My Judge Sentenced Me To Recovery, Not Jail

Herb Stepherson shares how a judge sentenced him to recovery, not jail.

My Name is Herb. And I’m a person in long-term recovery from addiction.

The first time I used, it was alcohol and I was right around fifteen years old. I had no idea what was in store for me when I took my first drink. Addiction is a progressive disease, and mine was no different; within a few short years I experienced the bitter ends. I was addicted – not so much to one specific drug at first, but to altering my mood. I didn’t like the way I felt, I avoided discomfort, I used to cope. I used to increase pleasure or decrease pain.

I always felt like an outsider, and drugs and alcohol helped me feel like I finally fit into this world – until they stopped working. Eventually, it was all about decreasing pain, and running from the chaos the drugs were causing in my life. By the time I was twenty-one, I was homeless and on the run from the law – living in the woods. From there, it only got worse. Multiple arrests, overdoses, and deeper and deeper bottoms. I reached a point in my life where suicide became the only option.

Once I got to prison, I laid in a jail cell contemplating how I was going to take my own life. I was going to go out of this life as a statistic. I was willing to let addiction win. Suicide by overdose. But then I was shown grace and mercy.

My judge thought that recovery would be more appropriate, a long-term therapeutic solution to my problem. He sentenced me to a year in a local sober living home, the Respite House in Valparaiso. The judge was right! We cannot incarcerate our way out of this battle with addiction; adequate treatment and long-term after care are the answer.

You see, I’ve been to many different jails throughout the country and the only thing they’ve ever done is introduce me to more connections. They surrounded me with people with no desire to be there or get well. Jails and prisons are just a holding tank for addicts, and they’re flooded with drugs. They’re a crime school. No wonder our recidivism rate is so high in this country. But I digress.

That year in the sober living home was exactly what I needed. It was a great place for me to transition through during early recovery. It introduced me to recovery-minded people with an honest desire to live in recovery. I jumped in with both feet.

Since my sentencing to the house, I’ve graduated successfully; gotten my son back in my life; established healthy, supportive relationships in the community; made amends with my entire family; moved into my own home; published a book; and found a career. I share my story every opportunity I have – on behalf of numerous agencies in our area with hopes of combating the heroin epidemic in my region. I am not ashamed of who I am.

I’m an intervention coordinator and have the distinct honor of helping addicts and their families find recovery. I have a new puppy, amazing friends, integrity, peace of mind, and a brand-new place in this world. All things I wouldn’t have if I were still using or sitting in prison.

The world needs more places to give addicts opportunities to turn things around. I wouldn’t be here – in recovery – if I hadn’t gotten that second chance. I’m truly blessed and humbled beyond belief – we do recover!