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Breaking Bad

Drug Court has helped hundreds escape from lives of drugs and crime—but does the program itself have a future?

January 26, 2011, 2:00 am

Drug Court graduate Anthony Marquez calls his last arrest on trafficking charges, which led to his participation in Drug Court, “a blessing in disguise.”
Credits: Wren Abbott

Drug court programs measure their success primarily in terms of recidivism, which is calculated as the percentage of graduates who are arrested (not necessarily convicted) within three years of graduation. 1st District Court has an 11 percent recidivism rate; nationally, the type of offenders served by drug courts have a recidivism rate of 40 to 60 percent. According to the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, the overall recidivism rate for people who have previously served time is 47 percent, so Drug Court graduates are significantly less likely to reoffend than the state’s criminal population in general.

In 2009, former Gov. Bill Richardson’s Task Force on Prison Reform analyzed a decline in the state’s prison population and made suggestions to try to perpetuate that trend. The report suggests that the proliferation of drug courts throughout New Mexico was a likely reason for the prison population’s decrease.

Before Drug Court, Anthony Marquez had been arrested five previous times for drug possession and drug trafficking.

The life he lead had enough perks that, until he was forced to by Drug Court, he could never bring himself to walk away.

Sometimes, when Marquez is out and about around town, he runs into people he knew back in the day.

“They’ll be like, ‘You had it all, man. You had all the money; you had all the girls; you were always happy; you always wanted to party. What happened to you?’”

Marquez fantasizes about those days too sometimes. He was a mid-level cocaine dealer who sold several ounces of cocaine a day—approximately $2,000 worth—to three dealers working under him.

“I look back at it, man. Yeah, I was never worried about any money; I was never worried about having to go and buy something or even think twice about buying a car or buying anything.”

Marquez is a big guy and, as laid-back as he seems now, it’s not hard to picture him in his previous incarnation as an intimidating cocaine dealer. Back then, he says, he would kick down people’s doors and steal their TVs if they owed him as little as $40. As time went on and more and more of Marquez’ product went up his nose, he became more reckless.

 “I was feared of other people’s lives from me, ’cause I was just a walking time bomb,” he says. “I was not in my right state of mind. I didn’t care who I hurt, when I hurt him, how I hurt him.”

After Marquez repeatedly bonded out after being busted and went back to selling, an acquaintance set him up to get busted by the Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force, the inter-agency group that targets large-scale dealers. He faced nine years in prison, but got a second chance in Drug Court.

Now clean for four years, he’s hardly living la vida loca. Business is slow at the family construction and excavation company he works for, and it pains him to part with even the money it costs to buy a pack of cigarettes. But that doesn’t mean he’s tempted to go back.

“I notice now that you cherish your money that you make honestly,” he says. “You want to make it last; you don’t want to spend it on anything and everything.”

He also cherishes his wife and his daughters, age 14 and 15. Like the money he came by dishonestly, the friendships Marquez had before didn’t turn out to be so valuable.

 “Nobody was there for me when I was locked up,” he says. “Nobody went to go see me. When I was out here pushing the drugs I was always everybody’s best friend. But when I got caught, not no person went to see me but my family…So when I got out it was, ‘Hey, what’s up? Are you back again?’ And I’m like, ‘No, why should I be there for you when you were never there for me?’”
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