Two hundred miles per hour with his hair on fire. That is how Aaron Rose described his path of destruction while addicted to alcohol.
“The way I look at it now, that is what I had to do in order to get here,” Rose said at his graduation Wednesday from Juneau Therapeutic Court. “That is how I have to look at it. This is a huge accomplishment. That period of my life was pretty dark and dismal.”
Therapeutic Court is an 18-month program aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders in drunken driving cases and other alcohol-related crimes.
Offenders have the opportunity to address their addiction through a diversion program including treatment, long-term monitoring and regular appearances before the judge.
Therapeutic court is funded by the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration and Alaska Highway Safety Office, and is a cooperative effort of the Alaska Court System, Department of Law, the state highway office, the Public Defender Agency, City and Borough of Juneau, Gastineau Human Services, Juneau Police Department, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and Rainforest Recovery Center.
Alcohol nearly cost Rose his 8-year-old daughter and her mother, he said.
“To be a coherent father that can interact is just great,” Rose said. “Like they say in our meetings, my worst day sober is better than by best day high. This sobriety is something I do not want to give up, the life it has given me is something I do not want to give up. I can go to bed and wake up not regretting what I have done, and that is priceless to me.”
Rose said he started drinking at age 12. “I lived that way close to 20 years,” Rose said.
Originally from Petersburg, Rose has been a resident of Juneau since 2001, Rose landed in Judge Keith Levy’s therapy court after getting a felony driving under the influence charge in 2009.
“That is three DUIs within 10 years,” Rose said. “It was a shorter period than that for me though. And it was my fourth.”
To enter therapeutic court, Rose had to get an alcohol assessment. When he asked if he was a good candidate, his counselor jokingly said, “Oh yes, but we may not have enough treatment for you.”
To be considered for the program, an offender asks their attorney, the prosecutor, or the judge to have his case placed on the therapeutic court calendar for an “opt-in” hearing. The offender enters a plea of “not guilty” so it fits into the standard case processing. The offender then must change his plea to “guilty” or “no contest” to enter the program.
After an initial alcohol assessment and physical, a referral is made for treatment and testing. It is mandatory to work or attend school a minimum of 32 hours a week while in the program.
Rose stated the program can be easy if you are willing to learn. “If you are willing to make a change in your life,” Rose said. “You can either make it hard on yourself or easy. If you are willing to accept the change it can be easy.”
Rose said he has to put distance between his new life and his old. “My sobriety comes first,” Rose said. “Before anything else. As long as I know that, and keep that, I will be OK. Today I am going to celebrate by being with my family.”
In the audience for Rose’s graduation were a bevy of counselors, judges, past alumni, and present classmates.
Retired Judge Peter Froehlich, who started the program then called Wellness Court in Juneau, was asked by Levy to comment.
“I didn’t come here today other than to say congratulations,” Froehlich said. “I don’t know Aaron but I respect what he has done. I hope as a graduate you will continue with some other graduates to support others who will go through what you have gone through. You can help them probably more than anyone else can.”
Alumnus Jo Ann Lockwood read a letter of congratulations from the Anchorage Therapeutic Court and support for “creating a life he can be proud of.”
Court coordinator Kendall Merry told of Rose’s first days in the program. Three days after entering the program, Rose was sent back to Lemon Creek Correctional Center for failing a drug test. He waited for an inpatient bed at LCCC for two weeks, then spent 30 days in treatment before being allowed back in the program.
Levy stated he usually sees a physical change in participants in the court program, but what stood out about Rose was his improved maturity.
“A light bulb went off,” Levy said. “You have been strong, a leader in (Alcoholics Anonymous) groups, got a job, and were always hustling to make it to work. Your goal was to make them depend on you and they could.”
Prior to Rose’s graduation, his classmates each approached the podium and spoke of their week. One mentioned 448 days of sobriety and attending a daughter’s wedding in Tok, where toasts were made with water. On a layover in Fairbanks she attended an AA meeting for support.
Another talked of seven months and 20 days sober and improved English. He hoped he could get a temporary license to make travel easier. A third speaker said he had been sober 15 months and had signed up for college classes. He was dismayed that a family member didn’t want to watch his child and lack of contact.
Levy told a potential new entrant into the program that “It is not all fun and games” in the program and it can “be harder than serving time for the offense.”
Rose has been sober for more than 420 days. On Wednesday he ceremoniously erased his name from the program board.
“I got to see fireworks for the first time sober,” Rose told judge Levy in his graduation speech. “They were beautiful.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.