Journeys Through Justice is a new series of stories and interviews about people caught in North Dakota’s Criminal justice system. A large majority of the people serving time in the state’s prisons and jails are addicted to drugs and or alcohol. Many also suffer from mental health problems. There’s bi-partisan agreement that the cost and the number of people cycling in and out of the system are both way too high.
So, the question is how to keep people out of the system and reduce the number of people in the system. It’s a hard nut to crack given the difficulties involved in treating addiction.
Carly Kotchian is a case in point. She has cycled in and out of both treatment and prison for her addiction to drugs. Her parents Wendy and Ray Kotchian have tried to help Carly since she first started using drugs as a teenager.
WK: She was like 14 probably when she started smoking pot. She was in middle school self-esteem I think she had some issues with that and she got hooked up with people that made her feel good about herself in the wrong way you know. [22.8]
Narr: In college Carly began hanging out with people who got her hooked on heroin.
WK: we found out that she was definitely using heroin intravenously. And the whole world seemed to crash down. It was like a parent's worst nightmare to find out and just see it.
Narr: Carly tried to kick her habit in a variety of different treatment programs. But she always returned to using. One thing to note is that Wendy and Ray who are Carly’s parents have resources to help her. They live in a lovely home in one of Fargo’s most affluent neighborhoods. The point being that drug addiction can affect anyone regardless of class, race or ethnicity. And even with money, treating addiction can be incredibly difficult. Denial is a hard wall to knock down.
BRP: Some people will say my life is fine, my life is going fine
Narr: Brenda Ross Phillips is a licensed addiction counselor at Prairie St. john’s in Fargo.
BRP: – and I”ll say really? So you’ve got charges, don’t have a job, couch surfing and you think life is fine? Oh yes..They aren’t seeing what’s happening
Narr: Eventually, Carly was arrested for selling a narcotic drug to an undercover officer. By that time her parents were frantically worried about her. Her father Ray says it was a actually a relief when she was convicted and sent to prison.
RK: It was it was helpful in that it broke the cycle. Of her being around her particular group of using friends and she was safe and she wasn't using.
Narr: And Carly did spend 3 months in a prison drug treatment program. But the shock of returning home after 2 years in prison pretty much negated the benefit she got from the treatment.
WK: It's getting out there and being being responsible for yourself and making you know bringing in an income and trying to get a place to live. She's a felon that is going to be a struggle. There's no place really for her to go unless we you know help to some degree.
Narr: According to the National Institute of Justice over 70 percent of drug offenders who serve time end up being rearrested. A majority of these new arrests happen within the first year of release..
Within a very short time after her release from prison Carly was back on heroin. Only this time she was pregnant. And then, she overdosed. A friend called 911, narcan was administered and Carly and her baby were saved. The next day a police officer showed up at the family home and she was taken back to prison in part for the safety of the baby. She’s still in prison, waiting for the birth of her child and for her release. Gets out - especially now that she’ll be a new mother.
Wendy: She deals with depression and and the stress the anxiety that she feels and now she's going to have a baby and she knows that what's expected more of her. Is she able to do that. My husband and I just talked last night we hope. But we don't know. We don't know if she's going to be able to handle it all. It's it's going to be a long road.
Narr: State legislators are looking at ways to reduce the number of inmates in North Dakota’s prisons. Especially like Carly whose crime is their addiction to drugs. The question is what programs or policies can help substance abusers avoid the cycle of incarceration.IN upcoming stories and interviews we’ll hear from people who are working on finding answers.
Journeys through Justice is funded by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council. For Prairie Public I’m Meg Luther Lindholm.