Even in her judicial robes, Judge Dee Anna Farnell has that marathoner look. She projects a lean physicality and speed, thinks and talks fast, is quick to get in close. She takes pride in staying one step ahead of a phony story.
Farnell has run 30 marathons. She runs her 14th Boston in April. She posts T-shirt race numbers on her courtroom wall. The numbers aren't hers. They belong to men and women recovering from addictions to everything chemical — pot, crack, prescription pills — who pile out of a Goodwill van at 6 a.m. three times a week to run laps in the dark.
Farnell's Pinellas County Drug Court is an alternative to criminal court, an offer of treatment instead of prison to nonviolent offenders. It's a velvet fist approach. The failures go back to criminal court. But since 2008, it's also a locker room of sorts for a running team.
Back then, Farnell heard about a running group made up of offenders she had referred to the St. Petersburg Goodwill for treatment. They ran with their counselors on the old Friendship Trail Bridge on Gandy Boulevard.
The judge encouraged other defendants to join the runners. In 2009, she offered a legal enticement. She promised runners a break on court costs and early completion of probation. The Goodwill group began running under an acronym: CLEAN — Citizens Learning to End Addiction Now.
They don't call themselves that. They say it plain, no pretenses. They're Farnell's drug court running team. They're running from rock bottom, from jail sentences, from their thousand failures and their thousand broken promises.
Running for their lives.
It was the eve of Christmas Eve in drug court. Dustin Zimmerman and Joshua Ward waited for Farnell to tell them where they'd spend Christmas. It could be the St. Petersburg Goodwill, where Farnell recently sent them for treatment. But more likely it would be jail, because both guys tested positive for drugs after promising the judge they'd stay clean.
First, they had to hear a Christmas carol. Defendants under treatment at Goodwill came to court wearing Santa hats and reindeer antlers. Many of them were runners. They wanted to serenade Farnell with their tune, The Twelve Days of Treatment.
"Five months of planning!"
"Six months of rehab!"
"Seven second chances!"
The judge cheered. "Merry Christmas!" she said, "but don't be too merry!"
The errant newcomers Zimmerman and Ward came up next. Perhaps the singing had softened her. But the judge met them at the "F" door, the door that leads to the holding cages, looking ready to pounce. Typically, she refuses to sit on the bench. She prefers to stalk the floor, to confront defendants inches from their faces.
"Mr. Zimmerman, Mr. Ward, why are you back here?"
They each mumbled they'd tested positive.
She looked angry.
"You looked me right in the face last time. You told me you'd stay clean."
Farnell began to pace.
"The foundation of this program is based on what?"
They didn't answer.
"Does someone else want to answer that?"
She looked straight at Daniel Doukas in the front row. Doukas has been a regular presence in drug court since 2006. His record is filled with personal tragedy and relapses. He's doing much better now.
Doukas once lied to her like Ward and Zimmerman did. Farnell asked him to tell them what she did about it.
"She put me in a holding cell," he said. "She kept me there until I told the truth. Honesty is real important in this courtroom. She actually cares. She's giving you a chance to stay out of prison. If you lie to her, she sees it as a slap in her face."
Ward and Zimmerman hung their heads. Farnell pointed them to the "F" door.
"Normally, you go in there and you don't come out," she said. "I'm going to think about this. I'll bring you back in a while."
• • •
The Goodwill runners get a van ride to Crescent Lake about three mornings a week. They run three laps around the lake under the street lights, spread out, huffing past dog walkers. They're done and gone by 7 a.m.
They talk about how running gives them time to think, to clear their heads. Angela Richardson, 33, was at that rock-bottom stage when Farnell persuaded her to try. She agreed because Farnell had given her "chance after chance." She found running around the lake gave her peace. "Running and recovery involve mind, body and spirit," she said. She has numbers from three races to post on Farnell's wall. She ran the Times Turkey Trot 5K in 24:10, her best time.
Tony Harris, 38, said he used to focus on his withdrawal pain when he ran. The first month, he couldn't complete a lap.
As he detoxed and his body adapted to running, other senses awakened.
"I could hear the birds in the trees. I saw the sun rise. I'd never seen the sun so big and so low. It just blew my mind."
He began to preach running to other recovering addicts. He latched on to Josh Scheaffer, 23, who brought up the rear on the morning runs. "I got all over him," he said. "I beat him down."
Scheaffer dug in. He broke into the lead in practices. He ran the November Times Turkey Trot in 21:55. He has three race numbers on Farnell's court wall.
Stephen D'Andrea, 24, ran the Turkey Trot in Clearwater beside Farnell. They loped along after the race. Farnell stopped to say hello to a cop. D'Andrea lowered his head and kept running. That was his arresting officer.
Farnell called after him, "The cops are your friends now."
D'Andrea had a heroin addiction. A student in culinary school, he weighed 130 pounds when arrested, then ballooned to 190 pounds on jail food. When he got to Farnell's court, he faced three to five years.
He told her, "I just want to do my time."
The judge agreed to send him over. But not right away.
"Go back to jail and think about it."
He stewed in jail. When he came back to Farnell, he asked for the residential treatment at Goodwill.
By then it was summer. The team was running in the afternoons at Weedon Island. It often got up to 100. D'Andrea could barely run. He began to see everything tied together. His addiction, his inability to run, weren't just physical problems.
So he chose to try. He came back to court after the Times Turkey Trot. Farnell announced he was enrolling at the University of South Florida to study chemical engineering.
• • •
On the eve of Christmas Eve, Farnell let her two promise-breakers, Dustin Zimmerman and Joshua Ward, worry in a cell for about two hours. Then she called them back out through the "F" door.
At the same time, she called forward one of the Twelve Days of Treatment carolers, Stefan Gollner. He shared a room at Goodwill with both men. He told Farnell that he knew they'd screwed up, but Zimmerman had helped out at AA meetings and looked willing to try. He said Ward suffered the same pill addiction he had. "He needs treatment."
Farnell turned to the two.
"What do you want to tell me?" she asked.
"I was scared," Zimmerman said.
"If I were to send you through that door, you'd stay."
She hesitated. Part of her wanted to jail them. But if she did, they'd lose their place in treatment, probably for months. That was a big punishment for one lie.
"Don't ever do this again," she said finally. "I don't care how well you're doing at Goodwill. Don't ever violate my trust."
They got a ride back to Goodwill with the runners.
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2258.