Michael Thompson’s description of his plunge into the world of alcohol and drug addiction read like a primer for self-destruction.
The Wauseon resident revealed his long and painful journey to an audience of about 50 supporters, court officials, and members of law enforcement Aug. 6 during his graduation ceremony with two other former addicts from Fulton County Drug Court. Established in 2017, the court-mandated program offers a fresh start to offenders especially plagued by the pull of addiction.
Held at the outdoor pavilion at Homecoming Park in Wauseon, the graduation celebrated the completion of Drug Court by Thompson and fellow recoverers Thomas Floering and Haven Trucks. Each was awarded a certificate and small gift for their accomplishment by Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Robinson and Drug Court coordinator Erica Burkholder, both instrumental in launching the program.
Judge Robinson opened the ceremony by recounting his attendance several years ago at a seminar on addiction. “I’m a smart guy, but in about a half-hour I realized I knew nothing about addiction, I knew nothing about how to treat addiction,” he said.
He and Burkholder devised the county’s Drug Court in 2016, and floated the idea to the Fulton County commissioners, who provided funding. A volunteer treatment team was formed, but the program’s beginnings a year later were not auspicious. The first candidate failed to show up.
Since then, 10 former addicts have graduated from Drug Court.
“I think they’re courageous, because being addicted to heroin, being addicted to cocaine, being addicted to meth, being addicted to alcohol, is a terrible thing…a demeaning thing,” Judge Robinson said. “It robs you of your freedom of choice, it robs you of your family and of your personal relationships with people. It makes you a liar and a thief and cheat and a manipulator. And it’s hard to fight back. And I’m so proud we’re having an opportunity to make a difference.”
Thompson’s odyssey began with drinking while attending Wauseon High School, where the gifted athlete earned nine varsity letters in five sports. It progressed with daily pot smoking after a disappointing tryout with the Toledo Mud Hens following graduation, and descended into Ecstasy, Adderall, molly, and cocaine during a short, drug-addled attempt at college.
By the time Thompson was introduced to Percocet he had squandered a successful 1 1/2-year period of sobriety and ensuing attempts to detoxify. “I wanted to get clean but the pull was too strong,” he said.
He took up skateboarding again, and with new friends took daily trips to Toledo for drugs the next two years. He overdosed for the first time in December of 2016, completed a rehabilitation program, then relapsed.
It was after Thompson was introduced to methamphetamine that he slowly lost everything and became virtually homeless. He was arrested Nov. 11, 2018, for selling drugs and served 66 days in jail. He was also sentenced by Judge Robinson to Drug Court, where he finally broke his addiction.
Thomas Floering chose not to recount his experiences with addiction, except to say he remained sober during Drug Court, held a job, and earned a driver’s license. Instead, the soft-spoken Delta resident, who felt uncomfortable with the attention, offered a simple statement to the gathering: “I know addiction is a lifelong disease but with the tools and skills that I learned since being in the program I am confident I can remain sober and have a good life.”
Introducing graduate Haven Trucks, Judge Robinson called her recovery “absolutely remarkable,” but admitted, “If you had asked who was the least likely to be successful based on their initial appearance before me, it would have been Haven. She was a really bad mess. (Still), I think it was a proud moment, Haven, because you decided you were going to get yourself sober.”
During her short statement, Trucks said she was a single mom living with her mother and had no means to support her daughter, Jemma. Sober now for two years, Trucks said, “It would take four months in jail, four months in rehab, and the support of Drug Court to bring out the best in me.”
Burkholder said graduating from Drug Court is a major accomplishment in the participants’ lives.
“The success in general is that every single day people get to be with their families, that they’re with their friends, that it’s a community thing,” she said. “We have hope now for these people, and they have hope. Every single day is a new day, and that’s success. I don’t measure success by people just graduating, I measure it by them getting a job for the first time. This is a big deal for them, and I’m just honored to be part of their journey.”
Drug Court is an opportunity to “really celebrate the recovery of three graduates that have had a long journey to this point, had a lot of hurdles in their way,” said Shane Chamberlin, Fulton County senior adult probation officer. “But they’ve been able to jump over all those hurdles and reach a successful end. We can only hope that this provides for long-term sobriety.”
He said the program’s success is measured in lifetimes, not six months or even two years of sobriety. “Our fingers are crossed that they’re going to be sober 10 years from now,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.