“Everyone talks about how treatment courts change the lives of the participants. They do – and it is amazing to see – each and every moment. What many do not mention, however, is how it also changes the lives of the team members. Presiding over opioid intervention court and mental health court has given me the daily opportunity to witness remarkable changes and awesome achievements in the lives of the participants. I have the incredible honor to have a front row seat to witness those improvements, and the amazing privilege to cheer on the participants, which is a unique advantage not often provided to a judge. Even on the hardest of days, the participants always make me smile, and make me so thankful for my good fortune in getting to be a part of something so incredible.”
Jessica Brewbaker, Judge, Cumberland County
My name is Crystal Ballos and I was sworn into drug court September of 2017. Since then, I have had a chance to totally turn my life around under the supervision of the court system. I am an addict and left to my own devices and my own thinking, in the beginning, I would have came home from jail and probably gotten high. My Higher Power intervened disguised as the Commonwealth of PA with a badge and a gun and helped me get my life back plus some!! I am now a drug court graduate, the administrative manager of a non-profit organization, I help others get community service hours and I maintain responsibility as a productive member of society. Yes drug court sucked, you have to do this and do that, but in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have ever happened in my life. Today I am truly grateful to the courts for the opportunity to participate and not just get thrown up state with a lengthy sentence!
The Nehemiah Project Inc
We received counseling, had group sessions that helped prepare us for the struggles of learning to live a sober lifestyle. Risk and Relapse Prevention, Consequences of my actions… THINK BEFORE YOU ACT. These are some of the best tools a user can have in their toolbox to achieve and help maintain sobriety.
Nine months of house arrest was no walk in the park either, but it wasn’t a jail cell. Curfews, surprise visits, getting a landline for the ankle monitor, having to ask permission to be able to go out of my house for appointments, shopping, etc; not to mention the huge fines that are associated with it. House arrest was a good way to teach accountability, responsibility, and honesty, something most users are lacking, including myself.
I completed the DUI Court Program a little over 4 years ago, and can proudly say that I am more than 6 years sober, and counting. I have a good job in renewable energy, bought my very first home, and my relationship with my family is better than it had ever been.
Much gratitude and appreciation to the DUI court team for giving me the tools, support, and faith in me to turn my life around.
When I entered the Centre Co. DUI Court in 2014 I was angry. I was angry at my situation and angry at myself. I got through my 90 days in the correctional facility without incident, but my anger and resentment carried over into the house-arrest phase of the program. With a little more freedom, I had trouble following the rules and assuming personal responsibility. I was reprimanded with another week in jail, but the program administrators did not give up on me.
It was at this time that I realized I was stuck in this situation regardless of my mindset and decided that I would only benefit from the program if I put in the effort. I committed to turning my sentence into a learning opportunity with the goal of assuming full personal responsibility for my situation and adopting behaviors that could keep me from repeating the same mistakes.
With a new mindset I began to develop constructive relationships with my peers, counselors and program administrators. I came to understand that this program was established for the benefit of its participants and the staff & administrators really were rooting for me to successfully complete the program. I can say with 100% certainty that my time in the DUI court was far superior to my personal development & rehabilitation than the alternative, a year in prison.
As hard as it is to admit, DUI Court was exactly what I needed. My life was heading in the wrong direction quickly and my drinking & poor decision making were controlling my life. I am grateful for the many new opportunities in life that were made possible because of my rehabilitation through the program. I owe a sincere debt of gratitude to the program and the dedicated people that help to make it work.
“FREEDOM FROM THE BONDAGE OF SELF”
I was born in 1966 and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest of 4 boys. Looking back I had an adventurous childhood. We grew up with a strict Roman Catholic mother and grandmother which meant we went to church every Sunday and of course every catholic holiday. We attended St. Columbus elementary school and I remember participating in every school play since the 2nd grade – Oh BTW I was a shy kid and my mother told me to participate and I was obedient. I recall being a reserved timid kid and not wanting to volunteer for anything however, I loved sports like baseball, basketball and football those I joined on my own. I remember going to baseball games that my uncles played in on weekends and noticing coolers full of budweiser beer and other bottles of booze. Growing up in a Hispanic family meant holiday parties with delicious homemade meals, assorted beer, liquor & Coquito which is a mixture of coconut milk and puertorican rum (Loved it and drank lots of it).
