Jail alternative certainly no country club

By Joanne Huist Smith

Staff Writer

Monday, February 09, 2009

DAYTON — His pockets full of small electronics, Troy Adams sauntered through the Best Buy in Miamisburg wearing dress slacks, a nice shirt and decent shoes.

Adams needed cash to buy heroin.

"Somebody saw me. I ditched what I had, but a guy tried to stop me," Adams said. "I knocked him down at the door and ran."

Adams, 32, of Xenia was convicted of robbery with use of force on Aug. 14, 2008, in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. For him, it was one in a string of convictions — he has 28 — and all but the first were related to drugs.

Instead of going to jail, Adams volunteered and was accepted into a treatment program called S.T.O.P. (Secure Transitional Offender Program), a 42-bed, secure drug intervention facility that opened in 2002. The program offers men an alternative to jail as a sentence for felony drug offenders.

"Forty-two beds, that's just the tip of the iceberg," said James Dare, deputy court administrator for Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. "A lot of young people get hooked on heroin real quick. We want them to know the choices they've made have consequences. I can't change what happened yesterday. I want to help them with what will happen tomorrow."

Many of the inmates are like Adams. They have little to fall back on, including relationships.

"Their relationship is with the drug," Dare said.

Memorable day

Adams' early drug use flew under the radar of his family and teachers throughout most of high school. But on May 10, 1994, a few weeks before graduation, he got caught with pot and prescription opiates. Adams was escorted out of Xenia High School with the entire student body — gathered outside to watch a solar eclipse — watching.

"That was my last day of high school," he said. "It was a memorable day for me."

Adams was permitted to graduate with his class and in 1996, he enrolled in the School of Advertising Art in Kettering.

"I was doing really good, but I was burning the candle at both ends, going to school and working two jobs," Adams said.

And, of course, he was using: cocaine and amphetamines.

"I dropped out after one year," Adams said. "I felt pretty worthless about my possibilities."

When he got high, Adams said, he felt better about himself. It boosted his self-esteem, and made his job at a local home improvement store more tolerable. A 2004 diagnosis of malignant melanoma — skin cancer — led to surgery and a prescription for Percocet, a mix of acetaminophen and oxycodone, used to treat pain.

The Percocet quickly led to heroin. The decision to use intravenously, Adams said, "was major." It didn't take a couple of days to decide; it took a couple of minutes.

"At that point in time, it was just another high, but there was no going back," he said.

On Christmas Day 2005, Adams' girlfriend of four years overdosed and died after the two used a combination of heroin and cocaine to celebrate her release from a drug treatment program.

He was arrested for possession of heroin four days later. After a series of arrests — and relapses — he ended up in the S.T.O.P. program.

Survival skills

S.T.O.P. is no country club.

Each inmate must participate in intensive counseling. Visitors are off-limits and so is television. Three days a week, inmates perform some community service, from picking up litter at an area park to scrubbing toilets at a church bingo hall. They go to bed early, but eat well. Often bone thin from years of drug use, many gain 15 to 20 pounds within 90 days.

"Ulcerations, prison, death, they know about all that," Dare said. "We're trying to teach them the skills they need to survive without drugs."

Adams finished the program in December and went directly to a halfway house in Dayton, the Booth House on South Main Street. But the Salvation Army-run house didn't have a bed for him, and he ended up back on the streets.

When his mom agreed to take him in, Adams said he celebrated — with heroin.

A week after relapsing, Adams got accepted into Christopher House, a recovery center in Xenia.

"I'm still scared," he said last week. "I want to give myself a chance. I'm trying to take the right steps."

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