HOLLIDAYSBURG - People with addictions have different stories about what it's like to hit rock bottom, said Tony, a former railroad worker, who spoke to a room full of Blair County adult and juvenile parole and probation officers on Thursday afternoon.
He said he likes to hear about rock-bottom stories because they are so varied, but he said they all seem to have a common denominator in that the people realize "death is one of the choices."
Tony was an alcoholic for 30 years. When he was placed on probation in Blair County, he didn't do well. After his ninth probation violation, he ended up in the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, a place he'd rather not talk about.
He lost his house and his family. He even flunked out of Blair County Drug Court under President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva and the county's Driving Under the Influence Court, supervised by Judge Daniel J. Milliron.
His "rock bottom" story occurred when he went to Camp Hill, which is where Pennsylvania inmates are classified for placement in the state prison system.
He contemplated suicide, but then he sensed he had the will to live.
From that point, he began to rebuild the life he once had, and his goal now is to relate his experiences to help others who, as he put it, "have the same face" he did in 2009 when his life crashed.
"It's all about God today. He's the quarterback of this team," Tony said as he described his work with an Alcoholics Anonymous group called the Midday Miracles.
He said he wants to "raise the bottom" so that death won't be an option that others might contemplate.
"I'm happy; I'm living; I'm clean," he concluded.
The meeting Thursday of the county parole and probation staffs was their way of telling people about the job they do and about emphasizing they believe that people can change.
One of the officers, Jennifer Walters, summed it up when she talked about her 2 years on the job. She said, "I've learned everyone deserves a second chance, and I am glad I can be part of that."
Tony, talking to his former probation officer after the meeting, said he never viewed the county's parole and probation workers "as the enemy."
"When I went to jail, it was because of me," he said.
The county's parole and probation staff, he said, "has always been behind me."
Others spoke of their experiences with addiction and the help they received from front line probation officers.
A boy named Dylan is 16 years old. He said he began using marijuana at age 7. When he was 10, someone laced his marijuana with heroin, and, he said, "I loved it."
For the next few years, he would do anything to get high. He explained how he put everything he could into his body, noting, "I could not go without getting high."
The boy finally admitted he needed help late last year after breaking into a home to steal medication.
He landed in the Blair County Juvenile Drug Court and then George Junior Republic in Grove City, a juvenile treatment center.
Local officers like Molly Wink just kept pushing him, he said, and the youngster stated that Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who presides over the Juvenile Drug Court "really cares."
"She doesn't look at punishment but like how can she help me," he said.
The teen, who participates in Narcotics Anonymous, said, "It's been a rough three years."
The father of a teen, Lew, also spoke Thursday, relating that as a pastor in southern Blair County, he and his family had a quiet life until his son began to use marijuana.
The boy ended up screaming one night after using, and he ended up in a hospital emergency room.
Drugs changed the family's life, and for the next seven years, the family was in and out of hospitals and treatment centers. He said his son would have fits of rage, and one night the boy's mother called police who charged him with possession of drug paraphernalia.
The Drug Court placed him at George Junior Republic, and today the boy, who graduated from high school, has a job as a welder.
When his son went to George Junior, Lew said it was the first time in years the family could relax because they knew the boy was getting help and was safe.
Being a parent of an addict, he said, means you are on high alert all the time, but, he said, his family received support from the church, the community and from drug court.
He said there is a need for a parents group in the Morrisons Cove area to help families deal with the problems of child addiction.
Milliron and Doyle spoke to the group, as did Commissioner Terry Tomassetti, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. and Blair County Court Administrator Janice Meadows.