I was around 10 years old when I discovered the “elixir of the gods” and remember feeling like I can do anything however; sadly it was only around the holidays. The rest of the time I just felt like I was on a different planet and could not relate to other humans especially of the female persuasion.
My mother met my step father Mikey when I was around 6 years old. Previous to that my mother just picked the wrong men, especially those that liked to beat on women when they drank alcohol. I remember telling myself I would NEVER be like them. I wondered why my brothers had different last names but, I never asked my mother because she would hit me and say it’s none of my damn business. My mother was strict and worked 2 jobs and seemed to always be upset or just angry. My grandmother watched us while my mother worked and she always reminded us my mother worked hard so, we can have food, clean clothes and a good education and we need to just be obedient and listen to your mother. I trusted my grandmother so; I listen and did what she wanted at least until high school. I remember my grandmother being a tough woman with a lit cigarette in her mouth, a can of beer and a deck of cards in her hands always playing casino or gin rummy with us. My grandmother always explain the things of life – why this happens, why that happens and made us think about it and asked us what we think and for that I believe she was important and I miss her dearly!
Back to my step father Mikey who came into our lives and was willing to marry my mother and raise us boys and help her with her financial woes. Early memories of my childhood growing up with a father figure are not like other kids. My father Mikey was a person that worked in construction and made good money and later I find out he was a street number dealer (this is the way people gambled illegally and received big winnings and paid no taxes). My father started drinking more and more during my high school years and I remember plenty of times (a few hundred) that he was so drunk he could not drive himself. Since I would be around our old neighborhood with my bicycle, where my father would run street numbers I could easily drive him home. Yes, I taught myself how to drive by watching him and asking questions about the mechanics of the brakes and gas pedal. My mother would get upset thinking he drove home drunk and I was in the car with him, we never told her the truth. My father covered for me in many instances that could have gotten me in trouble with my mother and I covered for him when he drank too much and often crashed the car or cars, he was a bad drunk driver. I do recall my father when sober would be a calm, friendly self-reserved person however, when he got drunk he became like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – loud mouth, profanity and for some strange unknown reason liked peeing in front of people’s front door that would previously rat him out to my mother and get him in trouble when he got drunk again and again, etc. These life episodes with my father would continue until my early 20s until I left the house to live on my own – not really, I would from time to time end up back at my mother’s house because, the people I shacked up with would get sick of my crap and just kick me out. I did learn early on that if you have your own car you can live in the car for long periods of time. I bought my first car at 16 after getting my license, just saying!
My first true exposure to freedom was in high school where I could wear regular clothes not uniforms like at St. Columbus (grey/blue suit jacket, grey pants, blue dress shirt & a stinking tie, really???). Also, when I started working at a classy hotel as a dishwasher at the age of 15. My eyes were open to the evil world my mother, grandmother & my priest warned me about, I really didn’t see the evil world they mentioned. I saw beautiful women dressed in elegant dresses, oh BTW the restaurant was called Daphne’s. It was famously known for the beautiful women that wore elegant grand dresses and hats; I thought they seemed majestic and they smelled delicious all the time. On another note my cousin collected the leftover partially full wine bottles that came back from the busboys in the restaurant and we would pour the leftovers in a water pitcher and drink it during our night shift. I felt like the king of the hill and that nothing could stop me. Soon after that I discover Vodka and Orange juice WOW!!! My early teen years continued with drinking and then I was introduced to marijuana, cocaine and the worst heroin. By 18 it was not fun anymore! I managed to graduate from high school but, not with some consequences which included being expelled at the end of my junior year from one of the top high schools in New Jersey named Science High for possessing and selling marijuana joints. Technically I was never caught with anything however, 3 students plus my one of my best friends ratted me out to the school principal and I was transferred to Central High School which, I barely attended due to having a car accident in front of the school parking lot (not what you think). Okay I’ll tell you, of course I was a little high from smoking a joint and my car did not want to start and I tried banging on the starter (old school mechanic trick) and that didn’t work because I can’t really bang on it and turn on the ignition at the same time. I asked another student who lived in my building to turn the ignition while I banged on the starter and when the car started about 5 seconds later the car accelerated and pinched me between my car and another car. Sensations of pain kicked in but, remember I smoke a joint earlier. I ended up fracturing my left leg bone under the knee and some muscle damage around the left knee. I ended up in a full cast on my left leg for about a 6 months or so, and then a half cast for another 5 months which meant I could not attend my senior year in high school so, I was appointed a teacher that came to my house for the remainder of the school year which allowed me to graduate high school.
