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(A mostly true story)

Sarah wasn't really a bad kid. She just had a problem with drugs. She finally got to the point where she could no longer hide it from her parents. And finally, she could no longer hide it from the police. At the age of 15, she was arrrested for possession of crack cocaine.

She was sitting on a hard wooden bench in the hallway of the courthouse, waiting her turn for a preliminary hearing. She was bored, she was angry, but most of all she was afraid of the future. Her lawyer came over and sat down next to her.

"Sarah, I talked to the DA. He's not interested in jail time. Not if you're willing to go into a special rehabilitation program."

"What do I have to do?"

"Well, it's a group home program designed especially for teenagers who are first-time offenders. You live there with the other kids. During the day you go to regular high school classes. At night you stay at the center. It lasts for six months. At first, you have lots of restrictions, but if you keep your nose clean, eventually you can go out, you know ... you have more and more freedom as you earn it, so to speak."

Sarah fidgeted. "I guess it's better than jail."

The deal was made. A week later, Sarah packed a couple of bags, and her parents delivered her to "Second Chance." They were tearful as they said goodbye to her.

She had her first interview with the man who would be her counselor. His office was full of pictures and certificates. "Sarah, my name is Bill. I'm in charge of seventeen people here, all of them about your age. I live right here at Second Chance. We have lots of rules, but the most important one is that you absolutely cannot use drugs. Ever. Not even once. You'll be tested on a regular basis; that's part of the program. We have group sessions in the evening at 7:00 pm, right after supper. Attendance is mandatory. Sometimes we're finished in only a half hour; sometimes it takes longer. Meet us in Room 214 tonight, 7:00 sharp. Don't be late."

"Yessir." She stood up. "I want to make this work. I really do."

"Good. I want you to succeed." Bill stood up. "You'll like the other kids."

That night, Sarah went to Room 214, arriving exactly on time. Everyone was just sitting down, their chairs arranged in a large circle. Bill sat in the circle with them.

"Folks, we have a new resident. This is her first night here at Second Chance, and I want us make her feel welcome. Her roommate will be Julia."

Everybody laughed. "Oh, God," somebody said, "Julia farts at night."

Julia was indignant. "I do not !!"

Bill rolled his eyes. "Let's hold down the horseplay." He walked over to where Sarah was sitting. "Sarah, stand up. Since this is your first night, we have to do Round the Circle."

Sarah stood up.   "What's that?"

"Round the Circle is kind-of like an initiation. It's how you become one of us." He looked deeply into her eyes. "Sarah, do you promise not to do drugs anymore?"

She hesitated for only a second. "I promise."

Bill nodded. "Okay, let's tell them." He gestured broadly at the rest of the group. "Come with me, Sarah."

Bill led her over to where a boy was sitting. "Sarah, this is Chad. Chad, Sarah wants to say something to you."

Sarah looked at Bill quizzically. "What am I supposed to say?"

"Promise Chad you won't do drugs."

Sarah looked down at the young man seated in the chair. "I promise not to do drugs."

Chad looked into her eyes and nodded solemnly. "Good. I'll hold you to that."

One by one, she was introduced to each member of the group. "Sarah, this is Veronica."

"Hi, Veronica. Uh, I promise not to do drugs."

Veronica looked her straight in the eye and said, "Good. I'll hold you to that."

Sarah smiled. She made the same promise to each one. And they each said exactly the same thing. "Good. I'll hold you to that." It made her comfortable somehow, knowing that these people, young people the same age that she was, were going through this with her.

It was good to be back in school, and she began looking forward to the group sessions at night. Sometimes they were boring, like when Bill talked for twenty minutes about what heroin does when it hits the bloodstream, but mostly it was like a family get-together. The other kids genuinely liked her and accepted her the way she was. They shared their problems, they kidded around, they developed crushes on each other.

And her roommate never farted.

Inevitably, she ran into some of her old druggie friends at school. She decided that she would be friendly with them. No reason not to be. But it turned out to be a mistake. One evening she found herself in the back seat of a car, and one of them had a crack pipe ... she figured it wouldn't hurt if she sampled just a bit.

The next morning, she flunked her urinalysis. They ran it twice. The printout said the same thing both times: POSITIVE FOR AMPHETAMINES AND/OR COCAINE.

The lab worker sent her to Bill's office. By the time she had made the long walk down the hall, she was actually shaking. She wasn't afraid of what would happen to her   —   she knew she would be punished somehow, and would probably be thrown out of the program   —   she was shaking because she was so ashamed of herself.

She opened the door. "Come in," said Bill. "Have a seat."

She sank into the overstuffed chair. "Look, Bill, I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. I messed up ..."

He held up his hand. "Go on to school, right now. You'll get there late. The lady out front will give you an excuse form to give to your teacher. I'll see you tonight in Group." His voice was expressionless.

It was the longest day of her life. She was completely miserable. One of her teachers actually asked her if she was sick. She dreaded the group session. What could she say? Would Bill even tell them?

Room 214 fell completely silent when Sarah walked in that night, and she knew that they knew. Bill looked up. "Sarah, don't sit down. We have to do Round the Circle again. Remember Round the Circle?"

Sarah frowned, puzzled.

"Sarah, come over here." Bill led her over to Edgar, a freckle-faced kid only fourteen years old. Sarah had helped him with his homework one night. "Sarah, look at Edgar and say, 'Edgar, drugs are more important to me than you are.'"

Sarah felt a tear in her eye. She fought it back. "Edgar ... drugs are more important to me than you are."

Bill gently pulled her over to where Gina sat. "Now tell Gina. Tell Gina what you told Edgar."

The tear now trickled down her cheek. "Gina, drugs are more important to me than you are."

Bill made her go all the way around the circle. By the time Sarah came to the last chair, she was crying openly. So was everyone else. Even Bill.

Bill took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. "Now, Sarah, look at me. Tell me what you told everybody else."

Sarah could hardly find her voice. "I can't. I just can't."

"But it's true, isn't it? Drugs are more important to you than I am."

She shook her head.

"Sarah, look at me. And say it."

Finally, she was able to look at him, the man who had been such a good friend to her for the past four weeks. "Bill ... drugs are more important to me ... than you are." She collapsed into her chair, sobbing.

A minute later, she heard Bill's voice again. "Sarah, look up. One more time. Look up."

She raised her head. Bill was holding a mirror in front of her face.

"Now, Sarah ... look into the mirror ... and say it. 'Drugs are more important to me than you are.'"

Her eyes burned with tears. Her heart was completely broken.

Bill nodded to the group, and within seconds, Sarah was surrounded. Everyone tried to hug her at once. It was over. And somehow, she knew that she would never, never abuse drugs again.

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