Congratulations on the successful completion of your mandate. This is just the beginning of your life long sobriety. Use the tools that you learned in treatment to help you maintain a positive direction in your life. Remember that we are always here to help you and feel free to come back and update us on your successful endeavors.
Project Director II
A Teenager Reconnects with Something Positive
I first met Robby D. when he appeared in my courtroom, the Brooklyn Screening Treatment and Enhancement Part (STEP), in June 2005, charged with selling crack-cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was a 16-year-old marijuana-dependent high school drop-out and the middle child of a family of seven children, living in a single-person household with his mother. He sold the drugs for money to buy stylish clothing, to fit in. He had no financial resources and no job. His friends were involved in drug dealing and he joined. He presented a case similar to many of the nearly 300 young men in the STEP program, leading a lifestyle with little accountability.
During the following 18 months, and more than 30 court appearances, I saw him achieve abstinence from marijuana dependency. I saw him obtain his FEG and secure gainful employment. I saw him grow into a more mature, and more responsible young man who began to discover his true self, that of a thoughtful, caring and decent individual. I saw him comply with the treatment mandate and earn the dismissal of the pending felony charges that could have burdened him for the rest of his life. Upon graduation from the STEP program, he walked out of the courtroom with a clean record and the hope of a brighter future.
Robby wrote, â€śBefore entering STEP I was a nobody. In my time in STEP I have learned that I am more than what I was before. I learned that I am a smart young man that could go places, far places, and I could do anything I put my mind to. I learned that life is beautiful and I should not be waiting it, I should be cherishing it. â€śEighteen months earlier, however, this new beginning was not certain.
In April 2005, Robby was arrested for misdemeanor drug possession, which was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Two months later, only on block from his Brooklyn home, Robby, along with his friend, sold three bags of crack-cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was arrested and the following day arraigned in Kings County Criminal Court on felony charges carrying penalties of up to nine years in state prison. The case was adjourned to STEP for assessments.
The Kings County District Attorneyâ€™s Office reviewed the case and determined that a treatment offer was appropriate. Assessment revealed that Robbyâ€™s drug of choice was marijuana, which he had begun smoking when he was 14. He dropped out of high school credits, it was unlikely that he would ever graduate.
The goal of the treatment mandate was to eliminate Robby/s dependency on marijuana and to provide him with an opportunity to pursue his education and vocational goals. Given his relatively stable home life and moderate drug dependency, an outpatient treatment plan was recommended, which mandated daily drug treatment and general education classes.
With his attorney and mother present, a felony guilty plea was entered, He was placed on â€śinterim probationâ€ť whereby his case manger would be approbation officer assigned to STEP on a full-time basis. (The New York Department of Probation has assigned two probation officers on a full-time basis to act as case managers for STEP participants who are currently sentenced to probation or young persons in need of greater supervision.) Robby and I signed a contract stating that if he complied with the treatment mandate, the case would be dismissed, but if he failed, he would go to jail for one year.
At the time of plea, a curfew was imp0oed requiring him to be home overnight no later than 9:00 p.m. (The court has since changed its policy for younger participants, imposing a curfew of 6:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.) His mother supported the imposition of the curfew, and, indeed, supported each of the courtâ€™s decision throughout the mandate. She was an active participant throughout the recovery process, and Robbyâ€™s ultimate success, I believe, was in large measure attributable to her commitment and support.
Through intensive judicial monitoring and a system of sanctions and rewards, the court sought to instill a new sense of accountability and responsibility while building self-esteem and self-confidence. No conduct, positive or negative, was overlooked, and since court appearances were frequentâ€“every two to three weeksâ€“there was little delay in the courtâ€™s response. (In the event of serious acts of non-compliance, cases are advanced from the calendar for immediate court intervention. This was never necessary in Robbyâ€™s case.)
When he did well, the court was enthusiastic in its approval, particularly when Robby passed each of the mandateâ€™s phases and when he obtained his GED. (The STEP court mandate is divided into three phases of four months each. In the event of non-compliance, phase time is stopped. In the event of a relapse, phase time starts over, beginning at the point of the first negative drug test.) When he was non-compliant, sanctions were imposed, including, in Robbyâ€™s case, verbal admonishment, time in the jury box, and two separate essays. During the course of the 18-month mandate, there were two marijuana relapses, missed sessions with treatment provider, and failure to report to STEP treatment center as directed. For these reasons, what would ordinarily have been a 12-month mandate was extended to 18 months.
The second essay sanction was prompted when Robby lied about why he missed a treatment appointment. He claimed he was shopping for a prom suit with his mother. St STEP probation officer/case manager contacted his mother, who disavowed this and expressed her concerns about her sonâ€™s dishonesty. The topic of the essay sanction was, â€śWhy is Honesty the Most Important Principle in Life.â€ť On the following court date, Robby submitted a thoughtful and responsive essay. Along with news that he had gotten a job as a file clerk, he should his STEP case manager photographs of his high school prom.
The last sanction was imposed in June 2006. After that, he remained fully compliant until the conclusion of the mandate that December. With the assistance of STEPâ€™s New York City Department of Education liaison, Robby attended an orientation as Kingboro Community College and was scheduled to start classes in January 2007 to obtain a degree in business administration, with goal of one day establishing his own business. (The New York City Department of Education has assigned one of its employees to STEP on a full-time basis to place young participants in either public high school or equivalency programs, to monitor attendance, and to provide general education guidance.)
A number of factors contributed to Robbyâ€™s success: the involvement and support of his mother and Robbyâ€™s own willingness to recognize the need for dramatic behavioral change and the will to affect it. Robbyâ€™s own words reveal optimism as well as an understanding of the challenges ahead: â€śThe STEP experience has shown me that society can be corrupt with society. My community is a positive place with positive things around it, but it has negative people that do negative things. Our community is a place where we should be able to have a happy life.â€ť
By Joseph E. Gubbay,
Judge of the Criminal Court
of the City of New York