…..thanks to a sympathetic judge and effective rehab
This is the story of Zach Scott-Pershaw.
Zach spent the first 10 years of his adult life drinking excessively, partying and driving while impaired. He began consuming alcohol when was a young teenager. He racked up several convictions in youth court before he became an adult.
Zach’s string of problems ended in the fall of 2013. That’s when he reached out to the folks running the Anchorage addiction treatment program at the Salvation Army’s Ottawa Booth Centre. He engaged in a recovery program that would culminate in a turn-around of considerable magnitude.
Looking back on it, Zach says: “When you fall big, it does not mean that it’s over for you. All it means is if you come back it will be so much more epic (in its significance).”
Before Zach’s epic turn-around, life for him was a rocky, winding road.
He was pulled over on Carling Ave., near Cole Ave. on August 28 2013, by the Ottawa police. They charged him with drunk driving, the fourth time in as many years. He was denied bail and spent the next three months in the dreaded Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC).
Devised a faint hope strategy
During that time, Zach, then 33, devised and implemented what amounted to a faint hope strategy.
His first step was to contact the Salvation Army in the fall of 2013 asking to be admitted to the Anchorage rehabilitation program. He had never attended an alcohol treatment centre. It was his last hope.
The walls were closing in on Zach. He would lose joint-custody of his son and daughter, then 2 and 4, if his unlikely strategy failed. It all depended on the longshot that a sympathetic judge would grant him his appeal for bail despite his several drinking-and-driving convictions and give him permission to attend the Salvation Army’s four-month Anchorage treatment program.
On Nov. 4, 2013, Zach appeared for his bail appeal before Ontario Court Justice Robert Beaudoin. In humble tones, he explained to the judge why he needed to attend Anchorage:
“I have been trying to clean up my life in the last few years, I have young children, and I keep making mistakes due to alcohol.”
Mother took the stand
Zach’s mother, Vicki Charlery, then followed Zach to the stand.
She testified that:
“I believe that he (Zach) has changed,” she told the judge. “He has two children now he’d do anything for, and he has not been able to see them or talk to them, and this is a consequence of his actions.”
The Crown prosecutor, Paul Attia, was dead set against Zach’s appeal. The attorney claimed that Zach had:
– An “atrocious” criminal record, and
– “A fantastic disregard for authority.”
The prosecutor also had disparaging words for the OBC, saying its Anchorage location in the middle of a district of 17 bars, was an invitation for clients to fall off the wagon. Judge Beaudoin rejected that slur, saying the OBC had chosen the location to be close by to its clientele.
Thanks to the Salvation Army, and his long-suffering mother, Zach’s long-shot came true. Judge Beaudoin agreed to give Zach a last chance. Later that day (Nov. 4) the judge granted Zach bail and permission to attend the Salvation Army’s Anchorage treatment program.
The judge curtly brushed Zach’s thank you aside: “Don’t thank me,” the judge said.
He warned Zach that if he “betrays” his promises to Anchorage and the court, “we will be seeing a lot more of each other,” predicting that if Zach were to run afoul of his bail conditions, he would wind up becoming a frequent visitor to the judge’s courtroom – in handcuffs.
Among his reasons for granting him bail, the judge said Zach had been in and out of jail since he was 13, and imprisonment did not seem to have done Zach much good.
So Judge Beaudoin imposed what he called “airtight” conditions on Zach to prevent him from fleeing Anchorage and succumbing to the temptations of drinking in the nearby ByWard Market.
Judge praised Zach’s mother
The judge went on to praise Zach’s mother, Vicki Charlery, for her concern and devotion to her son Zach: “I have to say I was impressed with her evidence.”
The judge commented in his ruling that the Salvation Army’s treatment program appears thorough. “It seems to have a lot of steps and requirements.”
He noted that Marc Provost, the executive director of the Salvation Army, sent the judge literature describing the Anchorage treatment program. The judge summarized from Mr. Provost’s literature, saying Anchorage “is a residential program.”
“Clients stay in a secure and monitored unit. They are expected to check in with counselors and/or chaplain on a daily basis, attend recovery meetings, and graduations, daily classes and workshops, and the regular program activities on a daily basis. ”
“The program is in two phases. There is a stabilization phase and a treatment phase during which there are random drug testing and room searches. Guests are expected to abide by the rules. Failure to do so could result in discharge from the program. The program consists (among other things) of independent counselling, problem solving, relationship skills, anger management, job training.”
Zach began his treatment program three days later on Nov. 7, 2013.
Almost fled back to prison
The Anchorage facility is on George Street, next door to the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter. Zach recalls that at first, he was shocked by the run-down appearance of many of the shelter dwellers. He almost fled back to prison.
“I ate three meals a day in a homeless shelter. I was there. I was around homeless people, (some) totally crazy people. When I saw it, I thought “take me back to jail.” I was just down. I was thinking “I can’t handle this, I can’t do it.”
He heeded his mother though, who told him to abide by his commitment to the court and to the Salvation Army. Zach agreed and proceeded with the program.
“I liked the cognitive behavioral therapy,” he said in an interview.
Cognitive therapy, according to Wikipedia, aims to change people’s unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. It helps develop personal coping strategies that target solving personal problems.
Zach said he also “became really engaged in other people’s stories.”
