Drug Court gets boost from ally: the Mayor

Judge Rosalind Miller, Dorchester District Court’s first justice, knows the new mayor well. Marty Walsh, she said last week, “not only talks the talk, [he] walks the walk.”

Addressing a crowd gathered in the courthouse’s first session, Miller was referring to Walsh’s work in the recovery community. Walsh has been a recovering alcoholic for 18 years and it was a key part of his biography when he ran for mayor last year.

Miller introduced Walsh to the crowd, made up of participants of an 18-month program aimed at pushing addicts on probation into rehab and towards a job or a degree. Two prospective participants sat behind glass in the courtroom’s custody box.

The Dorchester Drug Court program was established in 1995 and graduates about eight people a year. It’s run by Helen Coyne, a parole officer who runs the program and once worked in Walsh’s State House office. Around 20 people are in the program at one time.

Attendees also included people enrolled in drug court programs in East Boston and Charlestown.

Judge Miller recalled probation officers, when Walsh was a state representative, telling her, “Mahty Walsh needs a bed, needs a bed for someone.”

The main event at the Thursday afternoon gathering was Chris Herren, a former Celtics player and recovering drug addict who works as an inspirational speaker. He said he has gone through four overdoses, seven felonies.

Herren, a Fall River native whose father was a former state representative, started cocaine when he was 18 years old. One line of cocaine took “14 years to walk away from.” He was introduced to Oxycontin, another addictive drug, at age 22.

He’s been sober for five and a half years, he told the crowd. Looking around the room, he quipped that this was the first time he was sitting in a courthouse without handcuffs.

Turning to Walsh, he said they remain close due to their ties to the recovery community. “I don’t think I can ever get comfortable with calling him, ‘Mr. Mayor,’” Herren said.

Herren said when he was asked to speak to the drug court participants, he said, “Of course I’ll be there, it’s Marty’s neighborhood.”

After his speech, which followed a video about his Celtics career and drug problems, Herren met privately with the drug court participants.

In his own speech, Walsh said he still attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and at a recent one, he spoke with someone still struggling with addiction. “Anything is possible if you’re sober,” Walsh said he told him.

The gathering also drew District Attorney Dan Conley, whose office is involved in referring potential participants to drug court, and City Councillors Frank Baker and Michael Flaherty.

Conley said he was a “strong supporter” of the drug court model.
“I believe they’re overwhelmingly successful,” Conley said. “I’m pressed by how rigorous drug court is. It’s far from fluff.”