Addiction recovery court helps break cycle of substance abuse

Formerly known as Hillsborough County Drug Court, the program focused on treatment and rehabilitation rather than jail now has a new judge, a new name, and a fresh coat of paint.

"This is a community that cares for people," explained Hillsborough County Recovery Court Judge Elizabeth Rice.

Judge Rice has worked hard to transform the cold walls of drug court into a warmer and welcoming treatment forum. She dishes out tough love when she needs to, but recovery court is more than that.

"It’s all about second chances. People deserve second chances. Alcoholism is a disease. It’s not any different than diabetes or asthma," explained Judge Rice.

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One of the court's second chance success stories is Caleb Ferguson, who has been sober for nearly seven years, but nothing about that came easy.

"It was admitting that I was broken. It was admitting I couldn't handle it on my own," said a humble Ferguson.

It started with social drinking and that followed drinking alone just to cope with his loneliness and isolation. Soon Caleb started chasing the next drink and the next. It would lead him down a dark and scary path. His career as a fitness trainer also hit rock bottom, but during a moment of clarity, Caleb knew what he had to do.

"I have no control over this anymore it fully grabbed me and taken me into a place I never thought I would be," recalled Ferguson. "I just broke down and tears and said I need help."

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Caleb's family petitioned the court to have him admitted for treatment under the Marchman Act, which is voluntary or involuntary help for those who can't help themselves. 

After a few setbacks, Caleb successfully completed the program.

"Recovery is possible and it’s pretty awesome if you stick with it," said Ferguson.

He believes without the love and support of his family and recovery court, things would not have ended well.

"I wouldn't be here. Not only would I not be here, I would have taken my family with me," says a reflective Ferguson.

These days, Caleb works at the Phoenix, a recovery-based program that focuses on community and the power of fitness.