In my 38 years on this beautiful island of Saipan I have witnessed, critiqued, and been a part of a lifetime of events and situations. I am probably better known for finding fault and offering what I consider constructive criticism than commending and paying respect.
That said, I have watched and been a part of something that shows that very good, responsible, and well-intentioned minds can make a difference when effort, timing, cooperation, intelligence, honesty, willingness, and open-mindedness are put to work addressing issues in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.
Throughout my business and personal family life here on Saipan, there has always been an issue everyone knew existed, but either did not know how to address, or were afraid to confront those involved in the mess of it all. I am talking about drugs and substance abuse. Those who know me beyond my working life in the factories, working for four different governors and my business career, know that I have a history.
My history ended up with me taking a position with former governor Froilan C. Tenorio, where I built the CNMI Drug and Alcohol Workplace Policy in 1995. I fell short of my goal to totally address all aspects of this insidiousness, when I returned to try to clean up the mess in the factories in 1997. A majority of the owners would not follow my recommendations until their buyers insisted they would pull out if they did not. Coincidentally, the principles I recommended to be used cleaning up the factories are the same principles utilized in addressing drug and substance abuse.
Knowing that there was a proven method in addressing the life and family shattering that come with drug and alcohol abuse, I chose to educate by building a policy that would first clean our own house (government, and its employees), then get into the schools to educate and provide for access to treatment and support group settings for those willing to take on individual responsibility and accountability.
As if that were not enough, something needed to be done about interdiction and laws that were too rigid and criminally hard on those that suffered from the disease of substance abuse from drugs readily available since I arrived in 1980, and still readily available today.
An old friend, Judge David Wiseman, approached me about a drug court in the CNMI a few years ago. We discussed his plan, and whether it could work on Saipan. After congratulating the judge on his decision to pursue it, while mentioning the change in practice in the mainland where municipalities, counties and state courts had accepted the Minnesota Multi-Disciplinary Model as a long-term solution for not just abstinence, but crime with its roots in substance abuse, I stated that it could work if, and only if, there were support groups adopting the same 12-step model for life after drug court. Judge Wiseman asked if these groups existed on Saipan. I said yes, that they had existed to a limited extent since the early 1980’s.
Kudos should go to Judge Wiseman for his wisdom, faith, and foresight, and all those involved in today’s drug court system. I have witnessed the drug court system in action, and I believe Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio is absolutely the perfect choice within that system. She is tough where families could not perform, while compassionate by way of understanding the culture, and its limitations and virtues. I congratulate her.
Little did I know that the very system they helped establish would cause a snowballing effect, where support groups necessary to long-term sobriety have sprung up all over Saipan. Literally, there is a growth of recovery groups, an increasing acceptance within the community that drug and alcohol problems can be addressed, and that all those crimes committed as a result of addiction within our very community, can be addressed through an effort to treat, not jail, the offenders.
Miraculous, as well, and perhaps more so, is the treatment center created by the Office of the Governor. It provides a professionalism between the drug court and the recovery groups necessary to any chance at sustainable long-term abstinence and the endless crime associated with drug abuse. The treatment center, and the known community service centers meeting with those in recovery, are all the better because the drug court has found a way to get addicts into a model that works. I congratulate Gov. Torres for providing the vital link that reclaims lives within the community for the community.
My hat is off to Judge Wiseman, Judge Kim-Tenorio, Gov. Torres, the clinicians, administrators and employees at the court and the treatment center, professionals like my friend Cris Sablan and others, those old-timers offering their help in the groups, and all those involved within this system that now exists on the island I have called home for 38 years.
They are all on the same page. Simply a miracle. I attest.
Richard A. Pierce is a former executive director of the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and Saipan Chamber of Commerce and owner of Safety 1st Systems.