By Chris Collins
Andy Micka believes that his September 2010 arrest for assaulting his girlfriend saved his life and their relationship and put him on the road to positive change.
Looking back, he says his problems really began on July 26, 2008. That's the day Micka, of Baker City, was hit by a tree in an accident that left him with a broken back and a broken neck.
Because of the pain of his injuries, he began self-medicating daily with drugs and alcohol and was no longer able to pursue his career as a construction worker.
"That really shook up my whole life," the 37-year-old Micka said. "It was really the beginning of the end."
But that's all changed.
Micka will soon graduate from the Domestic Violence Intervention Program offered by the Northeast Oregon Compassion Center where he's been enrolled for 17 months. And on Feb. 5 he will have been clean and sober for 19 months.
He's got a new job working as a facilitator at Baker House where he draws on his own experience to help others battle their addictions. And he's also called on occasionally to help newcomers get started in the Compassion Center's program.
"My life today is so much better than I ever would have expected," Micka says. "I have a great relationship with Verlyn and there are people in my life I can trust and depend on."
Without the change he's experienced, Micka has no doubt what his life would be like today.
"I'd be constantly caught in a revolving door of jails and using and hurting people who love me," he says. "I'm a member of a 12-step program as well. All of these things fell into place to help me to save my life."
Verlyn Richmond, 47, with whom he's been in a relationship with for three years, was the victim of the domestic violence assault that started Micka's transformation.
Richmond, who also has struggled with alcohol and depression, attended classes for victims offered through the program and at MayDay, and volunteers helping to promote the services offered by the Compassion Center.
The couple credit the faith aspect of the program with helping them get their lives back on track.
"I truly believe I couldn't have gotten where I am today without a relationship with God," Micka says.
In addition to Cliff Cole, who works full time directing the Northeast Oregon Compassion Center, and his volunteer facilitators, Micka credits his probation officer, Patty Blum, for his success.
"I owe a lot to my probation officer," he said. "She believed in me and held me accountable for my actions. She didn't let me get away with anything."
That relationship between the Baker County Parole and Probation Department and the Compassion Center will be highlighted during the center's annual fundraising banquet at the Nazarene Church Saturday night.
Cole hopes community members attend to learn more about the work of the two programs.
Micka and Richmond will share their stories and Lt. Will Benson, who manages the county's Parole and Probation Department, will be the guest speaker.
Benson and his staff, which includes Blum and officers Kyle Hacker and Becky Monahan, have worked with Cole and his staff and the court system to develop evidence-based programs to serve the needs of offenders.
"We needed more avenues for offenders in treatment," Benson says. "We were missing some of our folks. They weren't getting what they needed or it wasn't sinking in."
Those on probation have a choice between programs offered through Blue Mountain Addictions and the Compassion Center.
Providing that choice yields better results because the offenders have a buy-in to a program they've chosen for themselves, Benson said.
"We're seeing the change," he adds. "If we weren't, we wouldn't refer them."
Benson said in the past his department paid for offenders to obtain "cognitive restructuring" classes through Blue Mountain Addictions. But because of state funding cuts, that money is no longer available. His department also has lost two probation officers and a secretary.
The Compassion Center's work is done mostly by volunteers and it operates on community donations and grants.
"Every dollar we don't spend by sending someone to the Compassion Center is money that can be spent elsewhere," Benson says.
Without the Compassion Center, he's certain he would be down another probation officer and he and his staff would be forced to be reactive rather than proactive to problems offenders create in the community.
"We wouldn't have the ability to put out fires," he said. "We would be writing warrants and making arrests."
Of the 120 offenders on supervision in Baker County, half are considered to be at high or medium risk to re-offend, Benson said. 62 percent of those are in some kind of treatment, compared to the statewide average of 27 percent of high- to medium-risk offenders in treatment.
He attributes Baker County's higher rate to services offered by the Compassion Center.
"They impact our statistics and lives and this community in a very positive manner," Benson said. "We hope to continue this relationship for a very long time."
(Offenders pay a one-time fee of $350 for materials and books and are required to give 80 hours of community service back to the community, Cole said.)
Benson says the key to success for offenders is treatment combined with accountability, and the Compassion Center's programs offer both.
"It does make the community a safer place," he said.
Of the 28 offenders who've successfully completed the program over the years, just one has re-offended, Cole said. He has had to terminate some who refuse to comply with program requirements. And most people take longer than 52 weeks to graduate. If they stumble along the way, they have to start over from the beginning, Cole said.
That's why it's taken Micka 17 months.
"It's been a lot of hard work to try and stay in this relationship, but it's been worth it," Micka says.
He and Richmond urge others facing similar issues to reach out to their church, MayDay or other community resources.
"Have faith in God," Richmond advised.
"I'd say call the police," Micka added. "I'd tell any person in a domestic violence-type situation not to hide from it. Seek help."
Compassion Center Banquet
Celebrate Compassion: Coming Together for Change is the theme of this year's banquet, which is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Nazarene Church's Family Life Center at 1250 Hughes Lane.
The public is invited to the free tri-tip dinner prepared by Eugene Hawes.
The banquet is the Compassion Center's biggest fundraising event of the year. Tables have been sponsored for $250 each and other donations will be accepted.