Profiles in the Law
By Stacy Moe
must advocate for the addict … politically unpopular, socially misfit and economically
hammered. Alternatives to incarceration for the non-violent offender is my life's
work.' Bill Russell has found the place and program to carry out his life's
work and blend his abilities as an attorney and pastor as executive director
at Union Gospel Mission.
at age 9 by the character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
and by famed '50s TV attorney Perry Mason, Russell maintained a single-minded
goal to become an attorney. He received his B.A. degree in philosophy and political
science and received his J.D. in 1979.
had a spiritual epiphany after becoming a lawyer. At the time I was a litigator
for a firm. I had held myself out as a 'do anything to win' associate. So, the
advent of faith and morality in my life was shocking to those around me. The
result was my summary dismissal from the firm. Discrimination? Possibly, but
it was wise for the firm and me to part company. I had changed,' recalls
became a prosecuting attorney in Lewiston, Idaho. He served as lead juvenile
prosecutor, lead child protective litigator and served in mental commitment
cases. In one of his commitment cases, Russell experienced first-hand that looks
can be deceiving. A very intelligent and lucid man, claiming to be a specialty
insurance salesman, appeared to be very normal, and explained the incident that
landed him in court (specifically, imitating a bullfighter in busy street traffic),
was a result of an alcohol bender. The man's testimony was so good that Russell
let the man continue to testify. Then the case concluded as the man explained
he funded his company from precious metals and jewels from all over the universe
and that he was worth billions of dollars.
he went!' recalls Russell.
impression that Russell formed as a prosecutor was that criminals were coming
out of prison as more sophisticated and hardened criminals. At the time Russell
was seeking a vocation that would be consistent with his spiritual convictions.
He met Chuck Colson - notorious as Nixon's Watergate 'hatchet man.'
Colson had become a well known born again Christian. Russell went to work for
Colson's ministry, Prison Fellowship, establishing Prison Fellowship in the
western region. After seven years of constant travel with Prison Fellowship
and four daughters later, Russell was looking to settle down. Then he came to
Portland's Union Gospel Mission.
Gospel Mission is well known as a place that feeds and ministers to the homeless
and needy. Russell and the former director of the Mission, Don Michel, conceived
of a long term and intensive addiction recovery program focusing on hard-core
addicts and non-violent drug offenders. The program, established in 1995, is
helped found LifeChange in Portland, building on the ground-breaking San Francisco
Delancey Street program's approach of a peer driven, goal oriented and long
term approach with spiritual elements to integrate former inmates into society,'
in Portland's Old Town, LifeChange can house up to 32 residents. Residents commit
to a two to four year Christian-based, residential recovery program. The program
is not based on time spent in the program, but rather on specific benchmark
goals in recovery that residents meet. Residents must be serious about recovery
and making permanent lifestyle changes. Program residents gain an education
and marketable skills through work at the Mission's thrift store and with the
Mission's homeless services. The recovery approach is peer driven with each
resident helping each other in a recovery community. LifeChange residents give
back to their 'neighbors' in the Portland area. Each Monday, LifeChange
residents work on community projects, such as helping an elderly widow, or working
with service veterans to restore a vintage PT boat.
is a strong proponent of treatment as a method of coping with the drug problem,
stating: 'By all reasonable measurement America is losing the War on Drugs.
Federal spending on drug control has increased from $2 billion in 1982, to $19
billion this year. There is no corresponding decrease in illegal drug abuse.'
of the most unique features of LifeChange is the length of time residents must
commit to recovery, Russell explains. 'To bring about a permanent change
in someone's life is difficult work. It took us three years to learn to think
like lawyers. Why wouldn't it take equally as long for an addict to break an
ingrained pattern of addiction?'
Russell's legal training has helped him in his role as executive director at Union Gospel Mission and in the establishment of LifeChange. 'Law school taught me to think. It also taught me the principles of justice that compel me to keep making progress in the field of addiction recovery.'
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is communications director for Union Gospel Mission.