Another milestone celebrated on the long journey back from drug addiction

14 graduate from latest Maui Drug Court, counting 18 years of changing lives

The 65th Maui/Molokai Drug Court graduation celebrated 14 new graduates Thursday in 2nd Circuit Court. The ceremony included keynote speeches by retired 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photos

WAILUKU — Retired 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto recalls about 60 people joining the Maui/Molokai Drug Court program in just one year during the rise of methamphetamine use on the island nearly two decades ago.

Raffetto, who helped start the program in 2000, could see it was a sorely needed and sought additional support and funding. He vowed to do everything he could to make it successful and tracked every graduate for 12 years upon leaving the program.

“I wanted to be able to tell the Legislature that if you give me a buck, here’s what the results will be,” he said Thursday. “There’s a lot of treatment programs where they only count whether you graduate or not, and they don’t follow up and see whether the person improves. That just ends up being a feel-good program, whereas in this program we know what the results are.”

Eighteen years later, the results continue to show as 14 people were added to the 648 graduates during Thursday’s 65th class ceremony. More than 1,200 individuals on Maui and Molokai have been admitted to the program, and 85 percent do not commit a felony within three years of graduating.

Raffetto served as the guest speaker for the graduation and provided a brief history of program. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler also paid a special surprise visit for the fourth time — second time this year.

Retired Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto, who helped lead the formation of the Maui/Molokai Drug Court program, speaks during the 65th graduation ceremony in 2nd Circuit Court.

The Maui Drug Court offers criminal defendants intensive treatment and supervision as an alternative to incarceration. Those who successfully completed the program had criminal charges dismissed or terms of probation ended early.

Raffetto remembers first finding out about a drug court program starting in Honolulu so he sought federal funding to begin one on Maui. He said two conditions were hiring a coordinator, which would end up being Lillian Koller, and attending a large convention on the East Coast for more information.

“We found out there that whole communities were supporting this drug court initiative,” he said of the effort led by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. “There were 3,000 people from prosecutors to defense attorneys, police and prison wardens.”

A national model was soon developed that required supervision, treatment, testing and keeping track of graduates, Raffetto said. The purpose was to reduce harm to the community and bring drug offenders back to be positive influences.

Raffetto said it was “immediately recognized as a good idea” by police, County Council members, college officials and members of the prosecutor’s office. He said the public defenders office initially “pushed back a little” out of a fear of conceding the rights of their defendants, but later bought into the program after seeing its success across the nation.

Maui Drug Court graduate Roy Toney thanks friends and family members for supporting him at the 65th graduation ceremony in 2nd Circuit Court.

Maui Drug Court is unique to the rest of the country because it is one of the few that has a men’s and women’s dormitory, Raffetto said. A large percentage of graduates spend time in the dorms to prove they are taking the program seriously before being released to the community.

“If they’re out in the community and they falter, the idea is you can put them back in the dorm and get back on track so they’re not lost,” he said. “Some people don’t make it, but I’ve always felt there’s no such thing as a true failure in drug court. They get a head full of recovery tools and have all the basic training, so when they’re ready to change they know how to get started.”

Tyler thanked Raffetto for leading the program and appreciated judges who give drug offenders a second chance. He said he spent virtually every day for 12 years getting high and that it was “a way of life for me.”

“What a thought that maybe a judge could see that drug addiction and me snorting blow and smoking weed is an addiction,” Tyler said. “That I’m not a bad person getting good, I’m a sick person getting well.”

Tyler recalled how Aerosmith began making money in the early 1970s so it could pay for the $300 a month apartment unit where he and six other band members were staying. Nine years later, the band played in every state except Hawaii and Alaska — before the advent of MTV.

Maui Drug Court graduate Alvina Morton speaks during Thursday’s 65th graduation ceremony in 2nd Circuit Court.

“We went and we played at least eight or nine times at every place in the United States to make it and get our songs played on the radio,” he said.

By 1982, though, Tyler had dropped to just 126 pounds due to drug abuse. He said he was admitted into drug rehabilitation centers, which were essentially insane asylums at the time.

“I was in a room with a man with a dribble bib and a cup,” he said. “But that’s all there was. There was no 12-step program, or at least I didn’t know about it.”

Tyler eventually sobered up in 1988. He continues to go to 12-step meetings and has sponsors to keep him honest.

Tyler said getting help and treatment was a “godsend,” just like his talent for singing and songwriting. He provided a little bit of humor on how he came up with some of his most famous tunes.

“When I write songs, it comes to me as a gift and I write it down,” he said. “Who the hell knows who the dude is that looks like a lady. You just write it down. You know, ‘Dream on,’ my mother would say, ‘Yeah you’re going to be a rock star. Dream on.’ You write down your thoughts and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but this one particularly was a gift from god.”

Graduates were grateful to hear from the rock legend during Thursday’s ceremony, but they were even more thankful for the program. Many spoke about losing everything to drugs and enduring addiction for years.

“I couldn’t function in my daily life without getting high,” Brian Baybado of Lahaina said. “I would have to smoke before I did anything and everything, and it engulfed my entire being.”

Baybado said he stole from his parents and tourists and “became a criminal in every sense of the word” after taking drugs. He said he lost his job, family and home, eventually living in his car and in the bushes on the beach.

Baybado said he wanted to quit, but the addiction was too strong so he became depressed and tried killing himself multiple times. On July 13, 2016, he was finally arrested on four felony charges and faced a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

“I thought to myself that this is God telling me enough is enough,” he said. “But I knew prison wasn’t going to rehabilitate me.”

After reading about drug court, Baybado applied and was accepted into the dorms where he spent eight months building the foundation for his recovery. Now 28 months sober, he has a roof over his head, a car and a full-time job.

He also regained the trust and respect of his parents and is slowly re-establishing a relationship with his 9-year-old son. Baybado said he paid over $2,400 to victims in his cases and plans to join the painter’s union and obtain journeyman’s painter status.

“Thank you to the judges for the guidance and seeing more than a drug-addicted thief,” he said, adding thanks to God, his sponsor, peers and police for originally arresting him. “It’s because of the respect and concern you showed me that made me believe I was salvageable.”

Chief Judge Joseph Cardoza praised the work of Maui Drug Court staff, which helps ease overcrowding in Maui’s jail and reduces incarceration’s social costs on the families. While he acknowledged the county has racked up 870 criminal cases this year, he was encouraged by the number of graduates and over 3,000 children the program has touched.

“It’s a community program,” Cardoza said. “It’s not just a court program, and that’s what makes it work. It’s the combined efforts of everyone that makes it work so we certainly appreciate everyone and we’re very proud of the graduates.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.