From Prisoner To Counselor

Chris Robertson, 19, Once Did Drugs

Chris Robertson is a counselor at Mid Atlantic Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation center in Yorktown, Virginia.

His job is to counsel and watch 23 teenage boys, all felony drug users. It is a lot of responsibility.

But in many ways Robertson, 19, is the best man for the job. He knows the center very well; he was incarcerated there many times as a teenage drug user. Richard Schlesinger has been following Robertson's story for four years.

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In 1996, Robertson was spending almost as much time in court as he was in class. He was facing charges of felony drug possession and car theft. He'd been turned in by his mother, Susan Smith, who hoped to straighten her son out.

Back then, Robertson was very angry at his mother. On camera, he told Schlesinger that he had tried heroin, cocaine, crack, marijuana and acid. He says now that most of that was a lie, told to upset his mother.

"I said all that to piss off my mom," Robertson says. "I knew when she saw that on TV it would freak her out. It did make her start crying and that is what I wanted."

At the time, Robertson was angry because he thought his mother had betrayed him by turning him in. "Now I think it was one of the best things she ever did for me, before it could get worse," he says.

Four years ago, Robertson's mother wasn't sure what to do. She says she prayed a lot, and worried. "I don't think I will ever give up on him," she said then. "I will always be on his side but that doesn't mean I can take the easy way."

Over that period, Robertson was in and out of jail nine times. Eventually, he wound up in boot camp, surrounded by hardened criminals.

One night in boot camp, Chris says, he decided enough was enough. A judge sent him to the Mid Atlantic Teen Challenge for one last chance at rehabilitation.

"I decided it doesn't matter what I want," he says. "I have got to do what is really right. My whole world had just been thrown around and I didn't know where the future was going to be."

He ran away a few times, but eventually settled down. It took 19 months, but he's off drugs, away from his old friends, and making up for lost time. By going to high school at threhab center, he graduated a year ahead of the Class of 2000, with a 4.0 GPA.

He is now a freshman at Old Dominion University, a chemistry major on an academic scholarship.

"There were some pretty bleak times," says Smith. "But I don't think we ever gave up. That was our pledge to each other."

This June, he's getting married to his fiancee, Andrea, and going to work at Starbuck's.

His mother is now happy with the way her son turned out.

Says Robertson: "If I never hit rock bottom, I don't think I would have bounced back."

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