Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Judge Paul Biebel Accept TASC Leadership Awards; Highlight Necessity of Drug Treatment, Mental Health Treatment, and Recovery Services

(Chicago, IL) — TASC’s 2012 Leadership Awards Luncheon honored two individuals whose remarks enthralled the room of more than 300 guests at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago on December 12.

Cook County Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. and Christopher Kennedy Lawford accepted TASC’s 2012 leadership awards for their strong and persistent support of programs and policies that advance opportunities for health and recovery. This article is the first of three that will be posted this week, with coming posts featuring substantial portions of Judge Beibel’s and Chris Lawford’s informative and inspiring remarks.

TASC Board Chairman Jim Durkan opened TASC’s annual affair with appreciation for “individuals gathered from diverse backgrounds, occupations, and beliefs, coming together to celebrate the work of TASC and the wonderful reality of lasting and real recovery.”

Moving stories of recovery were shared in a video created for the event.  Raymond, a former TASC client who was incarcerated multiple times before finding recovery, said, “I have two sons that I had not seen during the horrors of my addiction. TASC helped me reunite with my sons.”

Another former client, Sara, spoke of the how an understanding of past trauma helped her on her path to recovery and a new life. “The things that I’ve done in my past don’t have to be the things that define me today,” she said.

Former client Victor added that going through TASC isn’t easy, but, “It’s not the end of the world. As a matter of fact, it’s the beginning of life.”

The successes of thousands of TASC clients across Illinois are made possible by the efforts of multiple individuals and entities in Illinois and nationally. TASC President Pamela Rodriguez thanked TASC’s many partners, from service providers to justice administrators to policymakers, along with the agency’s staff and board of directors. She offered express gratitude for TASC’s generous donors, including lead sponsors HAS (Healthcare Alternative Systems), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, and BMO Harris Bank.

Execs-Honorees-cropped

Left to right: TASC VP and CFO Roy Fesmire; TASC VP of Operations Carolyn Ross; Christopher Kennedy Lawford; Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr.; TASC President Pamela Rodriguez; TASC VP of Community and Government Affairs George Williams; TASC Executive VP and COO Peter Palanca

In presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award to Judge Biebel, Rodriguez explained that award recipients are men and women who fight for fairness, embrace new learning, create new partnerships, and lead change.

“I personally have known Judge Biebel for more than a decade,” she said, “and have seen first-hand the grace and care with which he administers the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the largest unified court system in the United States.

“He supported felony mental health courts before anyone else in the country… He commits himself to understanding neuroscience and the complex variables that contribute to addiction, mental illness, and criminal behavior, and he pursues science-based solutions that serve both public safety and public health. Most importantly, he demonstrates a genuine care for those who come through his courtrooms, and a commitment to fairness and rehabilitation as key elements of ensuring justice.”

Accepting TASC’s award, Judge Biebel offered statistics illustrating the magnitude of challenges that addiction, mental illness, and trauma place on the courts. For example, seven out of ten Cook County arrestees test positive for illicit drugs. In the Cook County Jail, among a population of around 9,000, there are more than 1,700 people on psychotropic medication. In response to these challenges, said Judge Biebel, “We in Cook County have created perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching problem-solving court system of any county in America. We’re very proud of that and we’re very grateful for our wonderful partners in that effort, and one of the most important being our friends at TASC.”

Following a standing ovation to honor Judge Biebel, TASC Executive Vice President and COO Peter Palanca introduced Christopher Kennedy Lawford as TASC’s 2012 Public Voice Leadership Award recipient. “For change to happen anywhere people must speak up,” Palanca said. “This is particularly true regarding issues that often carry stigma—such as substance abuse, mental illness, racial injustice, discrimination, and criminal justice involvement.”

As the son of actor Peter Lawford and nephew of John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford grew up in the public eye. With both a genetic predisposition to addiction and a childhood in which two of his beloved uncles were murdered, he eventually succumbed to his own addiction. But Lawford’s story doesn’t end there. He has been in recovery for more than 26 years, and now works in partnership with government, businesses, and social service organizations worldwide to expand access to addiction and mental health treatment and research, and to promote the positive power and reality of recovery.

“Drug dependence is destroying the very fabric of society, present and future,” Lawford said. “So why, given the tremendous need and availability of proven treatment protocols, do we continue to struggle with having treatment investments commensurate to their importance? We need to fundamentally see the issue of addiction through a different set of lenses. We need to see it devoid of stigma and discrimination. We need to see it as a health—and not just a criminal justice—issue.

“We need to reject the dichotomy of treatment versus enforcement, since we know that done right, the criminal justice and health systems can work together harmoniously. We’ve seen that here today with the work of Justice Biebel and TASC.”

Lawford shared his personal journey of trauma, addiction, and recovery. He emphasized the importance of reducing societal stigma and discrimination, which persist as barriers to effective diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.  Everyone in the room rose to applaud as Lawford accepted his award. The luncheon ended with TASC’s popular drawing for donated raffle prizes, and both Judge Biebel and Chris Lawford stayed long afterwards to speak with guests.

TASC offers sincere thanks to our gracious honorees, all our luncheon guests, our board of directors, staff, and our many donors for your very generous support of our work.  Please mark your calendars for our 2013 luncheon, which will take place in Chicago on December 11.

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