Iowa man changes his life with help of drug court, archdiocesan prison ministry

Iowa man changes his life with help of drug court, archdiocesan prison ministry


One year can make quite a difference in a person’s life. Last April, 38-year-old Chris Clancy of Dubuque, Iowa was facing a rough future. Addicted to drugs and facing criminal charges, Clancy hit a low point in his life. His only options were serving time in prison or entering the Dubuque and Delaware County Drug Court program.

From athlete to addict

Clancy had traveled a far distance from his days as quarterback of his high school football team. It was near the end of those days when Clancy’s problems first began.

“I was very sports-minded and sports were most of my life,” Clancy said. “Schoolwork came easy to me so I didn’t have to study. Tests are all I studied for because I was too worried what the playbook
said and who the next opponent [was going to be].”

Therefore, his grades suffered and he soon became ineligible for sports. After receiving a low math score, his high school principal told him he could not play sports for the rest of the school year, which led to a confrontation.

“That was the end of my school, so then all of my troubles started and things spiraled out of control,” Clancy said.

Working several different jobs at the time, his addiction began with alcohol and later turned to drugs. He was under the influence of these substances from age 19 to 37, never sober for more than a few
days at a time. Things became so bad Clancy eventually resorted to forgery as a way to pay for drugs.

“I am not proud of what I did,” Clancy said. “I am ashamed.”

Drug court

At Clancy’s drug court graduation on April 29 this year, District Court Judge Michael Shubatt recalled the first time he met Clancy.

“You sat at that table where the cake is (for the graduation celebration), but you didn’t look as good,” Shubatt said. “You had orange jail clothes on. You looked like you were about at the end of your rope and ready to give this a try.”

The Dubuque and Delaware County Drug Court program, an alternative to prison, began in November 2008. It is currently funded through a federal grant.

The drug court team — which includes a judge, private attorney, county attorney, probation officer, treatment provider and police officer liaison — reviews the history of drug abusers facing prison time and decides whether to accept them. Once accepted, participants must complete a minimum of 15 months in the three-phase program. Phase 1 lasts at least 90 days. To advance to Phase 2, participants must abstain from drugs and alcohol, attend drug court hearings once a week, pass random sobriety tests, attend three self-help meetings a week, establish a treatment program, meet every week with a substance abuse counselor and probation officer and complete homework assignments.

Phase 2, a recommended 150 days, they must also be regularly employed or in school, find an approved mentor or sponsor, as well as other conditions. Participants then move to Phase 3.

Upon completion of the approximately 120 days of this stage, they graduate from drug court and enter into an aftercare program for 90 days.

The drug court offers both incentives and sanctions, depending on participants’ behavior. Incentives include praise from the judge and team members, placement on an all-star list, early movement to the next phase, less frequent court appearances and more. Sanctions include earlier curfew, jail time and community service.

There are also grounds for termination. Drug court is a collaborative effort among the district court, county attorney’s office, a contracted private attorney, Department of Correctional Services, law enforcement agencies and the Substance Abuse Services Center in Dubuque.

Substance abuse counselor Bobbi-Jo Molokken, the drug court treatment provider, said this collaboration is beneficial.

“There are holes in the regular system that drug court fills,” Molokken said. “There is a good collaboration between courts and treatment. The counselor and probation officer talk all of the time; they see each other every week at court hearings. Normally, it is harder for them to get in touch.”

Molokken said another advantage of drug court is its length. “Being in treatment for one whole year really makes a difference,” she said. “Drug courts and longer treatment programs increase your odds a lot. Drug courts also work because there are swift consequences, and [participants] have to come to counseling, which helps them with making better choices.”

According to Molokken, the required substance abuse counseling and group sessions work specifically on criminal and addictive thinking.

“It helps them change their thinking,” she said. “They have to change everything in their lives. We discuss relationships, communication, relapse prevention and more.”

Drug court works as a transition, helping participants make better choices and lifestyle changes, rather than placing them in prison and immediately back into the community.

The program worked for Clancy, the fourth graduate. He met all of the requirements sanction-free and is now close to 500 days sober.

Although others have failed the program, Molokken is not discouraged. “Even the lives of those who failed were still better for the time they were in the program,” she said. “There were benefits to their families and communities for that period of time, even if it was only seven months.”

