Dill reluctantly entered Hall County’s felony drug court program in early 2006, only after much persuasion by his lawyer and parents. Once he was in, by his own admission, he cheated on drug tests, lied to his counselors, even lied to the judge. He missed other drug screens, was late to group therapy and didn’t pay his fees on time. His required sponsor was little more than a name on a piece of paper.
"Everything I could mess up, I did," Dill said. "I just thought I could put on my little drug court face when I go to group and when I go to court. I’ll lie to the judge and they’ll never know I’m getting high still. But if nothing changes, nothing changes."
Dill was 18 when he was arrested for possession of five tablets of the prescription narcotic Lortab during a traffic stop on New Year’s Eve 2005. The pills were among the weaker drugs he was using at the time.
Dill said he was into a regular habit of snorting heroin when he came to Gainesville from his home in West Palm Beach to visit relatives over the holidays.
After his arrest, Dill was resistant to entering drug court, an intensive, two-year program that combines regular counseling and drug screens with strict supervision by a judge and sanctions that often include jail time. Those who successfully complete the program see their criminal charges dismissed.
"I did not want to be in drug court because I was not ready to quit using," Dill said.
Dill’s slip-ups in the early going of the program landed him in jail repeatedly, to the point that he was spending a week behind bars every month. Finally, after flunking an alcohol screen in October 2006, he was sent to Kickstart, a residential treatment program in partnership with the drug court.
When Dill arrived there and found his freedoms severely curtailed, the changes finally started happening. Cut off from his drug buddies, his cell phone seized, Dill had plenty of time to confront his lifestyle.
"At some point, it occurred to me that the way I was trying to live life wasn’t working," he said. "It just kept landing me back in jail. And I didn’t want to live my life being in and out of jail."
He saw others who were further along in the program, "and they all seemed happy and seemed to have everything going for them. And I was like, ‘I want to be like that. I want that happiness.’ It’s a lot easier when you stop fighting and start actually wanting to do something about it."
Dill spent 18 months at Kickstart and graduated April 4, with Superior Court Judge Jason Deal and other drug court staffers present for the graduation.
"I invited them all, not really expecting them to be able to make it," Dill said. "It really meant a lot to me. I don’t think some people appreciate the team we have. They really care."
Dill said 12-step programs, positive thinking and helping others were all keys to getting clean and sober.
Dill says he’s grateful for being arrested that New Year’s Eve, pulled over for a faulty tail light.
"If I would not have been arrested that night, there’s no telling if I would even be alive today," he said.
He’s grateful to Deal and his predecessor in drug court, John Girardeau, for sending him to jail time after time when he failed to fulfill his obligations.
"When you first get in drug court, it’s not easy," Dill said. "But for me, I needed that. I needed it to be hard."
"I’m glad I went to drug court instead of the alternative, of doing my little time in jail and doing my little probation," Dill said. "I would still be where I was. I wouldn’t have changed at all."
The changes brought him "180 degrees" from his old life, he said.
"I don’t hang out with a lot of my old friends now, the friends that are still getting high," he said. "I have new friends. Friends that don’t get high, and don’t want me to get high, who actually care about me."
Dill, now in the fifth and final phase of drug court, has five months left before graduation. He says he’s lined up responsibilities and commitments that will keep him on his toes once the safety net of immediate consequences from drug court no longer exists.
"I think this is teaching you how to live, because once you get out, that’s when the test really starts," he said.