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Wednesday, November 13, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Everett

Court program aids drug addicts

Times Snohomish County bureau

EVERETT — With tears in her eyes and a wide grin, Patricia Sotelo boasts about her job at a local casino. It's the first job she's held down in 15 years.

The 38-year-old Everett woman recently kicked a nearly 20-year crack-cocaine addiction. She attributes her success to CHART, the Snohomish County Drug Court program.

Sotelo was among 19 people who graduated last week from the program, called Choosing Healthy Alternatives Recovery and Treatment. Like other graduates, Sotelo hugged and thanked Superior Court Judge Richard Thorpe and the team of prosecutors, public defenders and drug-treatment providers who helped her through her months in the program.

"I deserve this," Sotelo said. "My priority is my recovery."

Like participants in other drug courts across the nation, these 19 graduates entered the program — which could last anywhere from 12 to 18 months — voluntarily. They submitted to regular drug testing, counseling and mandatory court appearances.

"The criminal-justice system cannot cure addiction," Thorpe said. "We simply cannot build jails fast enough to take care of the problem."

People enrolled in CHART have to abstain from drugs or alcohol during their last six months in the program, have a sponsor or belong to a recovery group, have a high-school diploma or a GED certificate and be employed or in school full time.

If they are successful in the program, the felony drug charge that landed them there will be dismissed upon graduation. If they fail, they will be found guilty of the charge and sentenced.

With their certificates, Thorpe handed the graduates "before" and "after" photos to help them remember what they looked like when they were regularly using drugs.

'I had hit my bottom'

Deputy Prosecutor Scott Lord told the audience of family, friends and current CHART participants at Thursday's graduation what each graduate had been arrested for.

"I wasn't ready when I came to my first drug-court hearing," Sotelo said. "But I chose drug court because I had hit my bottom."

Ken Alhadeff, a Seattle businessman, philanthropist and former drug addict, spoke at the graduation ceremony.

"This isn't graduation — this is birth," Alhadeff said. "Sobriety is yours; hold onto it."

Alhadeff, 54, told graduates that drug court is "an incredible answer." He spoke about using alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth and prescription drugs when he was growing up to deal with his weight problems and lack of popularity.

Graduates look back, forward

When Sotelo took the podium to accept her certificate, she thanked Alhadeff and agreed that "this is a beginning of a new life."

She talked about her goal to get custody of her daughter, a toddler who was put into a foster home in January. She tearfully read a poem and was cheered on by her family and classmates.

Another graduate, who declined to give his name, talked briefly about his 379 days of sobriety. He read a poem he had written about his past addictions to LSD, methamphetamine and other drugs.

"They've learned how to manage their recovery and maintain their recovery," Thorpe said proudly.

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com.

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