54, has spent half of his adult life in prison. He is an alcoholic and a drug addict.
Twenty months ago, somebody took a chance on him. Now, he graduates Thursday from Adams County Drug Court.
“I bet there’s a lot of people that lost money on that one ever happening,” McElroy says with a wry smile on his whiskered face.
McElroy has been sober for 20 months. He’s heavily involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and has become a mentor and leader for others struggling with addiction.
Hard to believe, sometimes.
“I thought I could stop anytime,” he says. “But I didn’t see that I had a problem.”
He’s the son of a former Adams County Sheriff’s deputy, Vic McElroy. His uncle, Paul Warner, was also a cop. He’s been in trouble since he was little, and he says it started because he was a cop’s son.
“I went out of my way to prove I wasn’t a cop’s kid. I did a lot of stupid things,” McElroy says.
His first adult felony came at age 19 for burglary. He continued to get in trouble for property crimes and thefts.
He drank and smoked weed. He first smoked meth in his teens. For him, it was about hallucinations. He says he once went 34 days without sleeping on a meth binge.
“I was seeing houses melt and trees walking,” he says. “I saw things that Stephen King would love to record.”
He was sentenced in 2002 for drugs and driving with a revoked license to eight years in prison. In March 2009, it was the same thing — he got caught driving without a license, and he got caught delivering psuedophedrine pills to a confidential source.
Staring down the barrel at a 10-year prison sentence and sitting in the Adams County Jail, McElroy decided to ask his attorney, Todd Nelson, for a Drug Court referral. Drug Court is basically a more intense form of probation, with constant monitoring and group sessions. It keeps people out of prison (average annual cost of a year in the Illinois Department of Corrections is $25,000), and penalties are harsh for failing to follow strict rules.
“You have to want it,” McElroy says. “If you don’t say you want to change, and you don’t show them you want to change, you won’t get in.”
Drug Court Probation Officer John Grotts saw something in McElroy.
“I saw guy at end of his rope. He was going to languish and die in prison if we didn’t help him,” Grotts says. “I thought he had the capability of grasping a program of recovery. I didn’t know if he would follow through, but happily, he has.”
McElroy also discovered he could be a leader and mentor. He’s become a meeting chairman for Alcoholics Anonymous and group service representative for Narcotics Anonymous. An electrician by trade with several college degrees to his credit, McElroy intends to look for a full-time job after he graduates. He’s thinking about getting into the substance abuse counseling field — “I think it’s my calling,” he says.
Without Drug Court? He’d be in prison, with no hope, no future. He’d get out, and go back again.
“I’d be dead for trying, or caring,” he says.
Instead, he’s an example of somebody taking advantage, for all the right reasons.
“There’s no magic potion they dump over your head,” he says. “It’s a means to an end to start over, but only if you truly want it.”