Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Human Trafficking Survivor, Treatment Court Graduates Discuss Dark Details of Addiction

People with different backgrounds from different parts of the state who are bound by their criminal struggles with substance addiction came together to share their battles and triumphs during the 14th annual Ohio Supreme Court Specialized Dockets Conference.

The four treatment court graduates spoke before 650 judges and court personnel at Ohio State University.

It’s part of the two-day event aimed at increasing awareness and educating attendees to further improve the 244 specialized dockets in Ohio, which offers a therapeutically-oriented judicial approach to providing court supervision and appropriate treatment to individuals.

Emily Estrada, who graduated from Wayne County’s re-entry court, became addicted to opioids after surgery and said she used them as an escape from a trauma and bad marriage. At her lowest point, she said she consumed anywhere from 1,600 to 1,800 pills in a month.

“I lied and manipulated my way into multiple doctors’ offices and pharmacies,” said Estrada, who’s been sober for seven years and seven months and has “never been happier.”

Tyler Srokowski graduated from Lorain County’s adult drug court after a years-long struggle with alcohol and opioid addiction. Srokowski, who’s “overdosed five times that [he knows] of,” said he’s lost more than 20 friends to fatal overdoses.

Vanessa Perkins’ addiction began in her hometown of Nelsonville in Athens County and led to an even darker place when she left home. Perkins, who said she was molested from age four until 12, turned to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope. She moved to Columbus after graduating high school.

“Like so many Ohio children with similar issues, I found myself engaging in commercial sex acts as a trafficking victim: a nightmare that would last five years,” said the graduate of Franklin County’s human trafficking court (CATCH Court).

Stephen Rangel, an Army veteran and graduate of Stark County’s veterans treatment court (Honor Court), accumulated several felony charges over two decades. The one that still haunts him is the involuntary manslaughter of his own child.

“[The pain’s] never going to go away,” he said.

For Rangel, specialized dockets didn’t exist during his difficult transition back to civilian life after the service, which ended before the Gulf War started in 1990. When he couldn’t find the structure he needed in his life, he turned to the streets. It was there where he went from drinking alcohol to injecting heroin, a transition that included a $900-$1,600 a day crack cocaine addiction along the way.

“When I went to prison the first time, I was a drug addict, and I came home from prison a drug-addicted criminal,” said Rangel.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor preceded the panelists with opening remarks on the state of specialized dockets and how they’ve evolved during the past decade to help Rangel and others who once didn’t have those alternatives.

“We’ve become both a laboratory and a clinic. We test theories. We seek best practices. We apply our knowledge and experience for the benefit of our citizens,” she said.

It’s this kind of advancement and customized care for treatment court participants that has allowed them to heal mentally, emotionally, and physically.

“We started a running group. So, that was huge during my treatment to be able to run with the probation department, run with my judge, and get myself healthy because I’d abused my body for so long. It was amazing one day to be running past the jail with the probation department,” said Estrada.

Fully aware and appreciative of the opportunities offered to them in their treatment courts, the graduates are now using their experience to guide others going through what they once did: Rangel is a mentor for the Honor Court in Stark County; Perkins became the bailiff for Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul M. Herbert, who oversaw Perkins in CATCH Court from 2009 to 2012.

"I did not see that coming,” she said.

These success stories reminded Chief Justice O’Connor why Ohio’s courts continue to evolve to combat the state’s drug epidemic.

“If all Ohioans - those in the citizenry and those in positions of leadership - truly understood what specialized dockets have accomplished, especially our drug courts, Issue 1 would not exist,” Justice O’Connor said.