CHAMPAIGN — More than a year ago, Roscoe Brown Jr. found himself sitting in jail for theft after spending 40 years of his life abusing drugs.
Brown longed for a way to make a change in his life when his attorney, Amanda Riess, told him about the Champaign County Drug Court program. Brown went before Judge Heidi Ladd, who approved his participation in the program.
Today Brown says he is a changed man. He works as assistant program coordinator for Restoration Urban Ministries, where he is helping to build homes for the needy, teaches a Sunday school class and serves as the program's receptionist.
"Best of all, I'm close to 20 months clean from drugs, and life is really good," Brown said.
Brown is one of eight people scheduled to graduate from the Champaign County Drug Court during a ceremony Monday at the Urbana Civic Center.
Brown, 55, of Champaign, says the drug court program taught him about more than just kicking the habit of abusing drugs. He said it helped him improve his self-esteem and deal with the issues that contributed to his life of substance abuse.
"My parents divorced after I was born," Brown said. "My dad had 19 kids by six different women. My mom had eight kids by three different men, and only three of us had the same mother and father.
"I grew up with a lot of my father's girlfriends, experienced a lot of physical and verbal abuse and didn't receive very much discipline."
Brown said he started drinking and smoking marijuana at age 13. He joined the Army to pursue the discipline he needed, but he says his substance abuse continued while he was in the military.
Brown said his counselor at the Champaign County Drug Court, Vicki Moss, helped him realize he had been blaming his parents for his problems and inspired him to change his way of thinking.
"I decided I was tired of getting high," Brown said. "Once I accepted I couldn't do nothing about what happened in the past, I learned to forgive my parents."
Brown said the drug court program also helped him to learn to talk to others about his struggles.
"I used to keep a lot of things inside, and now I'm open to other people's suggestions," Brown said.
Brown said his ex-wife, Derry Chatman, supported him throughout the drug court process and helped him get the job with Restoration Urban Ministries.
Brown said he often turns to the other people at Restoration Urban Ministries as a support group when life gets tough for him.
Judge Jeff Ford, who has overseen the drug court since its inception in 1999, said Monday's graduation will be the 27th for the program.
To graduate, participants must have remained sober for at least one year, completed substance abuse treatment, been involved in sobriety-based self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and have a sponsor.
If employable, participants must either have a job or be seeking a job. Participants who did not have a high school diploma or GED must also have either obtained one or be in the process of obtaining one.
Ford said the current class of graduates ranges in age from 22 to 55 years old. The class has spent a total of 156 months in drug court, with the average time per graduate for this class being 19.5 months. Ford said all but one started using alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or heroin in their teens.
"By keeping these defendants in Champaign County and not sending them to (or back to) the penitentiary, not only have we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we have kept families intact, had participants working and paying taxes and learning how to live in the community without using drugs and committing new crimes," Ford said.