STORIES: Mr. O

STORIES: Mr. O

Statistics on Problem Gambling

Meet Mr. O, a 47 year old African American man, a Drug Court and Gambling Court graduate, and a person who speaks with great conviction and passion.

His gambling began in junior high, shooting dice with neighboring guys, and progressed during his military service, when he had a salary for the first time. "I played some suckers in the military!", he jokes. Soon, gambling became a regular, normal thing to do each payday. "I was going to Las Vegas losing my entire paycheck each week", Mr. O explains, "and I didn't like that, losing my paycheck. That's when I turned to my other addictions — drugs and alcohol."

It wasn't until he was being interviewed for participation in Amherst's Drug Court, that he first became aware of his "whole list" of addictions. As Mr. O remembers, "In my mind, I was accepting "lesser" addictions, doing drugs and alcohol. At least I wasn't gambling." As his other addictions became stronger, they shut down his gambling. Unfortunately, when he was recovering from drugs and alcohol, "gambling reared its ugly head".

"Gambling Court gave me accountability, it added a structure to my life" he explains. "Even though I've worked my whole life, I'd go to my job when I wanted to, wouldn't go when I didn't." Now his voice becomes deeper, "In Gambling Court, I was under a microscope". He had individual sessions with gambling counselors, group meetings, and appointments to keep. Looking back, he realizes that this was one of two life changing turning points. "Gambling Court helped me, changed my life, ‘cause I stopped bucking the system like I had done all my life", he explains. In Gambling Court, the person behind the bench also had a profound effect. "At first I didn't like Judge Farrell looking at me", Mr. O remembers. He then retells the story of his first and only relapse, a relapse with a mandatory sanction of two weeks in jail. "It was holiday time, and I'd only been in the program for about five months", he explains. "It was the look of pain on Judge Farrell's face that made the difference", he continues, "I'll never forget that look. I saw in his eyes that he didn't want to do it. He grabbed his hair, sat back in his chair. I knew he didn't want to put me up over the holidays." The second way Gambling Court changed his life, the program wasn't the focus, the human touch was. "I didn't hate Judge Farrell for sending me to jail. He had to." But Mr. O was never the same. "My eyes were opened", he states softly. "I could see the fact that people really care. Judge Farrell made me realize this." The saddest thing? In his own words, "I wish I could have realized this 35 years ago…"

Today, Mr. O serves as a mentor for Gambling Court, sharing his story with as many defendants as he can, as often as it takes to help them. For him, this act of service "gives me confidence, it makes me feel better to give someone encouragement." This brave man, who identifies with 18 different addiction agents, says with the wisdom born from experience, "I know the more I help someone, the more I recover. And I know I can recover from anything I want to. I don't dwell, I'm not bitter. I accept myself."

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