Drug Court  Success Story

Drug Court Success Story

a production of the New Jersey courts Once I got kicked out of the shelter you know you find
somewhere to sleep. You either sleep in conference rooms at Hotel or in
casinos or on the street or under the boardwalk or
you know if you’re in Camden you can’t take the train back there’s the bridge
at least you don’t get wet under. Rutgers University Camden campus sits
just a few blocks from the Ben Franklin Bridge it’s a short walk but for Landon Hacker the distance between those two places represents an incredible
journey that defies the odds. This is his story. And not in my wildest dreams could
I’ve ever imagined the places life took me because prior to
entering in a drug court I spent the majority of my adult life either
homeless in and out of jail in and out of institutions as a result of my drug
addiction. AndI didn’t care I didn’t care about anything at zero respect for
the law, respect for authority,zero respect for myself and I didn’t care
what I did not only myself but other people. I didn’t allow anyone or
anything to get in my way of what I wanted and that was getting high. My
recollection of him was that he was in and out of jail while he was applying to
the program, very hard to locate to come in to get his assessment done to come
into the program for his prior court appearances. Landen faced five years in
prison after violating his probation in 2012 by getting charged with drug
possession. His lawyer spoke with him about another option, drug court. The
lawyer who had got me into drug court she she just straight told me, she goes
you know I’ve handled a lot of people like you and it never ends up good. And it
just I guess in a weird way reality kind of like hit, that I was gonna die either
on the street or in prison. She said just give yourself a chance you
know like you just got all those months clean while you were in jail and you
have nowhere to go but up like you’re you’ve hit rock bottom like yeah she
listed all the things that were wrong with me. She goes your family, I tried to
reach out to your family they want nothing to do with you no one’s taking
in you’re still homeless you have nothing but you have an
opportunity to change your life and that kind of like hit home. Landon began
living at a recovery house in July 2012 while he was enrolled in new jersey’s
drug court program. So initially when a client comes into the program we assess
them for their level of care that they need in their treatment. Initially
there’s a great deal of supervision that’s close to the defendant. They see
probation at least twice a week, they come to court once a week and they’re in
treatment three nights a week and additionally they’re having AA or NA
meetings at least three times a week when they first come into the program.
It’s very intensive supervision initial initially into the program and it drops
off as they comply and they gain sobriety. Landon graduated from drug
court in 2014. The day I graduated from drug court that was a little bit scary
for me because I mean I know the kind of person I am I know what I did to get
drugs I knew what I did to get high and now you’re settin’ me free. You know every
time I was set free every time I got released or left a program like it did
not end up good at all like I always ended up right back on the street or locked
back up. Being clean with nothing over your head for the first time in my life
was was scary but you know I by then I I was doing a lot like I was back in
school I had a job like an awesome job and a place to stay and I didn’t want to
jeopardize any of those things. While in drug court Landon decided he wanted to
return to college. He knew because of his criminal record he had little chance of
being accepted into Rutgers. He had so many run-ins with campus police he was
banned from entering. But he had a plan which started at Burlington County
Community College. I thought it would be a good idea to go to BCC and get
straight A’s to prove to them like hey I’m a changed person I can go back to
school and I knew the only way I could go back to school if I got all A’s at BCC. so that’s what I did. A year later
Rutgers accepted Landon into school with one condition. The only stipulation was I
couldn’t live on campus. I said I’m not said I don’t want to live on campus. I said
I live in Burlington City I’ll commute I’ll come to class and leave. And I
remember for like the first the whole first semester of Rutgers I used to wear
a Rutgers shirt and hat, because I I knew that the the police , the Rutgers police
would like give me a problem if they saw me and kicked me out. And I
always said they never bothered me but like I always had a plan in my head like
if they if one of them ever stopped me and told me to like get off campus that
I’d be like hey I’m a student now so you can’t you can’t do that to me. We are happy to welcome Landon Hacker here today. (applause) I owe my life to this program because it instilled in me the values of
responsibility, accountability and discipline. And because of Drug Court
today I stand before you with over six years clean. I graduated with
a degree in political science with a 4.0 GPA as the number one student in my
