WENATCHEE — Jerome Dillon was addicted to and using hard drugs for a decade, beginning with his use of methamphetamine at 18 and then, several years later, heroin. He spent the latter half of his 20s in and out of jail.
On Thursday, Dillon became the first person to graduate Chelan County Superior Court’s drug court program. In lieu of jail time, drug court defendants participate in a strict program that requires regular court appearances, group therapy and random urinalysis.
“I believe probably the best thing that has ever happened in my life was me getting my last felony,” Dillon said, wearing a black gown in a courtroom packed with supporters and county officials. “Blessing in disguise.”
Drug court is a diversion program that started in June 2018 and is aimed at reducing chemical dependency of defendants involved in nonviolent crimes. With Dillon’s graduation, there are six fully enrolled participants.
For most, the program is expected to last 18 to 24 months. Dillon finished in just over a year — about as fast as is possible, said Judge Kristin Ferrera.
“Honestly, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by the whole thing because he has done so spectacularly and I wasn’t expecting that we were going to have anybody who was going to be doing so well at the time,” Ferrera said, “and he just did.”
Dillon, 30, began his probationary period in drug court in August 2018 after he was arrested for possession of heroin.
The next month, before he was fully admitted into the program, he relapsed. Dillon told on himself and his state Department of Corrections (DOC) officer, Lucas Bighouse, put him in jail for one day.
“I remember just seeing something had changed in him, something was different,” Bighouse said in court during the ceremony. “And he was ready and he was actually disappointed that he used.”
That’s when Dillon’s mindset toward recovery shifted.
“It’s interesting, but the way to get ahead in the fight — the fight I’ve been fighting for years — is to stop fighting,” Dillon told the courtroom. “Stop fighting DOC, stop fighting CPS (Child Protective Services); surrender to them all, drug court and my program, and that’s when my life changed.”
That was the last time Dillon used. In the year since, he’s found a job as a cook, secured an apartment, climbed mountains and regained custody of his two kids, who were in the courtroom Thursday.
Bighouse was invited to the reunification of Dillon’s family earlier this year.
“He’s what makes the job awesome,” Bighouse said. “These are the days that you live for is to see your people go from what he was to what he is, and I’m so proud of him and everything that he’s accomplished.”
Dillon lost custody of Emberly, 7, and Jax, 5, for almost three years, something he considers a good thing because he was too far gone in his addiction.
“When I got out of jail, that’s what my main goal was. I wanted my kids back,” Dillon said.
Ferrera led the graduation ceremony. Her final act was to dismiss the criminal case with prejudice, which means prosecutors can’t refile charges in the future. Dillon’s graduation will be “the first of many,” Ferrera said.
“We’re going to see a lot more people that can stay in active recovery,” Ferrera said. “It’s a shift in how we’re treating people in the drug court versus in the regular court and it’s not going to work for everybody. But the people that are able to do it, it’s going to have a lasting effect.”
Sunshine Poliquin is the defense attorney for the drug court participants. She said Dillon’s success in the program shows the program works for those ready for a change.
“There’s a number of people who could use the program, but not everybody is ready for it,” Poliquin said. “And not everybody who’s ready for it is accepted.”
Though he’s finished with drug court, he’s not finished with his recovery.
He’s thrown himself into fitness since he got clean — evident by playful taunts from friends present at his graduation to, “show us your abs.”
He’s climbed Aasgard Pass in the Enchantments twice in the past few months. Once his driver’s license is reinstated he wants to keep going.
“I’m just gonna explore everywhere,” Dillon said. “Just get out wherever I can get out.”
And he wants to help others struggling with addiction. He recently started mentoring someone with an active addiction. And he’ll keep going to drug court.
“I graduated from here but I’m still going to probably come because I get off work at 3 so I can come here at 3:30,” Dillon said. “Keep all these guys straight, because I want to help people.”