Thursday, May 03, 2007

Arjun Nicastro

I only met Arjun Nicastro once, but it was enough to realize that he was a pretty incredible person. He was speaking, in his role as substance abuse counselor, at the Freedom House Recovery Center in June 2005. The occasion was "Unity Day," a day of celebration and reunion for people who had been through the drug treatment court under Judge Joe Buckner's leadership. From a story published at that time,

Judge Joe Buckner, who oversees the program, said it's important that people understand that DTC is not "a coddling court," and that people are held accountable.

"There are two goals here," Buckner said. "One is to help the person have as good a life as possible. Second, I expect law abiding behavior, responsible parenting. It's about getting what we as a community deserve."

Arjun Nicastro, the outpatient services coordinator for Freedom House in Chapel Hill, said that participants in the program always "egg each other on" to completion. Having a team of individuals to be accountable to helps retain people in the program, he said.

"Those supports and reinforcements are very important in changing behavior," he said. "People have deeply ingrained patterns that need to be changed."

Nicastro said by the time a person reaches the stage where the program is being offered, they usually have created a "tornado" of destruction through their lives and the lives of those around them. The DTC network, which includes probation officers, Interim District Attorney Jim Woodall, Buckner and various treatment specialists, can help people to rebuild relationships while keeping them off drugs and helping them become productive members of society, he said.

A week ago, Nicastro died of leukemia. He was 48. From the N&O, we learn how well he understood about tornados of destruction. First incarcerated in 1975 at 17, in Alabama, seven years later he received a life sentence for manslaughter. In prison, he read We're All Doing Time, by Bo Lozoff, who with his wife Sita work miracles out in western Orange County with their Human Kindness Foundation. Eventually--Nicastro was 40 by this point--they got him out and brought him up here, where he truly found a new life. The State of Alabama pardoned him on the day he died.

UPDATE: More from Orange Chat, including how to contribute to a memorial fund for five-year-old Dylan Nicastro.

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