WOODSTOCK – Every day for 3 1/2 years, Roberto Garcia used heroin. Every day his family was left to wonder if he was dead or alive.
But Tuesday, Garcia said, was the start to a new life as a sober, drug court graduate.
"[Without the drug court program] I would be dead, or in jail, or still running around," said Garcia, 29. "It gave me a second chance at life."
Tears formed in the eyes of his mother, Anne Garcia, as she remembered what Roberto was like when he was using.
"He was a lost soul, definitely a lost soul," Garcia said, pausing to collect herself. "He lived every day for his next fix."
Rather than jail or prison, drug court participants – or those who are high-risk, high-need, recidivist offenders – take an intensive path of personalized addiction treatment. The program has 53 participants, 40 of which are heroin addicts, said Scott Block, the director of special projects for McHenry County.
Garcia spent 33 days in McHenry County Jail on burglary and theft charges before being accepted into the specialized court program.
Another graduate, Randy Roeling, was facing seven years on felony battery charges. He got drunk, he said, and started fighting – and didn't stop once the police arrived. He blacked out only to wake up the next day, bruised, battered and in jail.
His wife on the verge of leaving him and his children resenting him, Roeling, 38, was accepted into the program and quit drinking.
"I live a boring life now, but I love it," Roeling said. "Before it was all fast-paced and crazy. Boring is good."
On top of treatment, participation in the drug court program means frequently checking in with program officials, appearing in court and submitting to drug screens. Some may also be required to attend Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Another requirement of graduation is a full year of sobriety.
Of the 53 drug court participants, Garcia, Roeling and three others were the program's first graduates since it began in December 2011. Together, the five men logged 26 criminal felonies and 21 criminal misdemeanor charges.
"You … were a very naughty group," State's Attorney Lou Bianchi said before acknowledging the men's successes: 2,000 days of sobriety. Four of the five men have jobs and the fifth returned to school.
When accepting his graduation certificate, Garcia thanked the program's staff and administrators, but said, "I hope I never see any of you again."