Judge Christopher Welch has been to 17 wakes directly related to addiction in his 13 years on the bench. In his learned opinion, that’s 17 too many. But Judge Welch isn’t just talking about that tragic statistic. He’s doing something about it. “I’ve been to far too many wakes and I’m tired of it,” he stated with both frankness and determination. Falmouth is about to benefit from his solution.
At a regular meeting of the Falmouth Rotary Club this week, Judge Welch outlined the new drug court, which was launched in Falmouth District Court this week, a proven program for diverting defendants away from jail and toward recovery. The program has been a proven success elsewhere and is now poised to make a difference in Falmouth, where, according to the judge, another three overdoses occurred over the weekend. A meeting of the Falmouth Rotary was a fitting venue for Judge Welch to discuss this life-saving initiative. Rotary members have been working for decades to make Falmouth a better place—one initiative, one effort, one “service above self” member at a time.
This week’s meeting was like being at a who’s-who for making strides toward a better Falmouth. Rotary veterans and veterans of giving back like Rudy Hunter, John Vidal, Jim Tow, Dick Cudmore, Bobbi Richards and George Pelletier, joined president Bob Mascali in welcoming the judge and hearing his message of hope. The Falmouth Rotary Club is one of Falmouth’s hubs of good works. Bringing this message of a program that works fits their mission perfectly.
Judge Welch is passionate about making this program work in Falmouth and for Falmouth. At one point in his talk, his enthusiasm for the work of drug courts spilled out of his professionally clad self. He reached into his pocket, grabbed his phone, and shared a photo of a graduate from a previous drug court that he led. This was a particularly difficult case, the judge noted, as the participant did not come into it willingly (many do not). He was lying on the floor of the courtroom screaming, believing he couldn’t walk. During his participation in the drug court, he struggled. He died and was revived. But the judge kept believing, and eventually, so did the participant. The picture Judge Welch shared like a proud parent was of a young man two years after that painful day, with a wife and children, who owns a home and is the manager at an electric company. That success story encapsulates the potential of the drug court in Falmouth.
Judge Welch is determined but humble. He understands the road to recovery is paved with the efforts of many. He is committed but not unrealistic. “I am a lawyer. I am a judge. I am not a doctor,” he noted to the gathered Rotarians and guests, fully acknowledging that the success of the drug court concept relies entirely on a holistic approach, where counselors, medical professionals, clinicians, and other support staff address far more than the crime that brought the participant into the drug court. “This is a medical problem, not a moral problem,” he continued, further explaining that more than 70 percent of today’s cases in Falmouth District Court have a direct link to the disease of addiction. With that approach and with a strict adherence to guidelines and program standards set at a national level based on what has worked in thousands of other community courts, the Falmouth Drug Court program will intervene with a phased process that includes testing, regular visits and conversations with the judge himself, praise, admonition, and even candy.
The statistics are impressive. According to the judge, 55 percent of those who complete the drug court commit no further crimes; more frightening is that without intervention from the drug court, 97 percent re-commit a crime. The judge told of testimony from the father of a drug court participant who succeeded for a time but ultimately succumbed to the disease and died of an overdose. The participant’s father, despite his heartbreak, thanked the judge. “You gave us our son back for two years,” the dad explained. The drug court program not only keeps offenders from returning to jail, it helps them return to their families.
“A little grace never hurt anyone,” the judge said with a wide smile as he finished his talk with some of Falmouth’s difference makers. “Success is sweet,” was his simple but powerful closing. Information on drug courts in general and how they work is available from the New England Association of Drug Court Professionals at www.neadcp.org. As Judge Welch noted, the solution to this epidemic includes using “every club in the bag” to save one life at a time. Falmouth is blessed and fortunate that Judge Christopher Welch is here to do just that.