Another piece from the AJC's series on sentencing reform highlights Gov. Deal's view that drug courts slow the growth in the state’s prison system, thus saving taxpayer dollars and lives. Dutch Nelson is an inspiration to Georgians struggling with addiction, and proof that drug and accountability courts work in our state. READ MORE
Christmas was days away when Dutch Nelson reached rock bottom. The former high school football star and standout student was in the Cherokee County jail. In the preceding months, he had ruined his marriage, lost his job, abandoned his dedication to sobriety and reconciled with an old friend: cocaine.
In a matter of days, cocaine was once again running Dutch Nelson’s life. For those who have never been addicted, it’s hard to imagine how an educated, middle-class father of three with a Type A personality and a track record of success could chuck it all.
Think of it this way, he says: Compare it to a time when you’re starving. Not just hungry, but famished and dying of thirst. Multiply that many, many times over. Nelson said the compulsion to satisfy that kind of hunger is something close to what it’s like to be addicted to a powerful drug. It becomes the only thing that matters.
“What you have cherished, what has meant the most to you, what have been your most loved, prized possessions mean nothing to you anymore,” said Nelson, who has been sober again for 15 months. “It’s not you that is that person. But you become that.”
His cocaine compulsion became so powerful that Nelson went through all of his money, borrowed what he could and traded every valuable he had, including his fancy watches and laptops, for more drugs. When he had nothing left, he began to steal.
In no time, Nelson was facing charges in three counties and preparing to wake up on Christmas morning in a cell.
He went to a Bible study class with the jail’s chaplain, desperate for hope. “I am not a crying man,” he said. “But, oh my gosh, I just lost it. I lost it. I didn’t care that it was in front of all those men. I just lost it. I’m bawling like a baby and that’s my day — right there.”
That is the moment Nelson marks as his turning point. He says that is when he felt a deep, personal connection with God that was like nothing he ever experienced before. And he started to rebuild his life on that new foundation.
Nelson knew that he was facing prison time. But Fulton County offered him an alternative: drug court.