Okay here is missing part that I’m throwing in: During my 8th grade year and my last holiday play at St. Columbus I had a puppy love crush on the love of my life, so I thought! Long story short, our relationship lasted through our high school periods and when she noticed my change in behavior and found out through other sources (you know rats) she decided not just to leave me but, also leave the country with another man – sounds like a novella (soap opera) right. She destroyed my belief in relationships and worst of all she obliterated my heart and I remember blaming the whole world for my troubles that soon followed. I continue to drink and use drugs until the age of 29 with brief periods of forced abstinence (jails, institutions and 2 overdoses ending up in a psych-ward – Not recommended….:) I really never imagine how dark and lonely my world would turn into for all those years. I had this pain in my heart & soul that traveled with me everywhere I went no matter how many times I tried to run away from it. I was desperate for some kind of relief and I sensed being under the bottom of the scum barrowed, you know next to the squirming earth worm’s – yucky! I spent the next 7 years looking for relief, a way out, a sign from above but, nothing came. I experimented with different people, places and many other things – you know different alcohol liquids, chemicals and still hopeless!
My first journey began in August 28th 1995 when I was driven to Harrisburg, PA to a facility called New Promise Ministry which is a Christian Base Recovery House, more like the Oxford Group Recovery style. I recall arriving at the creepy looking house at 2am and it looked like “The Munster’s House” really old looking, falling apart and the address was 1313 Cameron Street, almost like the Munster’s house at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, how odd. To top it off the guy who answered the door looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame (hunched over with one arm stuck to his right side and dragged his right leg) and slurred speech. My thoughts were where the hell am I? Later I found out he had a stroke from an overdose of crack cocaine. Let’s say it was one of those recovery programs that you would choose to stay for 6 months or 1 year, I chose 6 months of course, I knew better. Guess what I stayed for 18 months. I managed to straighten out my life enough that I got a job at the Hilton Hotel in Harrisburg, met my beautiful wife and stay connected to the recovery community for a while. This worked for around 5 years as I stayed involved and helping others with issues in drugs and alcohol. By year 8-10 I was no longer involved in any recovery program, reduced my attendance at church. Life for me was full of great things (Our first daughter was born, I started my computer repair shop (my own business), promoted at work, etc. Life for me at this point was “LIKE I HAVE FINALLY ARRIVED”.
By 2007 I have been noticing a change in my thinking and behavior. Of course I did nothing to find out what was going on. By 2008 I was opening my first retail computer repair shop and I had that feeling that I have arrived at paradise. I resigned the Hilton Hotel and went to my last employee Christmas party where we entered the main ballroom which was fully decorated with all the Christmas trimmings, loud music playing and an open bar. As my wife and I sat down to greet the other company employees we decided to make a toast, there were a few bottles of wine on our table and my wife looked at me and asked are you sure? I thought to myself I was cured, it’s been 14 years of being clean & sober (last 6 years dry drunk…I know that now) and it was okay to drink a glass of wine only – by the end of the night I drank all 3 bottles at our dinner table and I proceeded to go down to the main bar and drank 3-4 Vodka and O.J. like a thirsty camel. By the middle of 2008 I was having chest pain around sternum and ribcage again (background story: In the middle of 2007 I got hurt at work by pulling those ligament muscles around the chest sternum/ribcage area). I went to my doctor who prescribed pain medication called (Percocet) to help manage the pain. I really did not have a clue by then what was coming. Let say by 2009 I have been arrested 2 times for illegally attaining a control substance. By June 27th 2009 I wake up at Cumberland County Prison, which was a reality check! To be honest I banged my head on those cement blocks in the prison cell for almost a whole month asking myself what happened, what did I miss, what did I not learn about recovery. Once I got over my withdrawal symptoms, I was to go to AA meetings inside the prison which helped a whole bunch. Around 3 months later, fortunately for me I was able to apply for Cumberland County treatment court and met Angie Chiara for the first. Angie explained the whole treatment court process which I thought was a gift when I was facing a few years in prison for my criminal behaviors. I was released on October 1st 2009 and was instructed to go to 90 meetings in 90 days which was the beginning of my second journey in recovery. I immediately went to “There is more to Life” meeting at 16th & Bridge in New Cumberland at 6pm for my first AA Meeting in a long time.
