June 18th, 2024

Drug treatment court graduate hopes to help others get clean

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on November 4, 2022.

Submitted photo Judge Sylvia Oishi stands with Armande Good Rider during his graduation from Drug Treatment Court.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

Armande Good Rider was only 11 years old when he first began drinking alcohol and using crack cocaine.

By the time he was 12, he was addicted, and when his suppliers ended up in prison, he turned to selling drugs to support his habit.

From there he worked his way up the drug chain and began using heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil, and his goals in life centred around his addictions.

“I wanted to be that person that tried every drug,” he says. “I wanted to explore everywhere and try everything I could and go to prison. That was my goal as a kid, to go to prison and become that big, tough scary guy that no one wants to mess with. That was my only goal in life, violence and drugs.”

The consequences of his life choices were disastrous, however. He lost his house, family and real friends, and he lost his freedom multiple times when he was put in jail. He came close to going to prison for many years.

He was constantly in and out of jail and was always running from the police, all of which eventually took a toll on his health. He had a heart attack and suffered numerous drug overdoses.

“I almost died a couple times. I’m pretty sure I have permanent psychosis. Even though I’ve been sober for two and a half years I still see shit, and I still hear random voices, but I know it’s not reality, I know it’s not real so I’m able to control it.”

Good Rider admits he loved the lifestyle, but then it got messy and things changed, and he found himself hoping he would get “busted” and go to prison.

“I wanted to break from the drug-dealing life. I had too much, it was too stressful, a lot of friends around me were dying. It didn’t seem like the right life to live.”

But after years of selling drugs and drug use, he found getting out was far from easy. Then, on May 11, 2020, he was arrested for drug trafficking, possession of stolen property and possession of the proceeds of crime, and while he was in remand custody preparing for a lengthy prison term, he had time to re-assess the direction his life was taking, and decided to stop using drugs.

Good Rider was offered a plea deal from the Crown, but he wanted more time to consider all his options. After he was released on bail, his lawyer suggested they try to enroll him in drug treatment court, which was already operating in Calgary but was just starting in Lethbridge.

His first application was rejected, but his lawyer persisted, wrote a letter and arranged a meeting with drug treatment court team members. A month later Good Rider was accepted into the program.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was harder than drug dealing, harder than getting sober.” In fact, Good Rider believes it might have been easier to go to prison, but it would be years of his life wasted.

Good Rider admits there were times he hated it and felt like quitting. But he’s glad he didn’t.

“It is a hard program but it’s well worth it. I can walk around and be free from addiction, be free from jail, have my family all back. Everything I work hard for I can keep; no one can take it away now.”

All his hard work was recognized in Lethbridge drug treatment court this week when, after 22 months in the program, he officially graduated and proudly stated he had been sober for two and a half years.

“It’s a special day because Armande was the first participant of our program,” Judge Sylvia Oishi announced at the start of the ceremony.

Alisa Webber, a Crown prosecutor out of Calgary assigned to the drug treatment court, admitted she rejected Good Rider’s first application after she looked at the charges.

“I took kind of a look at the charges and I thought, ‘I don’t think this is a good fit, I don’t think we should take Armande,” Webber said.

Then she received the letter from Good Rider’s lawyer urging her to not just look at the charges but the changes Good Rider had made in his life and his desire to receive help, tackle some of his issues and avoid a prison term.

“So we took a second look…and frankly I’m so glad we did.”

Webber said Good Rider entered the program on Feb. 3, 2021 and before he was done he had attended countless recovery meetings, as well as a 42-day, intensive adult residential treatment program at Poundmaker’s Lodge near Edmonton, followed by a 90-day youth residential treatment program. When he returned to Lethbridge he continued an intensive treatment plan, which included participating in numerous counselling sessions, art therapy, Indigenous culture and employment training, a criminal and addictive thinking course and numerous additional programs and courses. He also had to comply with some 25 strict bail conditions and 75 random drug tests.

Oishi, along with family members and friends who attended the ceremony, also acknowledged Good Rider’s successful completion of the program, and said while many young men’s lives have been destroyed or ended because of drugs, Good Rider chose a different direction in his life.

“You chose to do the opposite, to save your own life, and to contribute to the lives of others,” Oishi said.

Good Rider, who will still be on probation for a year, plans to begin his own program to help people who live on the streets to access detox and treatment, and he wants to volunteer with the drug treatment court as a mentor, with a goal to turn it into a career.

It’s a far cry from his former life of consuming and selling drugs, and one in which he was ultimately heading in only one direction.

“I always thought I would be dead.”

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congrats! wishing you and all others that accept opportunities such as this the very best. when options such as this are made available everyone benefits.