“That girl in the mirror, I’m just getting to know her,” wrote Earline Langdon after almost two years of living clean. “But she’s not my enemy anymore.”
Earline is one of about 150 participants currently in the Morris County Drug Court working ferociously to turn around their lives. They are doing it with the help of an innovative writing program created and run by Dr. Rebecca Conviser G’06.
In addition to undergoing drug treatment and tests, and making frequent probation and court appearances for up to five years, these non-violent offenders receive regular writing assignments. It may be a letter to a family member, a personal reflection, or an exercise about healthy choices. Participants with limited formal education have difficulty with grammar and spelling, so “Dr. Rebecca” (as she is known in court) offers individual coaching to help them put their thoughts into words. She reads and returns each paper to its author with encouraging comments and suggestions.
Rebecca earned her doctorate in Arts & Letters at the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies in order to learn how to better express herself in writing. In 2012 she discovered an unusual way to put her education to work: she heard about the discrimination ex-offenders experience in applying for jobs and thought that might change if they could tell their stories. She presented the idea to the Morris County Drug Court and was soon invited to implement her Writing about Recovery program. “I found my voice at Drew,” says Rebecca. “Now I’m helping these people, who are overcoming a real disability, to have a voice.”
During a recent session Drug Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz explained that writing can be therapeutic, a useful career skill and even inspire others in the program. “It’s your obligation in recovery not just to take, but also to give back,” he urged participants.
Earline, currently a student at the county college, is in the final phase of Drug Court and eager to help others reclaim their lives. She is working with Rebecca to introduce the writing program at the Sussex County Drug Court.
Not every participant does as well and the entire Drug Court team finds it hard not to take the set-backs to heart. But Rebecca is gratified by the success of those who make progress: “I think the Talmud says that if you save one life, you’ve saved the world.”–Barbara Price