words by Rosalie Murphy, photos by Shane Wynn
Years and years into the opioid epidemic, there are still hundreds of people in Akron working their way through the courts while they battle addiction. Some 200 of those people are currently participating in Turning Point, Summit County’s court-supervised program for people charged with non-violent felonies who have chemical dependencies that requires intensive outpatient or residential treatment.
According to Presiding Judge Joy Malek Oldfield, at the start of the program, most participants check in with a judge weekly and see a probation officer and case manager even more frequently. They have to call into Turning Point every day, and if they’re called for a random drug screen, have to come in for the test.
Most participants pass through the program’s four phases in 18 to 24 months.
“They’re turning their life around, they’re getting jobs, they’re getting housing, they’re getting their kids back, they’re getting their driver’s license,” Judge Oldfield says. “There’s so many things that we want to make sure are in place so they leave us in a better situation than they came.”
Some Turning Point graduates will have their charges dismissed and their cases sealed. Others may qualify to get their convictions sealed after some additional time has passed.
Judge Oldfield estimates there are between 170 and 200 people in Turning Point between herself and Judge Christine Croce, who has her own Turning Point docket.
Judge Oldfield has been working with people in recovery court for six years now -— first with misdemeanor cases in Akron Municipal Court and now with felonies in Summit County.
“We use recovery coaches now, which we didn’t in the beginning, and I love this because it’s people with lived experience who are helping our participants navigate the system and their sobriety,” she says. “Because of, I think, the public awareness, we’re seeing a lot more employers want to provide opportunities, which makes me super happy… I think [addiction has] touched so many people that they now recognize it can happen to anyone.”
Shane Wynn photographed several Turning Point graduates and Judge Oldfield at the Summit County Courthouse in December 2019. The following paragraphs are excerpts from “mission statements” written by the participants pictured as they approached the completion of the Turning Point program.
“Since entering the Turning Point program I have learned a great deal about myself, others, this disease and recovery. I have learned to be honest with myself. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect; as long as I do the next right thing, that’s good enough. I’ve learned that things can’t happen overnight — patience is key. I’ve learned that I can’t change the past or undo what’s been done. The only thing I can do is be certain that I do my best from here forward so I can make the future the best possible for myself and my children. I’ve learned that I can’t control what others do. I can’t change other people. I can only control what I do, and change myself by making each day better than the last.”
“In 2009, I was in a very bad motorcycle accident that I was very lucky to walk away from with my life. I had numerous serious injuries…. And with that started my use of prescription pain medication that went on for years, even after [doctors] took me off of them. And realizing that I was addicted, but thinking I had it under control because I worked and took care/provided for my wife and son, but I was wrong. [Pills] started to affect everything I did. I couldn’t manage or function without them, or I thought. With that I slowly started to lose myself, my family/relationship with my wife and son, and my friends. My wife tried to help me but I pushed her away because I thought it was okay and had it under control, but really, I was ashamed of myself… [I] went to jail and back and forth for a year or so until finally going back to jail for the last time and finally surrendering my life to God as I came to understand.”
“I had two judges that seen in me [what] I didn’t see in myself because I didn’t love myself. Today I have been sober for 15 months, and I’ve stayed sober for that long because I finally love myself and I believe in myself, and I have my family that believes in me and that has never stopped loving me. And it takes a strong, special man to stay behind me and never [leave] my side after everything I put him through, and now, today, I drop everything for him — and that is my father. I do everything I can for my kids now. I don’t lie to them and I go out of my way for them. I have three jobs now. I have a vehicle now and I live in a house now. My mom always told me I can do anything I want as long as I put my mind to it. And I can do that today because I am sober and I am where I want to be, and I will not be going back.”
“My best friend Derrik was found dead in an abandoned house. He passed away because of drugs. I feel like this was my turning point, but not enough to turn myself in. I walked past my dad’s house and my boss’s house but could not find the courage to knock on their doors for help. I hated life and could not find any way out other than death. After Derrik’s death, my older brother got really worried about me so he began looking for me. He looked every day for a month with no luck, but he did not give up. He finally found me and had to make a very hard decision. So he decided to set me up and get me arrested. My older brother absolutely saved my life. He is now my best friend… I think the most important part of my recovery is humility. I’m very grateful and thankful for where I’m at today. I’m happy, I think, for the first time in my life.”
“The most important lesson I learned while going through this whole process is that spirituality is the key for me. Everything on a human level changes all the time, people disappoint, circumstances change, but God stays the same. On my [bad] days I don’t feel like I have to pull myself up and be strong because I know that God is always strong. The ARC [Recovery House] has a Scripture that is on their flyers and comes up all the time, and it is Jeremiah 29:11, where it says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I know it is hard for a lot of people to think of surrendering to God and letting him take control, but I realized that during my use, it was my drug that I surrendered to. The results from that were nothing but chaos and negativity. I would much rather surrender my will to God who has my well-being in mind and promises to give me a hope and a future.”
“I choose to act as an instrument of positive change in my family and my community. I choose to content myself in my surroundings so I will always know where security lies within my life. I choose to build a reputation of being dedicated to every goal I pursue while having successes in both my personal and professional life. I choose to enjoy every moment along this journey, finding happiness, fulfillment, and value in living. I choose the ethical way by making a personal commitment to honesty and integrity. I choose to find peacefulness within myself by looking inward while using my heart to guide my dreams and desires, and my mind to pursue knowledge, creating balance among my obligations.”