekends. Arrested for possession of a controlled substance last March, Jones, 19, says the treatment makes him relaxed and reduces some of his cravings for his drug of choice, which he chooses not to name.
There's no question that the program has helped turned Jones' life around. Clean for the past 90 days and gainfully employed for the first time in two years, Jones calls his experience with divert court a blessing. "Creuzot is hard, but he's given me the opportunity to change," says Jones, who has not received treatments from the judge yet. "I'd probably be in jail right now."
Even after Jones completes the program, he knows he will have to attend NA meetings to help keep him sober. And the treatment center assures him he can come back for acupuncture any time he needs it, he says.
Creuzot has become such a big believer in acupuncture, he has even convinced several of his fellow judges to try it. Judge Janice Warder, for one, was surprised at the results.
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"I was a skeptic," Warder admits. "I thought it was all hocus-pocus, the placebo effect--if you believed in it, it would work. But it made me feel very relaxed. I don't know what effect it has on drug addicts, but I guess it doesn't hurt."
At a recent meeting of the divert court advisory board, Creuzot talked almost every member into trying it. "It was a very calm meeting," reports Carol Todd. The only one who wouldn't try it was an assistant district attorney who told the judge that since he was not in his court, he couldn't order him to do it.
As for the intrepid reporters: This one can honestly say that she felt pretty mellow the rest of the day and didn't have an urge to smoke a cigarette for about eight hours. As for my colleague Patrick Williams, well, he was having a hard time relaxing while in Creuzot's library.
"I think I'm going to feel a whole lot more relaxed once I get these needles out of my ear," Williams said.