“Hearing other people’s stories is a big thing, knowing that other people make major changes in their lives. Some people live in a place like that helping other people that are in the same predicament” as the counselors had once been in.
“Besides having a roof over my head, I was finally sober, and I had a place to be sober.”
A place to be sober
“I could have gone and drank – but I had a place to be and a reason to be sober. I talked with the group about the way to cope with things (life). “
Not everyone is able to handle the rigors of rehabilitation, Zach recalled. Part of his recovery involved “seeing what people looked like who had failed (the program). And beholding all that poverty and all that hardship (of many attendees), the whole thing was good for me to see.”
"You don't want to fail," he added.
Looking back, Zach says he turned his life around thanks to:
• The Salvation Army's Anchorage Program
• An understanding judge, and
• His own determination to put his life back together
“You can’t put a percentage on it, because they are two things that work together, the Salvation Army and everything it has to offer with its treatment program; and the client’s will to singlehandedly recover. They go hand and hand.”
Zach’s rehab lasted four months. On every one of those 16 weekends Zach’s mother logged considerable mileage. She picked up her grandchildren and drove one hour from her home in Lanark to Anchorage to fetch Zach. She then turned around and drove another hour back to her home in Lanark, where the four spent their weekends together. She reversed the drill on Sundays.
Zach completed his rehab treatment with success at Anchorage and was discharged on March 7, 2014.
He faced his addictions
The then manager of Anchorage, Krista Holts, wrote a strong letter of support of Zach, stating that during his time at Anchorage, he:
“… was an active participant in both his individual counselling sessions, and in the group setting. Mr. Scott-Pershaw regularly contributed to discussion, and demonstrated willingness to examine his addiction cycle and factors that have kept him in place.”
Ms. Holts observed that: “One of the largest motivating factors in Mr. Scott-Pershaw’s recovery has been his two children, whom he has taken a weekend pass each (of 16) weekend(s) in program to care for.
It is of the highest importance to Mr. Scott-Pershaw to be a present and responsible father.”
With his recovery in place, Zach then turned to his next priority: the criminal charges still pending against him, for the drunk driving offence in Ottawa. He was ready to serve his time.
Three days after his release from Anchorage, on March 10, Zach appeared before Ontario Court Justice Ann Alder. She sentenced him to 90 days in prison, to be served on weekends. Judge Alder convicted him of driving with more than .08 milligrams of alcohol in his blood, and driving while his license was under suspension.
She also prohibited Zach from driving for 10 years.
“I spent the weekends in jail (at the OCDC) at Innes Road. I went in Friday night and got out on Monday morning,” Zach recalls.
Zach finished serving his sentence in May 2014. Next up on his agenda: Finding work.
“I borrowed a tool belt from my uncle and I started working, I started getting jobs from a local contractor here (in Perth). I teamed up with another guy with the truck and did roofing. Bang, we were doing roofs.”
“Things started slowing down so I took a job with another friend of mine and worked for a couple of years as a (roofing) supervisor.”
“He bailed out and decided he did not want to do it anymore. So I started my own company and things have been going great.”
His firm is called Above the Rest roofing company in Perth, where Zach has 13 employees. Zach often deploys the workers in Ottawa, where they do sub-contracting for larger Ottawa roofers.
Life is becoming settled for Zach and his children. “I have two of my kids full-time now.” Indeed, Zach now has custody of Tulli, 7; and Rylee, 8. He shares the custody of his youngest child, Jaydan, 4.
Zach lives in Perth, 85 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, and assists other alcoholics in their struggles.
He also gives inspirational talks every four months at the Anchorage facility in Ottawa to men attending a similar rehab program to the one he took five years ago, where his recovery began.
“One of the most important parts of my recovery is going back and speaking. I do that to help people because it was a huge part of what helped me and it’s a reminder, “Zach said in a recent exchange.
“It’s good to remember where I was and what I went through to get where I am.”
He explains how he used to abuse alcohol:
“I did some crazy stuff. I went on week-end benders, to casinos, (or to see) the strippers. At a club you ask them to bring you a bottle of liquor instead of one drink at a time.”
Bars sold vodka by the bottle
“You say you want a bottle of Gray Goose (vodka), and they bring you a bottle of Gray Goose, with the mix to drink it with, and you drink it.”
“A bottle would cost $260.”
“I could blow $1,000 on a Friday and a Saturday.”
That sort of behaviour went on for years, Zach said.
“I was cashing huge pay cheques” working on construction jobs. “We just drank all the time.”
He began drinking to excess when he was 14 or 15. From age 17 to 28 age he was a constant heavy drinker.
“I remember when I was 17, we would go to Hull, deliberately getting into fights in the clubs.”
“I used to sell a lot of weed when I was younger. I quit smoking weed because I did not really care for it. It really did not do much for me. Drugs were more of a source of income rather than a good time. But I loved alcohol.”
* * *
Zach willingly accepts congratulations for attending and passing the Anchorage program and turning his life around. But he is quick to remind an interviewer of the key role of Judge Beaudoin in his recovery, in dismissing the prosecutor’s objections to Zach attending the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation program.
“I wish I could thank him.”
This article was written by Roderick Macdonell, the Salvation Army’s administrative support to program.