When her mom came to pick her up for drug court that morning, Stacy Nicholson was still high.
She staggered to the door, fumbled with the bungee cord that kept it closed, blinked back the sunlight.
“You ready?” asked her mom.
Stacy and two of her cousins had been holed up for months in this rundown house, shooting crushed-up pain pills. Used syringes littered an end table. Stacy’s mom had kept telling her: Someone in this house is going to die.
Stacy, then 28, knew she was right. Days before, she had told her mom she was tired of stealing and doctor shopping to get pills. She was in trouble for skipping her last court date, so today, she planned to turn herself in.
“Okay,” Stacy said. “Let’s go.”
She twisted her long, honey-colored hair into a knot. Zipped her sweatshirt. Underneath, she was wearing two bras, a tank top, two white T-shirts and three pairs of panties.
She wanted to be sure she would have a change of underwear in jail.
COURTROOM 10 WAS PACKED when Stacy and her mom, Sherry Alkire, slid into the back row. It was Feb. 1, a Tuesday.
More than 100 women, most 20 to 40 years old, filled the wooden benches. Some were visibly pregnant. Others trailed toddlers. Many of the women struggled to hold up their heads.
Just before 9 a.m., a thin, chestnut-haired woman in a black robe strode through the back door. “All rise!” called the bailiff. “The honorable Judge Dee Anna Farnell presiding.”
The judge raised her arms and smiled. “Welcome to Ladies’ Day,” she said. America’s first all-female drug court was in session.
Soon the judge called Stacy’s name. Stacy slouched down the aisle, clasped her hands behind her back and hung her head.
Eighteen months earlier, she had been arrested for using a fake prescription to buy oxycodone, the painkiller she had been snorting or shooting for four years. The charge carried a possible five-year prison sentence.
The judge had offered a deal: Plead guilty and go on probation. If you go through rehab, if you go to 12-step meetings and get a job and stay sober, you can stay out of jail — and have your felony record wiped clean.
For a while, Stacy had tried. But then she failed a drug test, stopped going to counseling, started skipping court. Now she faced a sentence of 10 years instead of five.
The judge could send her to a long-term treatment facility or halfway house. Or she could put her in prison for violating her probation.
Farnell asked Stacy about her children. Stacy said her 12-year-old daughter had been staying with her paternal grandparents for almost a year. Her mom was taking care of her 2-year-old son.
“What are you going to test positive for today?” asked the judge.
Stacy shuffled her Air Jordan slides. “Well, I’ve been smoking and drinking. So marijuana and alcohol.” She paused. “And benzos. And maybe …”
The judge shook her head. “Okay,” she said. “What do you want to do? Do you want to opt out? Or keep trying?”
Stacy wanted what a lot of addicts want: to get clean, but also to get high. She wanted to have her kids back, but also to have no responsibility. She wanted to feel better, and to feel nothing.
She wiped her nose on her shoulder, looked up and said, “I want to keep trying.”