class for my major and as a member of the National Honors political science
Society.(applause) I don’t say those things to brag nor qualify myself. I say those
things to show you that if you put everything you have into something if
you want something bad enough anything is possible. When I received my college
diploma from Rutgers I went to the spot on my wall where my drug court diploma
hangs and I looked at the two side-by-side and it was just a surreal
feeling. I couldn’t I couldn’t hang them next to each other I in fact placed my
college diploma below my drug court diploma because to me they don’t hold
equal weight not by not even in a long shot. To me graduating drug court is my
biggest accomplishment in my life because it’s the first thing other than
graduate high school and I ever completed and it
was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life as well. To me it
represents surviving something much more than a bunch of schoolwork and classes
and exams. It represents surviving the horrors of addiction making it out alive
and being alive to tell my story today. And when I earn a law school degree that
too will be placed below my drug court diploma. After graduating from drug court
Landon began to look for ways to help those in the position he had once been
in. While volunteering at the Atlantic City rescue mission he and a fellow
volunteer Alisa Watts formed a non-profit group called oncidium. The
group holds monthly workshops to provide those living at the homeless shelter
with free legal services. Landon’s former lawyer Kimberly Stuart,
who convinced him to enter into drug court, serves as the supervising attorney.
I intend to dedicate the rest of my life to helping people that are in a position
that I was once in, people like us recovering addicts. And I truly believe
that we’re not bad people just great people good people who made a couple bad
decisions, and those decisions shouldn’t define who we are and it should
certainly not define our entire future. My goal is to become a criminal defense
attorney specifically a drug court public defender and I want to help those
shortly with drug addiction get the proper help that they need the same help
that saved my life. I know what it feels like to be homeless I know what it feels
like to be locked up I know what it feels like to have no one care about you
and to be another file in someone’s desk. I know what it feels like to be hopeless
and helpless, and I also know what it takes to get out of the system. And I
want to give back to others what was so graciously freely given to me just an
opportunity and some hope to change my life.
This past summer I was given an opportunity to actually intern with the
public defender’s office specifically with this the Camden County drug
court program, and it was by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I mean I
went from being in drug court to interning for drug court. And I was able to see
firsthand the behind the scenes workings of this program and it truly is a
remarkable program. I mean look all 28 of you have your own
story. You guys know exactly where you came
from who you are what you went through to get to today. And any program that
can turn people like us into fathers, into mothers, into
law students, into employable people is truly a remarkable program. I mean when I
came into drug court I was homeless unemployed and in active addiction and
when I came out I was sheltered employed in college and in recovery and that
alone in of itself shows me at those programs in miracle.
The close supervision that we offer our clients in conjunction with the judge
and the team aspect in addition to treatment reduces the recidivism rates
for our participants when they complete the program. Currently drug court
participants who complete the program three years out only 7% of those clients
are re-arrested and convicted on an indictable offense as opposed to almost
40% of defendants leaving New Jersey state prison. Drug court meant a restart
button you know. I’ve OD’d a few times and
luckily didn’t pass away and you only get so many second third fourth chances
at life before it runs out you know and drug court was was another one of those
and for some reason I cherished that reset button and took that reset button
a lot more seriously than I’ve eever taken any other reset button. Landon is now in his
second year of law school. He takes classes at night and works full-time at
a law firm in Cherry Hill during the day. He doesn’t need to look far for
reminders of the life he left behind. He volunteers at the homeless shelter where
he once lived. He interned at the drug court program he was one sentenced to
and then there’s the view from Landon’s classroom at Rutgers law school.
Every time I sit in class and I look out and I see the bridge you know
it’s two blocks away you know Rutgers is here here on fourth
or fifth Street and there’s the the underpass to go under the bridge and
you’re two blocks you go from college environment to one of the most dangerous
dope sets in Camden. Like I know what’s on the other side of that bridge and to
only be a couple blocks away from that every day in my life and not not go over
there it’s uh it’s pretty amazing

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