Providing a sober dose of Reality; Intervention program targets first-time drug and alcohol offenders; Gives view of consequences; Cooperation among agencies is helping program to succeed

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The organizers of Reality, an intervention program for first-time drug and alcohol offenders begun in Carroll County eight months ago, say they are pleased with its results so far.

"Since August, we have had 115 graduates of Reality and only one repeat offender," said Cpl. Michael Bible of the Westminster Police Department, one of the program's sponsors.

The voluntary program strives to teach offenders the cost of their substance abuse to family, friends and community. Bible, George Butler of the county state's attorney's office and David J. Tucker, supervisor of Carroll's Department of Juvenile Justice, were among the first in Carroll to see its value.

In 10 hours spanning four Friday or Saturday nights, program participants are given a dose of shocking reality.

They plan their own funerals, watch movies of paramedics treating accident victims, visit the county detention center and travel to Carroll County General Hospital, where doctors and nursing staff give them a first-hand view of how drugs and alcohol affect their lives and the lives of others.

The Reality program originated in Tennessee about 18 years ago, and has been introduced in 11 Maryland counties. State Trooper Terry Ober helped launch the program in Carroll.

Ober, who works from the Centreville barracks in Queen Anne's County and brought Reality to the Eastern Shore nearly two years ago, said he will help organize Reality programs in Washington and St. Mary's counties in June. Officials in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Calvert counties are seeking to start programs. Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia have also inquired about starting programs, he said.

Ober called Carroll's program the busiest in Maryland. Organizers ran two classes in January and February, one this month, and have two planned for April and May.

Statewide, as of tonight, 317 of 341 students who have enrolled in Reality will have graduated, Ober said. One in 14 has reoffended.

One Reality graduate, Shelley Snyder of Hampstead, will become a certified instructor by April, said Bible.

Snyder, 30, enrolled in the program after she was arrested last year for selling alcohol to an underage relative.

"It was stupid to do that," she said. "I did it once and got caught, buying alcohol for kids who attended a birthday party."

Snyder said Reality showed her how wrong her actions were.

"Any one of those kids could have been killed driving home that night," she said.

The portion of the program that had the most impact on her, she said, was planning a four-week care program, deciding how she would be taken care of if she were paralyzed in an accident.

"Figuring who would take care of me, and what would need to be done 24 hours a day," was really difficult, she said.

Another tough lesson, planning her funeral, "really made me think," she said, "and going to the hospital and pretending to tell parents that their son had just died was like a slap in the face, a real wake-up call."

Would-be instructors must take the course and then go through it twice more, co-teaching it, Snyder said.

Bringing Reality to Carroll County took a lot of support, Butler said.

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes donated $500 and the Westminster Elks put up $7,500 to get the program started.

Barnes also allowed Butler, an investigator and drug education specialist, to devote work hours to Reality.

Westminster Chief Sam Leppo supported Bible's participation and Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning assisted by offering the services of Deputy Dale Baker. Tregoning will soon provide the services of a second deputy, Butler said.

In addition, volunteers from the detention center, juvenile services, the substance abuse prevention and treatment center Junction Inc., insurance agencies, Westminster emergency medical technicians, and directors at 10 county funeral homes have provided support, Butler said.

"And the doctors and nurses at the county hospital have been incredible, concocting realistic skits for our students to witness," he said.

Tfc. Wendy Bernhardt, also a Reality instructor, said one student told her, "After I left the hospital on a Friday night, I went to a party, and I couldn't drink."

Pub Date: 3/26/99

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