TORONTO, November 17, 2016 - People with mental illness and addiction are over‐represented across the criminal justice system, including in interactions with police, the courts and corrections system. Since 1998 the Toronto Drug Treatment Court (TDTC) has been committed to providing alternatives to prison for adults who face non-violent, criminal charges related to drug addiction. Participation in the program is voluntary.
This October, in a courtroom full of supporters and well-wishers, Alazar Abed celebrated his graduation from the TDTC program at CAMH. He started the program in September 2015 after several years in and out of jail, his struggle with addiction driving his behavior.
“A year ago I wrote myself a letter and said I would graduate. And now here I am,” Alazar said to the group that included staff from CAMH and John Howard Society, friends, supporters, and other CAMH clients currently working toward recovery in the program.
Justice Mary Hogan also congratulated Alazar on his hard work, praising his compassion and caring for others. “I’ll miss your high fives,” she said.
Alazar and Ontario Court Justice Mary Hogan at the Toronto Drug Treatment Court graduation.
The day Alazar decided to enter the program, he wept outside the courtroom at Old City Hall. “I never had the opportunity to go to a safe place,” he said referring to housing coordinated by John Howard Society, “and I cried for the freedom.”
Since then, Alazar has fully embraced his recovery, attending groups and individual treatment sessions at CAMH, working with Alcoholics Anonymous, exercising, and acting as a mentor for other people in the program.
In the last few months, Alazar has started to speak publicly about his experience as a guest speaker at Toronto Police Services and appearing on CTV National News and CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “I don’t do it to boast, I do it to show that this program works,” he said. “I do it to give hope to others.”
Alongside Alazar, fellow graduate Matt also celebrated with friends and family. Matt and Alazar often supported each other throughout the program, “I kept pushing him and he kept pushing me,” Alazar said.
Matt and Alazar
“I like myself today”
Exposed to war in Ethiopia as a child and young man, Alazar is now working with a psychiatrist to address the trauma he now recognizes as the foundation of his struggle with addiction. He explains that, in the past, he had never been clean long enough to start working through post-traumatic stress disorder.
Proud of the “milestones and stepping stones” he’s achieved in the last year, Alazar continues to build on his progress and is looking to the future. His goal is to be a youth addictions worker to “save others from 20 to30 years of pain.”
“I always thought I was a bad person,” Alazar said. “[Now] I’m not hurting myself or anyone else. I like myself today.”