Saturday, December 8, 2007

Empty chair a reminder of addiction's toll

David Chalmers' parents, officials and Albany Drug Court graduates share bittersweet ceremony

ALBANY -- Graduates of Albany Drug Court remembered a "ray of sunshine," David Julian Chalmers.

He was 24 when he took his own life on Nov. 26, less than two weeks before graduation. His parents accepted their son's diploma posthumously at Friday's ceremony.

"David Chalmers has given all of us a life lesson here," said Albany County Judge Stephen Herrick, who asked for a moment of silence in his memory.

Chalmers, of Loudonville, was an honors student who attended prep schools and colleges while cultivating a wide circle of friends. But he began abusing alcohol and drugs when he was 12 and later was diagnosed with psychological problems. He relapsed during previous attempts at sobriety before completing residential rehab and other requirements of drug court.

"Every one of you has to deal with your demons every day," Herrick said. "Do not become overwhelmed, and please remember, we're here to help you."

Dr. Paul Chalmers thanked Herrick and his drug court staff for treating his son and the others "with respect and dignity and love," and he congratulated the 22 graduates who accepted a diploma from the judge.

"You've all earned this day," he said, with his wife, Susan, and daughter, Anne, at his side. "We pray you continue to make the right decisions."

In an overflowing courtroom, the hourlong program was marked by laughter and tears and the occasional wail of a cranky toddler. Even the judge frequently dabbed a handkerchief at misty eyes.

One by one, 22 graduates shared grim tales of addiction and the toll it had exacted on families. Each expressed elation, albeit tentatively, over their momentary success.

Herrick noted that only 11 had reached graduation without an infraction, and that relapse and recidivism are not uncommon.

It was Herrick's largest class of graduates and its most diverse. They were black, white and Hispanic, women and men, ranging in age from 21 to 55, with addictions that included alcohol, crack, heroin and prescription drugs.

Among the group, 20 are employed, one is retired and one is a full-time college student.

There was one substance-free infant born to a graduate.

Herrick gave the best-dressed prize to Bruce Maddox, who wore a tuxedo. "Drug court is a miracle worker," Maddox said.

Linda Brace had the standing-room-only audience reaching for tissues when she described relapses, and losses of family members and property to addiction.

She expressed condolences to the Chalmers family and called David "a ray of sunshine."

Herrick urged the graduates to bask in their moment of hopefulness, but to beware of dark clouds ahead.

He urged them to establish "sober support networks" and to continue to work with an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor to resist the temptation to drink and use drugs again.

A block away, on North Pearl Street, the bars were beginning to fill with early happy hour patrons, lured by drink specials.

source: Albany Times Union

By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer. Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at

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