Written by: Gary V. Murray
WORCESTER - The proud graduates received far more for their efforts than the symbolic “Miltie” medallions Judge Michael G. Allard-Madaus draped around their necks at Thursday’s courthouse ceremony.
In their own words, the four recovering addicts, each with more than 14 months of sobriety under his or her belt, credited the Honorable Milton Raphaelson Recovery Court, Worcester’s first drug court, with giving them a new lease on life.
“I never thought I’d say these words, but I am a changed person. Who knows where I would be today if I wasn’t given the opportunity these guys provided me,” Kurt LaRose told a standing-room-only crowd at the ceremony. Established in April 2016 in Central District Court, the program held its first-ever graduation ceremony in the jury pool room at the Main Street courthouse.
Among those in attendance were Elizabeth Raphaelson, widow of Judge Milton H. Raphaelson, and other members of his family.
Judge Allard-Madaus, who runs the recovery court, said it was named after Judge Raphaelson because he was a staunch advocate for treatment programs like the one he once ran in Dudley District Court and a firm believer that many of the criminal cases that come before the courts are rooted in substance abuse.
“He believed in second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances,” Judge Allard-Madaus said.
The medallions given to the graduates bore the likeness of Judge Raphaelson on one side and the name of the court on the other.
Graduate Addam Bradshaw said he was behind bars when he first heard about the recovery court and he “didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Later, he said, “Something in my head clicked and I just wanted to be finished with the lifestyle I was living.” Today, he has been clean and sober for 15 months and is the proud father of a baby girl, Reilly, who accompanied him Thursday.
“I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me and my family. Thank you very much,” Mr. Bradshaw said before receiving an enthusiastic round of applause.
Michalla Cipro, a graduate who gave birth to a baby boy, Teddy, after achieving sobriety, recalled how her addiction had placed her on “the path of self-destruction” before she entered the recovery court.
“Nobody could trust me and nobody wanted me around,” Ms.Cipro told the audience. Her parents “knew I was going to die on the streets and so did I,” she said.
Today, Ms. Cipro vows not to become “another statistic” in the opioid crisis. “I know God has bigger plans for my life. Being an addict is no longer what defines me,” she said. She told current recovery court participants who were present, “I know if I can do this, everyone sitting in this room can.”
In an interview before the graduation, Judge Allard-Madaus said the recovery court uses a team approach that includes representatives of law enforcement, the Probation Department, the defense bar, the offices of District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. and Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, a clinician and area treatment programs. He described the court as “intensive, treatment-oriented probation” and said it establishes individualized treatment programs for each participant, the vast majority of whom are heroin addicts who were facing a violation of probation and possible jail sentence when they were offered an opportunity to take part.
Judge Allard-Madaus said the recovery court employs “evidence-based best practices” as recommended by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
“We’ll do anything and everything we can to help our participants get a toehold on sobriety,” he said. The rest, however, is up to them, according to the judge.
“We can only work successfully with people who want to recover, because they’ve got to do the work,” he said.
Migdalia Suarez, the fourth graduate to be honored Thursday, did the work. She said her addiction was so out-of-control when she first entered the program that she considered herself “already dead.”
“Today, my daughter can look in my face and not say, ‘Mommy, are you going back to sleep again?’” Ms. Suarez said.