After losing custody of her daughter and spending three years in prison, Jennifer Pacifico said, “I finally said to myself, ‘I’m getting too old to keep on going on this way.’ The 46-year-old was one of 40 people who celebrated their graduation from the Passaic County recovery court program.
In a ceremony at Passaic County Community College, there was the traditional commencement march of Pomp and Circumstance, though these graduates had overcome far more than the ordinary. Pacifico and the others received their graduation certificates and spoke to the audience of family members and friends about the demons and difficulties they overcame in fighting their addictions.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Miguel De La Carrera, who oversees the program, spoke during the event and noted that the initiative had been called “drug court” for three decades before being renamed: “The name was changed because this is about recovery, not drugs,” he told the audience.
About 4,000 recovery courts in the U.S. have helped about 1.5 million people get their lives on track, De La Carrera said. “Recovery courts address substance abuse, reduce addiction, improve education, reunite families and help provide housing for those who participate. We seek to combat the stigma that is often attached to a marginalized population.”
Geared toward nonviolent drug-related cases, the program typically lasts five years and requires participants to complete four phases of substance abuse treatment. Those who fail to comply with the program’s requirements face either therapeutic interventions or the reinstatement of their criminal charges.
The effort grew from a realization that the “seemingly intractable cycle of incarceration followed by more incarceration was not producing a solution to drug-related criminal behavior and instead was just endlessly filling jail and prison cells,” the website says.
Recovery court administrator Adrien Byrd and Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed, who presides over criminal courts in Passaic County, praised the graduates for completing the rigorous program.
The road to recovery was difficult but well worth the effort, Pacifico said, but being drug-free has opened exciting horizons in her life. She now lives with her youngest daughter and often spends time with the daughter who was taken from her due to her addiction.
“I have such a sense of relief,” Pacifico said. “We go shopping or go out to eat together quite often. She can call me ‘Mom’ again. She is no longer embarrassed to be with me. She is very proud of me that I didn’t give up.”