When law enforcement agents confronted Michael White* about the pharmaceutical drugs he’d stolen from work, White was terrified that he’d end up in prison. Instead, he became a part of the Bernalillo County District Attorney Office’s Pre-Prosecution Diversion (PPD) Program that would help him overcome his drug addiction and give him a new sense of self-pride.
“I owe [the program] my life,” White said. “It was like a guardian angel.”
The PPD program is preadjudicated, meaning people can enter the program before they are arrested. It is an option for offenders with little or no criminal history and the current charge cannot be a violent crime. In most cases, Defendants must sign an admission statement and if they get terminated from the program, the District Attorney’s Office will proceed with prosecution. While in the program, Defendants check-in daily with their PPD officers, updating them on things like counseling sessions, job applications and drug intervention programs.
“[The program] made [my actions] real, but also it made me have to be accountable,” White said. “It helped me not to give up on myself.”
White was referred to the PPD program after he was charged with fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance in 2014 while he was battling an amphetamine addiction. He said he would’ve continued to destroy his life if the program’s officers had not intervened and helped him recover.
“They always encourage me to better myself and I wasn’t going to fail them or myself,” White said.
When White describes the immense support system he felt during the 24 months he was a part of the PPD program, he’s referring to the unit of 3, Michelle Padilla, Helen Saiz and Nicole Morales, who oversee all PPD cases.
“When people get out of PPD, they’re going to be productive members of this community,” Pre-Prosecution Director, Michelle Padilla said.
Padilla said she and her team are committed to helping everyone involved in the program and providing them with the resources to get better. Those resources include therapy, getting a GED or treatment plans to help people overcome their drug addictions.
“This is a public health crisis,” Padilla said. “I don’t want people to fail out of the program and get prosecuted because they have a substance abuse issue.”
Padilla said when she met White, she knew he was dedicated to getting clean. We were persistent because we wanted to get him out of the program successfully. We wanted to get him clean, she said.
“I don’t know anyone that wants to be an addict or that likes to be an addict,” Padilla said. “He tried really hard.”
Padilla said she loves helping people through the program and providing people with support to overcome whatever issue they’re facing.
“If they’ve made a mistake and they’re remorseful, people should be given second chances. That’s what this program is designed for,” Padilla said.
A second chance White has not taken for granted. Since successfully completing the program, he has become an ICU nurse and father to a two-year old girl. He said he encourages his patients not to use their difficult circumstances as an excuse to continue down destructive paths.
“The program removed the stigma that everyone is a criminal. Some people are just in a bad spot,” White said.
*Name changed to protect identity of subject.