By Joe Prezioso
Rain trickled on the windows as people from all over the Town gathered in a damp room at the Charlestown Municipal Court this past Wednesday Dec. 2.
There was no hearing to be held, but rather a milestone to celebrate – the first woman to graduate from the Court’s innovative Drug Court program.
The room was filled with members of the judicial system, local elected officials, friends and family members of the soon to be graduated Candice Centola who had finished her time in the Drug Court program, and would be off of probation by the courts adjournment, though not before everyone she knew had a chance to speak and honor her commitment for what she has achieved.
In the courtroom, Honorable Judge Lawrence E. McCormick invited those that Centola had worked with and those who were involved with her treatment to speak. As they spoke, Centola sat and cried a number of times, but they were tears of joy and not sadness.
“When she started here the court had faith in her. I didn’t think she had faith in herself when she got here, but I know when she walks out the door she has faith now,” said Judge McCormick. “I have respect for Mrs. Centola.”
Boston Municipal Court Chief Justice Robert Ronquillo Jr. noted that judges often see only tears of sadness, and it was a seminal moment for these tears of joy in the courtroom.
“As judges we typically see tears of sadness in the court room, but today we celebrate the graduation of Ms. Centola and here in the courtroom I see joy because of her struggle, because of her commitment and her dedication to her sobriety she has achieved success,” said Ronquillo. “Today we celebrate her success as a community, as a court, as a system where we see an individual who has given up her part, has taken the opportunity given to her through the court and the care providers to get to the point of sobriety to the point where she can be an inspiration and a help to others.”
Centola and her sister both cried, as did Joyce Hogan, secretary at the Valentine House for Women, who was on the stand to speak about her admiration for Centola.
“This is a person I had to ask to leave the Valentine House, and now I have the utmost respect for her to have me here today,” said Hogan.
A relapse caused Centola to be evicted from the all-sober Valentine House.
Centola had been a drug addict since age 14, and been using heroin for the past 15 years. Using with her sister up until 2011, she had been in and out of jail countless times and she was not happy with her life.
Then about three years ago she found herself in lock up again, but this time she had a new option – Drug Court.
She took it.
“Well, you know honestly, it was actually desperation,” she said with a long pause. “I was desperate. I had no other way. I was just, nothing else worked for me, you know, and jail, I could adapt. It was, I guess just easy and, I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Deep down I always wanted to get clean, and when he offered it to me (Probation Officer Stephen Deluca) at that point, I took it.”
“It’s difficult for the courts, its difficult for the participants, this is not easy!” said Judge McCormick.
She lost her parents within a seven-month span, and that caused her to become isolated, stop going to meetings, and relapse.
“After about a month I came down, came back and turned myself in,” said Centola.
From there she went on to finish and graduate the program, and all were there to congratulate her on Dec. 2.
“You all don’t understand the magnitude of the transformation she made,” said Drug Court participant David Matson.
“Its not an obligatory program. It is very difficult because there is high accountability before a judge, but by completing those difficulty steps, we have seen many successes,” said Ronquillo.
Addicts have to want the to change for the program to work, otherwise they relapse, according to the court.
“When she first agreed to Drug Court I had mixed emotions. Part of me was relieved, the other part was worried she would give up. As time went on and I started to see the dedication and the desire to live clean and sober, I knew she would graduate,” said Shannon Lundin, Community Outreach Coordinator at MGH/CSAC.
Centola’s sister Lisa also had doubts when her sister joined the program.
“I was, I was nervous, because I knew Drug Court was tough,” said Lisa Centola. “We used together, and I looked at drug court, to me I looked at it back then in that mindset as a set up. So watching her it proved to me, that although taking the time is the easy way out she chose the difficult path and she did well. So Drug Courts work.”
After her relapse and getting back in the program, Centola had daily drug tests that eventually went down in frequency to a few times a week, and finally no testing. She attended an intensive outpatient program and moved in with her sober and clean sister. Now she is graduating and wanting to move on with her life.
“I don’t want to put any expectations on me, as I have done that in the past and my expectations were way to high and I couldn’t meet that and became overwhelmed and ended up backsliding a bit and that’s not safe,” said Centola. “I won’t set expectations, but I go to a relapse prevention group and I go to a meeting every day.”
Centola said she is looking forward to moving into an apartment and getting a stable home life so that she can get a job and support herself.
The hearing ended with Centola receiving a citation from State. Rep Dan Ryan, and the court relieving her of her probation. She is now free, clean and sober.