Deontay nearly died during a drug overdose. He remembers the exact date: August 28, 2020. “My friends couldn’t wake me up. My parents couldn’t wake me up.” The 24-yearold shakes his head when he tells the story. Thankfully, a friend started doing CPR on him. “My heart stopped.” A medical team was able to shock him back to life with defibrillator paddles. Deontay said he saw video of the incident from a doorbell camera. “I was like, damn,” he said softly, “that could have been it for me.”
When you’re in your early 20s, feeling invincible, it’s not hard to make poor choices or find yourself headed down the wrong path. Another situation Deontay found himself in resulted in an arrest and left him facing a four-year prison sentence. Fortunately, Mercer County Recovery Court (MCRC), a specialized term of probation offered to individuals whose crimes were motivated by drug addiction, was also an option.
Committing to Substance Use Treatment
Deontay chose MCRC and in September of 2021 enrolled in Project Free, a counseling program that helps people recover from addiction. The Director of Addiction Recovery Services Jim Keashon explains that his team provides the treatment component of Recovery Court. The counselors work closely and meet regularly with the judges and parole officers from Mercer County. “We offer a high level of care for these individuals. We provide education, support and structure so they can develop the skills needed to obtain long-term sobriety and insight into the process of recovery,” he said. “In the midst of an opioid epidemic, we are fortunate to have this opportunity to impact the community.”
In the beginning, Deontay attended intensive counseling sessions three hours a day, three days a week. He also received individual counseling and had to submit to regular drug screenings. “At first, I was a little nervous,” he said. “Every day they wanted us to talk about what we were going through. When they asked me, I would give them one-word answers.” He said after a few weeks, he began to feel more comfortable and started sharing more. “When I started answering the questions, I started making progress.”
Deontay said participating in the program helped him learn to handle his emotions. “I’ve also learned how to avoid putting myself at risk.” These days, Deontay said he’s thinking more clearly. “I don’t put myself into those situations anymore.” He says his attitude is much better now. “I try to be positive. Life’s too short to walk around being sad and mad.”
Discovering the Joys of Fatherhood
While Project Free gave Deontay the tools he needed to overcome his substance use, his six-month-old son Kairo motivates him. He said he loves watching his son grow. “I can look at him for hours, just moving around experiencing things. He is such a happy baby, and his smile is contagious.” He admits waking up for the 3 and 4 a.m. feedings is tough. “People always say that having a kid really changes you, and I thought it was just a saying. But it’s true…”
“What participants of Project Free in Recovery Court receive in addition to insight into addiction is an opportunity to clear the recent charges on their criminal record and the best chance at long-term success,” said Keashon. Individuals who successfully complete MCRC have their charges that led them there to be expunged. “Having an arrest record is such a barrier to gainful employment and when you are not eligible for positions because of that, it’s a great stressor,” he added.
A Bright Future Ahead
Currently he’s working for his family’s landscaping and scrapping business. Since starting at Project Free, Deontay has obtained his driver’s license. He’s considering getting a commercial driver’s license and starting a career in trucking. He likes the idea of taking his family with him on long hauls. Deontay appreciates the help he received from Project Free and has recommended the program to other people he knows.
Project Free provides intensive and traditional outpatient addiction recovery services in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. Services are available in Spanish. Child-care and transportation can be provided.
FOR INFORMATION about Project Free, call (609) 396–4557. For information about all of Catholic Charities’ mental health services, visit this page: https://www.catholiccharitiestrenton.org/services/mental-health/
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