Emmy-Winning Second Chances Chronicles Struggles, Joys of Drug Court

"I don't think recovering addicts have a better life, but I do think we get a different view, and that's a beautiful thing."

Stefanie Robinson, executive director of Hope Recovery Community in Medina and peer support advisor to Medina County Drug Court, is among the Ohioans who share their story of drug and alcohol addiction and rehabilitation in the Emmy award-winning documentary, Second Chances: One Year in Ohio's Drug Courts.

Written, produced, directed and edited by Wright State University communications-TV broadcast alum Anne Fife, Second Chances follows over a dozen recovering addicts' journey through Ohio drug courts in three counties: Hocking, Marion and Medina. Fife, producer for Ohio Government Television (OGT) and Cleveland PBS and NPR affiliate Ideastream, created the hour-long feature with support from the Ohio Supreme Court. The 2019 release was distributed through PBS, Court News Ohio and the National Center for State Courts.

Fife took home writer's honors at this week's virtual Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Awards with a stirring profile of Ohioans struggling to reclaim their lives from alcohol and addictive drugs.

"People cannot make it through this without help. It's bigger than all of us," Judge Teresa Ballinger of Marion Municipal Court's drug docket says in Second Chances, noting many participants experience repeated ups and downs before graduating from drug court. Not everyone makes it.

"When you get around particular people, particular circumstances, then there's a tendency to relapse, especially while you're just in the beginning of treatment," says Ballinger.

Ohio's voluntary drug courts are accustomed to giving participants many opportunities to restart recovery -- with accountability.

"I know we're bad as addicts, but we're not terrible people when we're clean," says Tiffany, a young woman from Hocking County's Municipal Drug Court. She says court-monitored drug recovery is the kind of structure many need to get clean and stay clean. "We need to do something different than throwing us all in jail."

Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Fred Moses says that, like everyone else, recovering addicts must learn to live life on life's terms, as the saying goes; to deal with success and failure in big and little ways.

"Life isn't easy, whether you're rich, poor, clean or sober," says Moses.

Some Ohioans face challenges others don't, even as children. Timi's mom was an alcoholic and opiate addict who showed her how to crush and snort pills for a better high. The daughter graduated to heroin but eventually learned, with the help of drug court, that she had to give up the old "people, places and things" to stay sober. It is another phrase with which recovering addicts are well acquainted.

"You definitely have to change everything.… It's hard when it's your mom," Timi shares during Second Chances. "Addiction either ends in recovery or death, and recovery is harder than dying."

Robinson, who helped launch Medina County Recovery Center along with her own recovery community organization (RCO) and now provides regular peer support to Judge Joyce Kimbler's court, says Timi's sentiment is true of addicts and non-addicts alike.

"Defining moments … are when life sucks and you continue to do the 'next right thing,'" Robinson says, quoting another powerful aphorism.

Of the 19 addicted Ohioans profiled by Second Chances, 13 make it to drug court graduation.

"You can't fix everybody, and that's a very hard part of this job," Judge Moses observes, urging one drug court participant in the documentary to stay on track after her sister died of an overdose.

OGT's contract with the Ohio Supreme Court's Public Information Office has given Fife and Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor an opportunity to view drug court recovery from differing professional commitments but a common human understanding.

“One thing I took away from this process was not to give up on people. There are many times that people surprised us by making small changes that really affected their lives in a positive way,” Fife says in the Court's Emmy announcement.

“I’m incredibly proud that this documentary received this well-deserved recognition from the television industry,” O’Connor says. “This film captures the compassion and dedication of drug court judges and the treatment teams that help those struggling with addiction. The daily struggle of those suffering from the disease of addiction is real, and it was accurately portrayed in this documentary.”

Supreme Court Public Information Director Ed Miller notes Second Chances' Emmy has come at a time when the public health impacts of drug courts are somewhat overshadowed by COVID-19.

“That makes the film’s lessons and Anne Fife’s work all the more important to view today as addiction struggles continue. There are no outside experts quoted, only those living through the drug crisis who are trying to solve it,” Miller says.

Second Chances: One Year in Ohio's Drug Courts can be viewed on the Ohio Channel at www.ohiochannel.org/video/second-chances-one-year-in-ohios-drug-courts.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on October 7, 2020.  Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.