Drug court role model

According to drug court team members, Clancy is a model of success for others. “I hope it is clear to you what a big part you’ve played in this program and its success,” Shubatt said to Clancy at his graduation.

“For those of you who have not been in the program long, I would say without hesitation that this guy is an example of how to get it done.”

On the day of graduation, nine other drug court participants were in attendance. They spoke about their weeks and offered congratulations to Clancy.

One said, “You show me this program can work and change me.”

Archdiocese of Dubuque Jail and Prison Ministry Coordinator Deacon Bill Hickson, Clancy’s personal mentor, said to Clancy in December 2009, “I’ve always been impressed with how you have looked out for others in the drug court program. You seem to be a bridge between them and us.”

Hickson and Clancy were matched through the Jail and Prison Ministry’s mentoring program.

Molokken also commented on Clancy’s growth throughout the process.

“You came into my office very quiet, and as of late, you have been doing lots of public speaking engagements, sharing personal information with crowds of people you do not know,” she said.

Clancy thanked Shubatt for giving him the opportunity and having faith in him from the beginning. “Your decision to accept me and believe in me has helped me save my life and put enjoyment back into everyday living,” Clancy said.

Circles of Support and Accountability

Clancy believes a major key to his success was taking advantage of other support programs, such as Circles of Support and Accountability, which were introduced into the Jail and Prison Ministry
about five years ago.

Circles of Support and Accountability consist of trained volunteers who help offenders in their healing process and direct them toward responsible living. While the drug court provided structure, Clancy’s circle provided the real-life friends and relationships he needed to effectively change his lifestyle.

“I think a reason some people do not succeed [in drug court] is that they do not pursue the programs that are out there for them,” Clancy said. “I don’t know where I would be without ‘Circles.’”

According to Hickson, there are 64 mentoring pairs throughout archdiocese, 14 active Circles of Support and Accountability and more than 200 volunteers helping with the effort.

“Drug court is just one part of our restorative justice program, and it’s only in [Dubuque] that we are as involved as we are, but there are drug courts throughout the archdiocese and we are going to try to establish a relationship with each one of them,” Hickson said.

“I consider it a great privilege to participate in the ministry and … work with people like Chris. What is required on his part is a real openness. You have to bare your soul and let us look at everything, good and bad. I am hoping and praying we continue to be a new dawn for people — an opportunity to shine light where there is darkness and make people aware of God’s second chances.”

At first, Clancy was not sure about the Circles of Support and Accountability. “It was something I wanted no part in,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine sitting in a circle with a bunch of unfamiliar people, telling them all of the bad stuff I’ve done.”

Now, Clancy said Hickson is not only a mentor, but also a friend. “This is a type of friendship I never thought possible without alcohol or drugs,” he said. “For this, I am blessed and feel God led [Hickson] to become part of my life.”

A talented bowler, Clancy was almost ready to give up after he did not do as well as expected in a bowling tournament last year.

“[Hickson] really taught me that bowling is a game and everything else is a game; those are extra activities,” Clancy said. “And if you don’t succeed, you have to succeed in life. It was great to have that
support to turn to.”

Second chances

Because of the drug court and Circles of Support and Accountability, Clancy’s future is brighter than ever before. In addition to his job, he is a volunteer in the Media Services/Education Resource Center at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.

Clancy also became chairperson of one of his Alcoholic/Narcotics Anonymous meeting groups and finished fifth in the prestigious Big 10 bowling tournament.

“I am glad that you have gotten all areas of your life put back together and have built yourself a real solid foundation on which to move forward,” Shubatt said. “You are an example to employers that want to give somebody a second chance, that they can be worth it … that people are worth second chances.”

More than anything, Clancy is happy to have an improved relationship with his family. He once said his family was one of the things he missed the most during his addiction. Now, he talks to his dad frequently and can enjoy family vacations, like a recent trip to a baseball game.

“The stadium was beautiful and being able to actually see it and enjoy it is something I will never forget because I was not lost in the fog,” Clancy said.

“As I reflect on the past year in drug court, I cannot overlook how close I am becoming with my family. I know now [my sisters] can say with confidence that they have an older brother. We, as a family, can again take pictures, and I can now look at them and be proud of who I am and who we, as a family, have become.”

Printed with permission from The Witness, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa.

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