As my morning alarm went off and I slowly got out of bed, my anxiety started to kick in. I was getting dressed and heading to Bridgeport Superior Court and all I could think about was the last time I was there, three years ago.
On April 1, 2014, I was sentenced to prison because of the consequences of my heroin addiction. Part of my sentencing included 3 years of probation. I had already completed two and was now eligible for “early termination”, which meant that I had a chance to be let off one year early. Aka, no longer being property of CT’s judicial system.
As much as I would like to say that I had outstanding performance, unfortunately I didn’t. In fact, in my personal life, I completely failed. I had relapsed after a year of sobriety which led me into a four month long relapse. During that relapse, I had experienced the deepest amount of sorrow I had ever been in, and I’ve been in some deep ones. According to probation standards, I was to remain sober, not have possession of any firearms, complete community service, and to not get arrested again. I had done everything but remain sober. Probation had record of a positive urine toxicology test and had told me to “come back in 30 days with a clean test and this test will not cause any violation”. I had already been off of all substances, but the reason my test came out positive was because I still had marijuana in my system after I had left my detox treatment facility. So, staying sober, I came back in 30 days and gave a negative test.
I should have known better that probation keeps record of everything and that every record will affect me, some way or another. Although I did not get an official probation violation, that positive test resulted in probation making a recommendation to the court to continue my probation and NOT grant me early termination.
That’s fine, I understand, I technically didn’t keep the requirements of probation.
However, what I did after I sought treatment for my relapse, was substantial. I became an advocate for recovery, maintained continuous recovery for almost two years, started working in the addiction recovery field, started school full time, and received recognition and awards for the advocacy I was doing. I even had an offer to work with the CT Department of Corrections, but I could only accept the position if I was granted the early termination. Probation was holding me back and becoming a barrier in many aspects of my life.
So, I decided to attend my probation hearing with letters of recommendation and proof of my progress since that last test, in hopes that the judge may decide to cut me a break.
I was dreading going to that courthouse. My last memory of that place was me leaving in handcuffs and being sent away to a correctional institution. I was addicted to heroin, extremely underweight, and had no hope or purpose for my life.
I walked up the steps of the courthouse and waited in the line as people went through the metal detectors. Hearing the buzzing of the detector started sending me back to the year that I was in and out of that courthouse fighting this case. At every court date I was either high or in withdrawal.
I went through the routine of coming to court as if it was second nature, which was a bit disappointing for me. It was pathetic to me that I knew how to navigate the court house and system so well because I was a defendant so many times. I bee-lined around people looking lost and went to a bulletin board that hung all of the docket numbers of that day and which court room they were going to be in. I found my name and proceeded into the court room. Of course it was the exact court room that I had gotten sentenced in and hauled away in handcuffs.
I sat on the wooden bench and then the waiting began. Court is full of waiting, no matter what court house you are in or what you are in court for. As I waited, people began to fill the court room and defense attorneys were pulling their clients aside to speak with them.
Instantly every single dreadful memory came back to me at once. I then heard a door located on the side of the court room open and I knew exactly why it was being opened; a prisoner was being transported to a different section of the courthouse. Then, a panic attack started coming on in full force. At first it started off with general anxiety, but the second I heard the chains of the handcuffs, full panic mode set in.
“Breathe, Ally, breathe. This is totally normal. This isn’t you. You are walking out of here today no matter what. Everything. Is. Going. To. Be. Just. Fine.” I said to myself.
Knowing that the judge was going to be approaching the bench at any moment I couldn’t get up and leave. So I dropped my head and began to pray; my go-to for extreme panic situations that I literally cannot get out of.
After finally bringing myself to a sustainable level of anxiety, the judge approached the bench.
My name was called and I approached, with each step remembering all of the times I had done this.
The judge looked over my letters, looked at me and said, “Wow. Miss Kernan I never see this. Unfortunately, many people that come in here with a case like yours, do not make it. You not only changed your life completely, but you now help others. Based on the substantial amount of information that I am seeing, I have no issue with terminating your probation.”
She then turned to the prosecutor and asked if he had any objections.
The prosecutor said, “I absolutely have an objection. She is a FELON. It shows she has a dirty urine on her record. I cannot agree to this, AT ALL.”
My heart stung as he emphasized “felon” and “dirty urine”. Even the language of that term alone is unprofessional.
The judge then looked at me and said, “What do you have to say about the urine result?”
I replied, “Your honor, I had a relapse which probation has record of. I take full responsibility of it and that’s why I came here today, despite probations’ recommendation to continue my probation because of that test result. I’m here to advocate for myself in hopes that the court can reconsider and grant the early termination so I can further my career in the addiction recovery services.”
The judge said, “Well I see your progress and I don’t think this one test should hinder you. I want to grant early termination,” she then looked at the prosecutor and said, “Again, I think you should reconsider and you should take my recommendation. This woman has no purpose of staying on probation.”
The prosecutor would not come to an agreement and the judge had to continue my probation because of it.
Aka… I was to continue probation for another year.
The judge apologized to me and even expressed her embarrassment for the state’s inability to agree with her recommendation. That alone was humbling to hear.
So although I was disappointed that I had to continue my case, there was so much to be grateful for that day:
I was still in recovery.
I was walking out of the courthouse with no hand-cuffs.
I was sober in the court room!
I was healthy.
I was even mistaken for an attorney!
I had shown a judge that recovery is possible.
But most importantly, God is still in control and was the entire time. That fact alone kept me in so much peace. Instead of complaining, I changed my perspective.
Recovery teaches me to change my perspective on situations and people. Being a Christian teaches me to have thankfulness in every situation.
I am so thankful that I am still in recovery. I am so thankful that I will continue to never allow probation be a barrier to maintain my recovery and help support someone else’s.
This experience also taught me more about the judicial system and made me think of new things that I can advocate for.
I’ve been blessed in my road of recovery and if I made it this far on probation, I can absolutely continue!
And one last thing I was thankful for: I faced a place that I thought would forever haunt me; sober.