JEFFERSONVILLE — On Thursday afternoon, Clark County resident Mike Zalat and those closest to him gathered to celebrate the major transformation he’s undergone over the past year and a half, a man changed for the better.
Zalat is now the third person to graduate from the Clark County Addiction Treatment and Support Program, a specialized court program aimed at helping people with addiction or mental health issues break the cycle of incarceration. It was started in 2018 by Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 Judge Andrew Adams, who said he felt there wasn’t enough being done to help those who found themselves again and again getting charges due to their addiction. Josh Seybold is the program coordinator.
“I’m just so grateful for my life today and my future to come,” Zalat said during the ceremony at the courthouse.
But two years ago, he was a different person, one who couldn’t see his way to the other side of the addiction issues he has struggled with for a large part of his life. Zalat started using substances at a young age, which had worsened by the time he reached his 20s.
“Drugs took me down a path I never thought I would be on,” he said, as loved ones listened from the audience, and others — including program participants — watched through a Zoom call. “I did a lot of things that I have a lot of guilt and shame for.”
He knew he wanted something different, but was initially resistant to the help available to him through the Clark County courts system. He is a spiritual man, and asked God, “Is this what you want me to do?” He said he knew the answer when he was placed in two programs — the Mental Health Addiction Supervision and Treatment Program, for people incarcerated, followed by the addiction and treatment support program.
“In 2018, Mike decided to bring that cycle to a halt,” Seybold said.
Now, Zalat is sober, he’s working on himself, he’s rebuilt relationships with loved ones, he’s gotten married to the woman who stuck by him throughout the dark parts and they’ve just had their first child — a baby girl named Paisley.
“That’s my motivation,” he said. “I just want to be the husband that God wants me to be and the dad that God wants me to be.”
Stephanie Zalat said when she met her now-husband in 2013, “I just knew that he was going to change my life somehow,” she said after the ceremony. “At first it was for the worst.”
She said in 2017, they were having a really rough go of things; being the family they are today with Zalat healthy wasn’t something she could have pictured, although she didn’t give up.
“I was just madly in love with him and I just knew there had to be light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
The ceremony was emotional at times, with Zalat and his loved ones speaking of their gratitude for where things are today.
“It’s been a long 20 years,” his mother, Jane Eiler, told her son. “I have never lost hope although I never thought I would see this come to pass.
“I am so grateful.”
She also told others in the room that “who you see here is the son I knew so long ago...who he was before the devil took him and the drugs started,” she said.
“Son, I am so proud of you.”
The multi-phase program now has 19 participants, and Adams said he expects numbers to reach 25 by the end of October. Zalat is the third person to complete the program, and he said others are nearing their ceremonies, too.
“That’s what the purpose of this program is, to stop that revolving door,” Adams said. “It’s great to see the recovery. These are the programs we look forward to.”
The judge said he’s proud to see the hard work Zalat has put in to regaining his life, breaking that cycle.
“It’s been my pleasure and the program’s pleasure to see the success and the transformation, to see someone who people gave up on and [who] gave up on himself to be such a bright star an example and a resource now,” Adams said.
Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Maria Joshi said Zalat’s growth is an inspiration to others who may be looking for help to stop that cycle, and shows prosecutors like her that the programs do work.
“Your success has such big implications for everyone,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.”
Zalat may still be appreciating his newfound life, and not yet aware if he inspires others. “But that’s my hope, that’s my hope,” he said. “Other people have been inspirations for me [and] I hope I’m the same light for others.”