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One-Woman Argument For Drug Treatment

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

After being hooked on drugs for nearly half her life, Rozetta Boggan, 56, has been drug-free for seven years. No more crack cocaine. No alcohol. No heroin. She has her own apartment in Alexandria and a job setting up displays at the Washington Convention Center. No more hanging out in crack houses, no more dealing to support her habit.

For those who never had a problem with substance abuse, that might not seem like a big deal. But with billions of dollars being spent in a futile effort to stop the flow of drugs into the United States, Boggan and others like her have achieved a victory that's truly worth celebrating.

"One night, I'd had enough," she told me recently. "I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. Then, out of the blue I said, 'Lord, please get me off of drugs.' "

In 2000, not long after that prayer for help, Boggan was convicted on a federal drug conspiracy charge and sent to the Alderson women's prison in West Virginia. She took advantage of the prison drug treatment program and regularly attended 12-step self-help meetings.

"For the first time, I got honest with myself," she recalled. "I admitted that I was an addict and that I couldn't stop using on my own. I started listening to other people's stories about their battles with addiction. It gave me hope. Sometimes, when I'd call my girlfriends back home, they'd say, 'I've been clean for six months,' and, 'You know so-and-so is clean.' That would encourage me because I didn't want to be the oldest thing out there in the streets, 50-years-old and still on crack."

None of that is to suggest that prison is a cure; the point is that drug treatment programs work -- wherever they may be. The only question is, why do so many nonviolent drug offenders have to go to a federal prison to get state of the art care?

Boggan was a small-time street dealer who sold $20 to $50 bags of crack to feed her habit. The conspiracy case against her stemmed from her introducing a customer to a dealer who sold bags that weren't much larger -- $100 and up.

Nevertheless, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. That's far more than some dealers get for possessing and distributing pounds of powder cocain e .

Boggan had a right to be peeved. But instead of showing self-righteous anger, she opted for peace of mind. She took responsibility for her role in the predicament and kept the focus on developing a set of principles by which she could live in harmony with others.

Gratitude, not resentment, was her watchword.

"I felt blessed," Boggan said. "I thanked God for sending me to prison."

For good behavior and completing the drug treatment program, she was released after seven years.

Neither of Boggan's parents drank or smoked. None of her siblings got mixed up in drugs. But that doesn't matter when it comes to drug addiction. Boggan, for whatever reason, was just different.

"I just started drinking when I was 14 and progressed from one drug to the next," she recalled. "I also liked the street life. It was very fascinating to me. I was around a lot of older women in the streets, and I looked up to them. I had strong women in my family, all positive role models. I knew right from wrong, but I just chose to do wrong."

With her life on the line, Boggan could not afford to wait for the country to win a war on drugs. She had to accept help where she found it, whether in a treatment program in prison or 12-step fellowship meetings once she got out.

"I sometimes go to jails and tell my story to other women who are addicted to drugs and perform a praise dance to let them know how fortunate I am," Boggan said. "Each morning, I wake up, armor up with a prayer and make a conscious decision to stay clean -- one day at a time."

That way, victory is assured.

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com

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