I truly recall walking in the meeting room and being approached by a man named Michael J. who gave me a big hug and said “welcome home”. I was forced back into AA by the court system and today I am very happy they did. Of course I had to go thru IOP classes for 24 weeks where I was given a “NEW PAIR OF GLASSES”. This is where I really learned about the disease of Alcoholism and Addiction. I learned to cope with my newly found emotional feelings that I suppressed and never learned to process from my past.
My first year was really difficult time for me. My wife was ready to divorce me and take away my 3 daughters whom I emotionally hurt, came really close to losing my business due to financial stress and taxes. I came to a cross road “Where I constantly asked myself what did I NOT DO or What DID I MISS? I was angry at G-d, I was angry at the world, and I discovered I had a DISEASE of MIND & BODY and I was not cured, my world around me was in complete chaos. After starting my 90 & 90 meetings I had to get a sponsor, a Big Book, and a Home Group. After reading the story a “Man of Thirty” I asked my Sponsor how we start this process of working the 12 Steps. Of course being an alcoholic I wanted my 10 year chip in 6 months – stinking think! After working steps 1, 2 & 3 my sponsor gave me a guide on writing down the 4th step inventory process. (What? I have to write down how I feel…really???)
“DO NOT DO WHAT I DID” put it off for close to a year. I was miserable and prideful. I learned about RESENTMENTS, FEARS, & HARMS DONE OTHERS. (my wife reminded me that I had a chip on my should and that I should stick my tail between my legs and lower my head and be grateful about my opportunities.)
My sponsor Dean H. asked me a very direct question – “What part did I play? What did I do?” I soon realized that I had to do some serious work in my recovery program. We completed steps 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and I felt a huge weight lifted. Working steps 9 through 12 allowed me to make amends and to work things out with my wife and my 3 daughters and regain their trust. I managed to slowly repair my financial woes little by little. I began to realize that G-d was doing for me what I could not for myself.
My sponsor strongly suggested that I finally give back what was freely given to me so; I listened to him and my wife too!
I got involved in Service Work, I became a Home Group Member at 16th & Bridge and Out of The Dark groups of AA, I talk to newcomers and old timers about recovery and G-d, I remind myself everyday what my “Primary Purpose in Recovery” is – To Carry The Message to another Alcoholic and Addict, also to Practice these Principals in all my affairs.
Today I’m clean & sober for almost 11 years – my anniversary milestone is June 28th, 2020 of this year with G-d’s help. I’m an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous with Harrisburg Area Intergroup and manage their website, co-chair of institutions/treatment centers committee, alternate intergroup rep & alternate treasurer for my home group. With G-d’s assistance I have an awesome and strong relationship with my loving wife and my 3 daughters and for that I am truly grateful and consider myself a blessed human being!
Through this whole experience I learned many valuable lessons and mostly due to asking for help from the drug & alcohol counselor at Cumberland County Prison whom introduce me to Cumberland County Treatment Court folks which allowed me to participate, learn, grow and be free from the “Bondage of Self”. I completed the 2 year program assigned by the treatment court team and graduated in June 30, 2011. I had the privilege and honor of meeting folks like Angie, Paul, Linda, Sally, Scott, Judge Ebert and Judge Masland which I consider great public servants and Awesome Human Beings!
My daily prayer and meditation is asking G-d “How can I be of service to others?”
“Please give me Your wisdom to do Thy will, and for that I am Grateful!”
In Love and Service,