NEW BRITAIN - Daniel Cote stood quietly before New Britain Superior Court Judge Joan K. Alexander on July 26 as his attorney confirmed that the plan was to terminate his probation based on his steady progress.
Just before the court proceeding was about to end, Alexander asked the 31-year-old New Britain resident if he wanted to say anything.
“Yes,” Cote said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to save my own life.”
Cote was a heroin addict who was on probation for stealing to feed his habit. After several of his urine samples turned up positive for drugs, his probation officer obtained a warrant for his arrest. He felt hopeless, he said.
But then he wound up in front of Alexander, the presiding criminal judge and administrative judge for the Judicial District of New Britain at New Britain Superior Court.
“She looked at my record and said, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m a heroin addict.’ She gave me a chance where I believe another judge wouldn’t.”
It’s a familiar scene, said Alexander, who deals with all felony cases from Rocky Hill to Plymouth, including New Britain and Bristol. “You can see the desperate crimes they are committing, you see them at the grocery stores, retail stores, they are doing to it to get a little money to buy more,” she said. “You can see it in their faces how severe the addiction is if they don’t get treatment. It’s a look we are becoming accustomed to.”
As of July 28, 20 people from New Britain Superior Court are in court ordered treatment programs. Between Bristol Superior Court, which is part of the New Britain Judicial District, and New Britain Superior Court, 90 people have been placed in treatment programs since January, Alexander said.
She has to carefully balance the needs of the defendant with the safety of the community and whatever harm they may do to themselves, she said. “Sometimes we have to hold them until they make themselves amenable to treatment,” she said. “The addiction is so severe they couldn’t even contemplate going into treatment. At that point they are dangerous because they are so out of touch with the reality of their situation, you can’t trust them not to do something even more desperate and violent.”
Cote wasn’t one of those cases. He was allowed to enter a 28-day intensive program with the approval of the judge. He did so well, he entered a 90-day program that led to his violation of probation case being resolved. He is now waiting to enter into a residential program that will not only help him to continue to stay clean but also find employment and a stable lifestyle.
“While I was there I excelled, I engaged, I learned a lot about myself,” he said.
He now understands that although he was clean for five years in his twenties, the addiction came back because he had never dealt with the issues that caused him to use drugs in the first place. “My inability to cope with life resulted in me to using drugs and alcohol,” he said.
He realizes he is one of the lucky ones. He’s lost 15 friends to overdoses since March. “The judge gave me an opportunity to redeem myself,” he said. “I didn’t need jail, I needed help. Those programs give you the tools to learn about yourself and why you choose drugs and alcohol.”
He also knows he was at the point where he was ready to seek treatment. It’s essential that those who want treatment are given a bed as soon as possible, he said. “That window of want and need is very small,” he said. “There’s a lot less of a chance for them to follow through if they have to wait.”
His goal is to go to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor. In the meantime he hopes to become a recovery specialist or recovery coach, programs that are being offered by the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery to provide to those addicted to opioids and other drugs support. Recovery coaches are usually in recovery themselves or family members of those with addiction who want to support others in finding the resources to get clean.
“I couldn’t have changed my ways unless I wanted to,” he said. “That need to live has to be there.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.