Barnstable County New Directions

By Brian Morris

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

For people seeking treatment for substance abuse, one of the best therapies can be opening their minds to new, substance-free experiences. The Drug Court's BAND program, coordinated through the Gosnold treatment center, is helping recovering addicts see a broader world. BAND stands for Barnstable County New Directions. It's part of a mandatory 2-year probation period for those convicted of substance abuse offenses who would otherwise face jail time. Participants receive treatment for their addictions, attend school or job training, and appear before District Court Judge Joseph Reardon every week but the BAND program also offers another component:

In April of 2003, Bill Carroll was convicted for the fourth time for driving under the influence.

Bill Carroll "And I was incarcerated for a long time - 21 months. So that, to me, was a hard lesson.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Carroll and about 15 other BAND participants gathered at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis to view paintings and sculptures. Judge Reardon welcomes the group wearing street clothes instead of his usual robes.

Judge Riordan "Even though we're gonna act somewhat informally, this is a session of our BAND court . . . BAND, of course, for those of you who don't know, and most of you do know, stands for Barnstable Action for New Directions . . .

An art museum may seem an unlikely place to find recovering addicts. Though their attendance is mandatory, says Gosnold Director of Development Meredith Pressbury, the idea is to re-introduce some of life's pleasures which addiction pushes aside.

Meredith Pressbury "The various cultural arts, whether they're music or visual arts, can be very therapeutic. They also can be purely pleasurable. And there's a role for both in their experiences here visiting the museum. So it's a real exciting thing, and I feel thrilled, as a staff member, that I can get to come along.

These people are used to seeing Judge Reardon on the bench in Barnstable County District Court. But today, he sits down with them in one of the museum's two main galleries for a lunch of roll-up sandwiches, fruit and bottled water. George Gritzbach is a Case Manager for the BAND program, and helped initiate the museum visits.

George Gritzbach 'If you talk to a person who's been beaten up by substances - been beatin' themselves up with substances - there's lots of things they used to do that they don't do anymore, like gardening. They've forgotten all those pleasures, 'cause they get, the primary activity in their life has been their addiction. It elbows everything else out. It's a comprehensive state. Some people who had this before will get reminded about it, and other folks who don't know about this will learn about it. and that's kinda like what we're lookin' to do."

He says the bond between addicts is very strong, and is reinforced by a belief that society doesn't want them.

George Gritzbach "So we're like, Come on back - the mainstream wants you. We need you over here. We need your energy, We need your talent. We need your commitment to your recovery, and your honesty. It's not like you went through a one-way door and there's no way back. Come on back."

Gritzbach is also an accomplished blues musician, and picks up his guitar to entertain the group.

After the meal, many of the men and women wander through the museum's wings, quietly observing the artworks.

Bill Carroll "It's interesting to me, the art. I'm lookin' forward to seein' this guy do this live sculpture - should be pretty cool.

On this day, local sculptor Dave Lewis has been invited to present a sculpture demonstration for the BAND participants.

Judd Phelps is Program Director for the Drug Court. He says the BAND program aims to restore self-worth.

Judd Phelps "So by bringing them to the Museum of Art here, or by taking them to the symphony which we've done a number of times - the Cape Symphony - we're trying to say to them, You're just like the rest of our community. You're a contributing member of our society."

Looking around the room, it's hard to predict who may one day return to the museum on their own, and who may not. But the program seems to be working for Bill Carroll.

Bill Carroll 'Sure as hell beats goin' to a barroom tryin' to watch a Red Sox game drinkin' juice like I did for years, kiddin' myself thinkin' I was in a safe environment, you know?"

BAND program organizers know these museum visits are neither a quick fix nor a long- term solution to the problem of substance abuse. Some participants may relapse into addiction. Some may never darken a museum door again. But for others, learning to appreciate works of art can be a fulfilling and broadening experience on the long road to recovery.

The BAND program is funded by a three-year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, but the grant expires in September of this year. Gosnold is exploring alternative funding sources, including County and State government, to sustain the program. For further information about the BAND program or to make a contribution, contact Program Director Jud Phelps at 508-375-6805.

Broadcast June 30, 2005

Brain Morris reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations