A short, barely visible thin line on Ashley Oswood’s left forearm is all that remains of track marks from intravenous drug use. If she didn’t point it out, you wouldn’t notice.
The 21-year-old Brownwood High School graduate is clean. “You live and you learn,” Oswood said.
Oswood was the second person accepted into the 21-month-old ADAPT substance abuse program, and 2 1/2 weeks ago, she became its first graduate after yearlong treatment.
ADAPT’s first client reoffended after he was in the program. He was allowed to remain in ADAPT but his graduation date was pushed back, criminal justice officials said.
About eight people are in ADAPT, with another set to graduate soon and another person about to enter.
Oswood received more than a courtroom party and the congratulations of District Judge Steve Ellis and other criminal justice officials when she graduated from ADAPT on April 24: an early release from a five-year probation. She is in the process of moving to San Angelo and is getting married soon.
Oswood had already been clean for a year when she was placed in ADAPT in April 2007. She credited the efforts of law enforcement, probation and ADAPT with helping change her life’s direction — from being “strung out” to becoming “a more well rounded and driven individual with realistic goals and a purpose,” Oswood described herself.
While acknowledging the benefits of ADAPT, she said she is glad her drug treatment is over. “The program was a help. It did combine the individual and group counseling with regular (urinalysis) checks,” Oswood said.
“I was proud of my accomplishment … and extremely excited at the early release (from probation). It’s worth the effort of the judge and probation officers and the counselors that are involved (in ADAPT). There is no magic formula for substance abuse. Recovery’s different for everyone.”
Ellis signed a court order in August 2006 that brought ADAPT — an intensive six-month substance abuse intervention program for probationers, followed by six months of “aftercare” — to life in the 35th Judicial District of Brown and Mills counties.
ADAPT is intended for people who have been placed on felony probation for drug and alcohol offenses, and they are accepted based on the recommendations of the district attorney’s and probation offices, as well as the Mid-Tex Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Ellis ultimately places someone in the program based on those recommendations.
While probationers traditionally receive a variety of counseling services, ADAPT offers a more intense program that is a team approach. Counseling and “after-care” are provided through the Mid-Tex Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
Ellis said in a 2006 interview that ADAPT will include personal attention and “attaboys” from the judge and even a graduation party and cake in the courtroom for those who finish. It will not, he said, be a “get-out-of-jail-free-card” and it will not be for hard-core drug dealers who belong in prison.
“So the court’s not just the hammer,” Ellis said in the 2006 interview. “It’s also going to be part of the process of rehabilitation for those who really, truly want it.”
Rewards for success will come quickly, but so will consequences for failure, Ellis said. “If they fail a (urinalysis test) I’ll put them right in the can.”
Oswood said she began using methamphetamine in high school, and became a daily intravenous user. “I was a very heavy user,” Oswood said.
It was the influence of work, not school, that prompted her to begin using drugs. She worked at a fast food restaurant, and a co-worker invited her to try some as they socialized after work. She did.
In May 2005, Oswood, her co-worker and a young man were riding in a car. A sheriff’s deputy pulled it over in a traffic stop, and all three were arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance.
“I took it lightly at the time,” Oswood said of her arrest. “I didn’t have the true feeling of consequences. Looking back, I should have been horrified.”
After the arrests, Oswood and her co-worker went on with their lives and Oswood’s co-worker became pregnant. Her co-worker resolved to quit drugs for her baby’s sake, and Oswood decided to quit to show her support for her friend.
“We were just tight like that,” Oswood said. “We were like sisters. I quit to help her quit for her baby’s sake. It was difficult, but we had a good reason.”
Oswood, meanwhile, was placed on five years deferred adjudication as a result of her arrest. Criminal justice officials were gearing up to begin the ADAPT program. The young man who was arrested in the traffic stop with Oswood and her co-worker became ADAPT’s first client in September 2006.
Oswood’s probation officer began talking with her about ADAPT. In April 2007, Oswood stood before Ellis in an administrative courtroom hearing. She broke in a huge smile after hearing Ellis say “I’ll accept you into the program.”
“Do you really want to get off drugs?” Ellis asked her then. “You’ve got your whole life out there. We want you to have a full life. I’m proud of you for taking this step.”
Oswood, recalling that moment, said her motivation at that point was the prospect of early release from probation.
Her co-worker went on to become ADAPT’s third client.
Ellis said he knew there would be both success stories and failures coming from ADAPT.
He noted the irony of the day officials threw Oswood a courtroom graduation party. Earlier that day, Ellis had sentenced a man who’d been in ADAPT to prison for reoffending.
“It’s one of these things where you realize it’s an opportunity,” Ellis said. “We’re giving people an opportunity, and they’ve got to make the best of it. Some people will. Some people won’t.”
Speaking of Oswood, Ellis said it was “rewarding to see a young woman who has beaten the drug addiction. It’s so rare we get to see this kind of thing in the criminal justice system. We need more of it.”
Chief Probation Officer Joe Shaw said he’s pleased at Oswood’s success. “She made great progress and and her chances of having a having a much better life are enhanced by completing this program,” Shaw said.
“I think the vast majority of people in it are maintaining sobriety, making their counseling. It’s a new lease on life.”
Oswood said the advice she’d offer to someone else beginning ADAPT would be “just stick with it. The probation office is honoring their side of the contract. It’s worth it.
“ADAPT covers enough different things (to help) basically anyone in recovery — recovering addicts.”
For some in ADAPT, it’s the regular urinalysis that keep them off drugs, Oswood said. For others, it’s the counseling to “remind me why I’m doing this again?” or to “work out issues,” she said.
Oswood also offered advice to people contemplating entering the drug world.
“Don’t do it. Just don’t do it,” Oswood said. “You have no idea where you might end up. I got lucky. There are just too many things I managed to avoid that can happen.”
She said could have faced consequences including overdose, disease, prison and even death.
“It may seem fun at first,” Oswood said. “But when you get to that point that every user will get to — when nothing else seems important … it can mess up your family ties in all directions. Depending on the type of family, some of it is irreparable.”