GILLETTE — Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 5, Josiah Brown celebrated 215 straight days of sobriety. It was the longest he’d been voluntarily sober since before he was a teenager.
“This is the longest I’ve ever been sober, wanting to be sober,” he said.
Brown, now 18, was 11 or 12 when he had his first drink. He was at a party with family, and everyone was drinking, and he ended up drinking with them.
At 14, he started smoking weed. It became a habit, and a couple of years later, he began trying other drugs.
At the start of 2020, he was put on probation. He started experimenting with different drugs, and it all “went downhill from there.” That’s when he tried “almost anything,” from LSD to cocaine to heroin.
The worst of his addiction was to painkillers and over-the-counter pills.
“That was when I was at my rock bottom, for sure,” he said.
He used drugs to cope with the things life was throwing at him, as well as to handle his depression and other mental issues, “to fill this empty feeling inside me.”
“A lot of it stemmed from abuse when I was younger, and not wanting to feel those feelings,” he said.
After getting a DUI, he appeared in Circuit Court before Judge Paul Phillips, who gave him a choice: he could spend six months in jail, or he could enter the Campbell County Juvenile and Family Drug Court program.
He went with the latter. He didn’t like the idea of sitting in a jail cell for months on end, doing nothing productive.
Brown graduated from the program last week after nearly 10 months in the program, and less than two years from his rock bottom.
The Juvenile and Family Drug Court is a voluntary program where participants must attend weekly court sessions, individual mental health counseling and group and individual substance abuse treatment. They’re on intensive supervised probation and must undergo frequent and random testing.
There are immediate sanctions for violations and incentives for successes.
The program didn’t click for Brown right away. Two months into the program, he relapsed.
“I wasn’t completely honest and open with everybody,” he said. “I was in booking for five days, and I did not appreciate that. I was like, 'I’ll do anything as long as I don’t ever go back to jail.'”
The program’s probation officer, J.R. Bailey, admitted he had his doubts about Brown when he started.
“We didn’t know that you could succeed in this program, and to be fair, neither did you,” Bailey said. “But we believed you deserved the opportunity, the chance to succeed.”
Bailey recalled there being a point where the switch flipped for Brown, and “part of that was realizing that you deserved better.”
“For too long, you had convinced yourself that you didn’t deserve to be healthy, you didn’t deserve to be successful, and all these things that had happened somehow was your fate,” he said.
As Brown watched other participants progress through the program and succeed, he began to believe he could follow in their footsteps.
“I’m a monkey see, monkey do kind of person, I realized, they can graduate, why can’t I?” he said. “I’ve learned from other people’s experience what not to do and what to do.”
Bailey called Brown one of the kindest, most caring people he’s had in the program.
“You could’ve easily been the angriest person in the world, just been a jerk to everybody because the world was a jerk to you a lot of times,” he said.
“Working on myself through this program, I’ve learned how to deal with the problems, cope with them, without using drugs or alcohol,” Brown said.
Besides learning how to live a drug-free life, Brown also learned other skills, such as managing his time and budgeting money.
“I can pay my bills and be broke and I’ll be fine,” he said. “Being broke and still having to pay bills is the worst possible feeling ever.”
One of the hardest things for Brown was learning how to be vulnerable, and not being afraid to express his feelings.
“I would hate showing emotion, but now it’s OK for me,” he said. “I realized that it’s healthy. Just bottling it up doesn’t work that well, from what I’ve learned.”
He realized that was vital in order for him to heal.
“You have to be vulnerable and open up so the healing process can begin,” he said.
Brown will be moving to Spokane, Washington, in February. He’s looking forward to making new friends and building a new support team out there.
If there’s a word of advice he could give to himself when he started the program in March 2021, it’s that “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Yeah, it looks like it’s going to suck right now, you think you’re going to be in here a year, but you’ll finally be out, you’ll be a better person afterwards. It’s worth it.”