[Editor’s note: The following is part of an ongoing series to provide greater insight into the drug problem, its costs and cures, in Van Buren County. Enhanced Docket, the subject here, will be reported throughout the year, as will other venues and people. /Alex]
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), famous poet, wrote in one of his less well-known works a poem about wisdom giving way to wishful thinking. It begins:
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
It was Thursday Oct. 25 at the courthouse, the usual bustle of cars and people on the square, and Circuit Court was in session, Judge HG Foster presiding. It was a full docket, as they say in the business, with a steady drumbeat of cases before the judge.
This was the legal system at its most routine, its most day-to-day. Bailiffs and clerks back and forth, papers changing hand, orange jumpsuits swearing to tell the truth, worried faces in the gallery, parents and friends. Then standing next to their court appointed attorney, attorney speaks, judge speaks, prosecutor speaks, then the decision, some to prison, most to probation.
Methamphetamine, invariably, the topic at hand.
Others waited in the back of the court, watching, some related to the accused, some clutching folders. This latter group, the folder clutchers, were there for Enhanced Docket Court, to take place after the regular court proceedings.
And the proceedings, the very full docket, was taking a while. Against it the steady streams of jumpsuits, shackles clanking and limiting movement, shuffling before the judge. (One man, in the white garb of state prison, was called back a second time after an outburst using obscene slang and comparing the public defender to a dog. He was given, as part of his terms, additional requirements for course completion in state prison before he is eligible for release due to his contempt of court. As one of the terms was assignment to sex offender’s classes – due to his obscenity and how it was directed – he was upset upon being escorted from the courtroom.)
And it went on, jumpsuits, papers, conversations, an exceptionally long court day.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
Normally Circuit court is over, the docket cleared, at about 3 p.m. It was 6:30 p.m. Finally it was time for Enhanced Docket, the realm of the same court staff, but now with the folder-clutchers each appearing in turn before the judge.
[note: Actual names will not be used.]
Y was there. He had been reported on earlier, in April, early in the Enhanced Docket process. He recognized me and we shook hands and chatted for a minute before he appeared before the judge. He was doing well.
His turn came and he stood before the judge. Foster took reports from the parole officer and others there. Y, short and wiry, had been doing fine. He had been showing up to his court-ordered assignments, passing drug tests, and had – he reported happily – gotten a job he’d long wished for, a construction job. Things, not just Y but the things around Y, had been doing well. Foster, pleased, congratulated him on his progress and encouraged him to keep up the good work.
Enhanced Docket was started by Foster and his team earlier this year, having been announced by a presentation by Foster to the Quorum Court at its final 2017 meeting. It was a hybridization of the “Drug Court” model used in other communities, with the difference that Van Buren County was unable to receive the grant funding for Drug Court. The need absent the funding led Foster to create Enhanced Docket.
In some ways Enhanced Docket is court like any other court. The same robes, the same pomp (and on occasion, the orange jumpsuits, more on that in a moment) but geared not as much to the crime-and-punishment of typical court proceedings, but to manage its defendants in such a way that they will get out of the cycle of controlled substance abuse, often methamphetamine, and on to successful lives.
Those in Enhanced Docket, other than regular appearances in court for review of their progress receive counseling, make regular visits to the parole officer, are given drug tests, and are otherwise watched over, checked on, managed. Those in Enhanced Docket are plucked from the stream, as it were, of typical court defendants having been identified as someone in the abuse cycle, willing to get out of the cycle, and having some difficulty doing so.
A handful were in court that day. One man, named in a recent series of arrests for having paraphernalia in his home – a meth pipe – stood before the judge. He had failed drugs tests due to, it was explained to the judge, medication he had been prescribed. Some concern here, some conversation, and Foster ordered that the man’s physician who had prescribed the medication appear in court the next Enhanced Docket.
“I want to hear that this has been prescribed for you,” Foster said.
He was excused.
An orange jumpsuit was brought before the judge. She had gotten into some trouble. Drugs, and in this case alcohol, brought her to the attention of the sheriff and she was in jail. Here again the conversation, the back and forth, checking with court officers, counselors, people who care.
Enhanced Docket, as anyone in the court room points out with some pride, does not “cherry pick” its defendant-clients. As such not everyone is able to get out of the abuse cycle, and some, working to get out of the abuse cycle, have problems doing so.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
She was assigned to State Prison, a program there to treat substance abuse. She was not, she assured the judge, the judge assured her, gone for good. This was a rough spot, a misstep, not the end of the effort, or the success.
Encouragement, positive reinforcement in the terms of such things, is apparently a cornerstone of Enhanced Docket.
Foster explained in chambers, during a break in proceedings that the ultimate measure is the value of people as people, not as numbers on a docket sheet, but humans, fellow man. It’s why he and his staff keeps the lights on late, after the regular court proceedings are done, to help, to assist, to manage, and to encourage, their fellow man.
Kipling wrote“Gods of the Copybook Headings,” (quoted here in part, and by Foster in chambers) having been impressed by a homily written in the 17th Century by Isaac Barrow: “Good nature like a bee, collects honey from every herb. Ill nature, like a spider, sucks poison from the flowers."