By the time Wendell White made the decision to enter the Drug Court program, he’d been “living on the streets” in St. Charles Parish and using hard drugs for nearly 15 years.
The Boutte man had been arrested on a felony theft charge in 2016, which he readily clarified was related to heroin use, an addiction that put him on the path to the drug program. At only 37 years old at the time, he’s already spent nearly half his life on drugs that included cocaine and heroin, and been in prison four times on drug-related convictions.
“It wasn’t really like a trauma situation,” White said of why he used drugs and particularly heroin. “It was based on choices. It was being brought up in a neighborhood where it was used … being young and foolish. It was a teenage thing – drinking and smoke weed – then you start changing. You get a hold of something different and it grows from there.”
Opiates took him to a whole new level in what he called his street life.
“Heroin is like a more physical thing,” he said. “It’s just a whole other life. It’s not something you can walk out your door and like I’m not doing anymore. Once you’ve used it for a long time, it gets in the body and it doesn’t function without it.”
White’s pivotal moment came in 2016 and he took it.
“I prayed a lot while in jail,” he said. “The devil never stopped working.”
Drug court offered him an out of a lifestyle that he had come to recognize as an evil cycle.
“It was just tiresome … just living,” he said. “Before you can get anything going for yourself, you’ve got to run and go get your supply. There was no stability. I was living an unbalanced life. I had the mindset I wanted to change my life, but it was hard for me do it with my own mind power. I needed help to get myself back on track.”
The program offered him a process and a bridge to living a drug-free life, but one that required White take a hard look at himself.
Judge Lauren Lemmon said she and the entire drug court team are proud of his growth, willingness to change and admit the shortcomings that left him vulnerable.
“We have learned that the best practices for maintaining sobriety and remaining drug free both during and after successful completion of the program is to dig deeper and discover your true self,” Lemmon said. “Wendell’s courage and determination allows him to continue to explore and grow, and work an honest program. He has learned to build healthier relationships with himself, his wife and children, and others in his life.”
Juan Lopez, first assistant to District Joel Chaisson and a founder of the program, said drug court was conceived in 2001in St. Charles Parish as a way to address the growing number of drug driven or related crimes.
“We saw the people repeating criminal activity and most of it driven by the use of drugs,” Lopez said.
Seventeen years later, he said the program is working, but no one could have conceived of the opiate abuse epidemic in the United States posing the enormous challenges it is today. Still, the program is cutting edge in best practices for sanctions and incentives, and why White has proven a success story although Lopez said he will spend his life fighting the triggers that send people back to heroin abuse.
“Wendall has done a phenomenal job in the program,” Lopez said. “My hope and prayer is he continues to improve in his personal life as much as he did in drug court, and I wish him all the best.”
Drug court offers a chance that drug users didn’t have in the past to change their lives.
With White’s past, he knew this firsthand.
It’s why he decided to enter the program when it was offered him in 2016. He wanted help.
“I was determined to find another way to start doing for myself so I gave it a shot,” he said. “I went in the program and did what I had to do. The program is you make it. It’s a good set up for a person who really wants to do better.”
In the yearlong program, he described what he found as stability, sensibility and balance. White said his life became about serious time management to ensure he worked, as well as completed its classes and meetings. He got a job with a landscaper cutting grass, as well as cutting lawns on his own, too.
Life got better, too.
During this time, White took his finance’, five children, a friend and his family to Disney World for a week. It was the first vacation together he held for them as a father. He proudly displayed the photographs from the trip.
“I sound more like a family guy,” he said with a smile. “I got more time for my kids and do more things. I had to do what I had to do to get myself together.”
When he graduated from the program in August of last year, he got a job at a plant in Geismer. White also came to a realization that really got his attention.
“After graduation, everything is on you,” White said. “You just have to keep that spiritual connection with God to help you stay grounded.”