The audience at the King County Courthouse knew the man standing in front of them as Macklemore, the award-winning rapper whose songs like “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love” catapulted him into superstardom.
But the man who had casually walked in and sat down on the front bench in courtroom E-942 on Tuesday introduced himself in a different way.
“Hi, I’m Ben. And I’m an alcoholic.”
Long before he was Macklemore, Ben Haggerty was a Seattle teen with a drug and alcohol addiction that first landed him in King County Juvenile Drug Court at age 15. He spoke about his experiences at a celebration Tuesday marking the 20th anniversary of King County Drug Court, a program that provides eligible defendants the opportunity to receive drug treatment rather than incarceration.
Originally started by the late King County prosecutor Norm Maleng in 1994, the program has graduated 2,050 participants, and, according to Drug Court officials, saved taxpayers about $95 million. King County’s was the 12th drug court in the country when it started; now there are 2,840.
King County’s program has served as a national model, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez said, even though he thought it was “the craziest idea” when he originally heard it. Speakers on Tuesday talked about their respect for Maleng, who died in 2007.
When the program faced hurdles, Maleng would say “Well, we’ll just get around that,” Martinez said. After the program concluded, King County Superior Court Judge Gregory Canova said that overseeing Drug Court is the best job he has ever had.
“It’s the only spot in the criminal-justice system where people get their lives back,” Canova said.
King County Councilmember Larry Gossett said that, of his six relatives who have been in King County Jail for drug-related offenses, only one doesn’t have a criminal record. That’s because his relative completed Drug Court, he said.
“It forces you to ask why you are doing drugs,” Gossett said. “If you don’t complete it, you are going to J-A-I-L.”
About halfway through Tuesday’s program, Macklemore walked in and sat down on a front bench, leading to excited whispers and at least one squeal from the audience of Drug Court graduates and others involved with the program. Before he was introduced, he was just a part of the audience, clapping for other graduates and listening to the history of the program.
Standing behind a lectern, he spoke about being arrested at 15 and ending up in Drug Court for the first time. He said his struggle with alcohol and drug addiction is an ongoing process, one that will never go away. But if he’s sober, he said, he has a chance.
“Drug court gives people a way to get sober, to heal,” he said. “I don’t want to just get through the day. I want to live. That is what Drug Court is to me.”