To a Speedy Recovery 

Prop. 36 has driven thousands of hard-core drug addicts away from prison and into treatment, but backers worry that recent changes to the program could stifle its success.

Page 6 of 7

In addition to these points, the Drug Policy Alliance successfully argued in July that the revision package is unconstitutional because without voter approval, it amends the ballot initiative in a way not "consistent with its purpose." But the clock is ticking on the group's temporary restraining order. Next week, a local court is expected either to lift the order, enabling the revisions to take effect, or issue an injunction that further delays SB 1137, a decision that would likely propel the case into the state superior court.

The prospect of short-term incarcerations has elicited a wait-and-see approach from local Prop. 36 providers. "We're open to seeing how that works," muses Lenny Williams of Contra Costa County's program. "Some people are pretty recalcitrant and need to know that authority exists and will respond to it. We're dealing with some pretty hard-core people here."

However, Gary Spicer, who until recently oversaw Alameda County's program, cautions that people who already have experienced jail are often completely inured to the threat. "We have to be careful about seeing that as the resolution to reducing attrition rates and seeing that as a motivation that's always going to work, because historically it didn't do anything," he says. "We've been jailing people a really, really long time and yet we didn't seem to be making big strides in the national war on drugs."


The individual war on drugs, however, is fought here, at a table in a plain, fluorescently lit back room of the New Connections treatment center in Concord, around which are seated Gabriel, deputy probation officer Ron Pearson, and treatment counselors George Chinn and Don Taylor.

This is the Recovery Gateway Unit, where the Prop. 36 team assesses the progress of its clients. The group compares notes: Who's causing trouble, who's testing dirty. They have an easy camaraderie, and when clients come in, the team members fluidly trade between good cop and bad cop roles. Maybe a client can fool one of them, but all of them? No way, they say. Plus, it's hard to trick the pile of foil-wrapped urinalysis tests lying ominously in the middle of the table.

Today they have a new client, a lanky, sunburned guy with a wispy goatee and giant ears. He says he wants to go into detox tonight and that he's ready to kick meth because his life is going downhill. He was injured at work, he explains, and some of his equipment was stolen. "I'm on the edge," he pleads.

"If we were to test you tonight, would you test clean?" Gabriel asks.

"The last time I used was a week ago, so I believe so. Although," he says slowly, "maybe for marijuana."

Chinn raises an eyebrow. "Marijuana is not a drug to you?"

"No," the guy says, not catching the warning sign.

Everyone in the room wants to put this guy in detox. But they know he's lying. He's admitting to something small to cover up something big. He's way too jumpy for someone who hasn't used meth recently. Until he can be honest with them, they feel they can't really help him.

Without even having to discuss it, the group makes a unanimous decision: They tell him he'll have to test, then park him out on the lobby couch to sweat about it.

In the meantime, they minister to a parade of others: There's the guy who skipped his urine tests for a month, and gets a stern scolding from Gabriel and Pearson, followed by some encouragement from Chinn and Taylor. There's the guy covered in a contagious full-body rash, for whom they somehow develop a treatment plan that will prevent physical contact with other clients. There's the guy with the gigantic White Power tattoos who blushes demurely while Gabriel hands him his completion certificate and everyone claps.

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