"M ost probation officers, and almost all judges, feel that if you commit the crime, you do the time,” Jacqueline told me right off. “When someone’s in jail for dealing, we certainly don’t want him back on the street selling more drugs, but jail is not the best solution. In jail, he’ll kill time until he’s released, then go straight back to selling. It’s all he knows.”

“The recidivism rate is very high,” Norman added.

“We’re here,” Jacqueline said, “to bring back information to the judges, proof that Retorno’s model works, that rehab can actually break the cycle.”

“Do Israeli judges favor rehab over incarceration?” Norman asked.

I had no idea, but I was saved from revealing my ignorance by the appearance of a group of about 30 men and women, led by Rabbi Eckstein and Meir, a counselor in the men’s division. I surmised this was a special group. We run all kinds of awareness and empowerment programs, but they take place in our visitors' center, off at one end of the campus; to protect clients’ privacy, visitors don’t usually walk through the grounds.

I introduced Rabbi Eckstein to my two guests. He smiled and pointed to the group he was with. “This is a group of Israeli judges. They want to hear more about rehab as an alternative to jail time for people caught selling drugs.”

We all just looked at one another.

“That’s exactly why we’re here!” Norman said. “Most people we know in the system would rather lock offenders up, get them out of harm’s way. But we know rehab can work, if it could just be offered as an option.”

Rabbi Eckstein called Meir over to us and said, “Can you briefly repeat what you just told the judges?”

Meir said, “I’ve been in jail many times, in Israel and abroad, altogether over 16 years of my life behind bars. I finished my last stint just over three years ago. My lawyer suggested to the judge that I be sent to rehab this time instead of being sent back to jail, but the probation officer strongly recommended against it. He said I was a lost cause, a professional criminal, and rehab was just a way out of serving time.

“I begged the judge not to listen. I told him my mother was dying, that I‘d promised her this time would be different. The probation officer was adamant, insisting this time would be no different than any other, and I’d go straight back to drug dealing. For some reason, the judge went against the probation officer’s recommendation, deciding to send me to Retorno instead.

“I came here, and I did exactly what I was told. I made a real change. And while here in treatment, I sat shivah for my mother.

“Today, I’m a counselor here. I help other addicts make a fresh start in life.”

Meir looked over at the group he’d been with, then continued. “When I finished speaking to the judges, I walked over to one particular judge and told him, ‘You’re the one who gave me a chance. You let me come to Retorno instead of jail. It’s because of you that I’m here today.’ And I hugged him.”

As Meir shook Norman’s hand he said, “Rehab works. You must convince others.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 553)