Ismael Rojas-Barcott

Ismael Rojas-Barcott describes a new lease on life he's gained via participation in Adult Recovery Court.

Weed, alcohol and meth were Ismael Rojas-Barcott’s drugs of choice, and he started using them — at around age 11 — in that order.

But he’d take “anything short of heroin” as the disease of addiction progressed, the 27-year-old Walla Walla native said.

With eight months of being clean and sober under his belt, Rojas-Barcott said attending Adult Recovery Court rather than serving jail time was worth it.

“It’s been the hardest thing but the best thing I’ve done,” he said.

Last year, after stealing a car — one of his many felony convictions — he said he was given a choice between jail time or attending the court, which focuses on therapy while the offender’s convictions “hang over their head,” he said. If he completes successfully, the charges essentially will be dropped.

And he has many.

By 15, he had been kicked out of Walla Walla High School and began at Lincoln High School. His drug use, he said, had increased after his stepmom died that year. He was close to her because his biological mother left when he was young. He wasn’t able to grieve properly, he said.

“In traditional Mexican families, and being the only male (sibling), I had no choice whether to show any emotions,” he said. “That (substance use) was the only way of dealing with it.”

He added he didn’t like being around his father because he never felt “good enough.” The older man had never used substances.

“He would always tell me he didn’t want to answer the phone because he feared I’d be dead or arrested,” Rojas-Barcott said.

With the increased drug and alcohol use, other crimes followed suit. He got caught stealing clothes from Macy’s three times because he said he wanted to “look cool” and sell some of the clothes.

“It spiraled out of control,” he said. “I started getting locked up in juvenile detention at around 16 or 17.”

He dropped out of Lincoln just shy of graduating, he said, by half of a credit. Then he moved to Salt Lake City, where a friend had relocated.

“I couldn’t bear being in this town anymore,” he said. But the next few years saw him bouncing back and forth between here and Utah.

In Salt Lake City, he was homeless for two months and a short time later had a falling out with his friend. The friend’s girlfriend’s father finally gave him a job at McDonald’s and let him live with him, Rojas-Barcott said. But after a few years, he realized how much he missed his family and returned to Walla Walla. A year later, though, he was back in Utah, where he lived with the same man and worked construction.

Two years later, he was back in Walla Walla, where he lived with an old buddy who was using substances.

“Things got back out of hand,” Rojas-Barcott said. “That’s when I got my felonies as an adult.”

The first, he said, was stolen vehicle possession in Oregon. Then, he was clapped with a couple of meth possession charges, and last year, he stole a car in Walla Walla.

“My ex was screaming at me, and I’d had enough of it,” he said of the most recent charge. “I just got in a car and took off.”

When he was sentenced last year, he knew what he needed to do.

He said he chose Adult Recovery Court rather than jail because he said jail was “the easy way out” and he wanted to push himself “in a more positive way.” If he had proceeded through the regular court process, he could have been sentenced to jail if found guilty.

“I was tired of hurting my family,” he said. “I knew I had potential, but I never knew how much until I started getting clean.”

But the process hasn’t been easy.

He was on the run for several months soon after getting into ARC, but eventually he was caught. He also said he relapsed last fall, but he hasn’t had any urges to use since then. In fact, he waited for a rehabilitation program opening in jail rather than be released last year, he said, because he was afraid of what he’d do. A bed opened at Pioneer Center East in Spokane, and Rojas-Barcott said he lived there for 30 days before being released back into ARC last fall.

If things keep going as they have for the past eight months, he said he’ll complete the program in four months, and his charges will be dismissed.

He’s been a shift captain at MOD Pizza since it opened several months ago, he said, and will get his associate degree in business administration from Walla Walla Community College in a year. He has also received his high school diploma.

He’s come too far to use again.

“At this point in recovery, when the thought occurs, I play out the tape and know what’s going to happen if I do use,” he said. “I have no desire to use.”

Emily Thornton can be reached at or 509-526-8325.

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