Behavioral Health Court gave me a chance to start my life over again at age 29. Before I was accepted into the program - which connects mentally ill criminal defendants with treatment services and finds appropriate sentencing - I had been addicted to drugs and alcohol for nearly a dozen years and admitted to psych wards more than 20 times. I doubt my family or friends would have ever predicted that trajectory.
I grew up in Marin County and began playing the violin at ten years old. I loved it from the very start. I took private lessons and saved my babysitting money until I could buy a violin from Roland Feller, a master violin maker in San Francisco. I was the concertmaster of my high school orchestra and the Marin Youth Symphony, then joined the San Francisco Youth Symphony in my senior year. I received a music scholarship to attend UC Irvine, and things were going well until my junior year, when I began to show symptoms of psychosis (I hadn't been diagnosed yet). To cope, I was drinking ten shots of vodka three times a week and smoking marijuana daily. I was also working three jobs, and I stopped attending class.
I became paranoid and believed the FBI was following me, that Hollywood was searching for me and wanted me to be an actress. When I attempted suicide with a bottle of vitamins and a handful of aspirin, I was admitted to the local hospital under section 5150 - involuntarily confined because of a mental disorder, for the first time.
My mother flew down to Irvine and took me back to Mill Valley, where I began using cocaine. Eventually I was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (I've since been re-diagnosed as having schizoaffective disorder.)
After my release, I left home and lived in various sober houses and a homeless shelter. At age 25, I sold my beloved violin back to Feller for $1,400 and went on a manic shopping spree. I moved to San Francisco, still refused to take medication regularly, and got no treatment. I was even homeless for a year, often without shoes, and not eating very much. When I was 29 and off my medication, I injured an elderly man when I pushed him off a bus. I was arrested for this violent crime and faced a sentence of three to five years in jail. It was my first arrest.
In the psych unit of the San Francisco jail my public defender, Jennifer Johnson, told me about Behavioral Health Court. She explained how the program could reduce my sentence and give me another chance. Once out of jail, participants are on probation and go to court on a monthly basis. I applied to the program, was accepted, and soon began going to court. I was often on the honor roll, and I stayed sober. Because of this program I was out of jail in four months. After my release in 2012, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu presented me with a violin on my 31st birthday. Now I play in a quartet, which is like a dream come true.
Last year I graduated early from Behavioral Health Court. I have been sober for more than a year, and I take medications regularly. My treatment team has always been behind me. With the guidance of my lawyer and Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong, I am in stable housing and work with my case manager twice a month. The Los Angeles Times
recently wrote an article about me because of my achievements, and my story was featured on NBC's Nightly News
. Now at 32, I feel like my life has finally begun.
And the best reward of all is that I have earned the trust of my family again. They were there at my graduation from Behavioral Health Court. The program gave me more than a second chance - it opened my eyes to the limitless potential life has in store for me.
Kim Knoble lives in San Francisco, where she is rekindling her ambition to become a professional violinist.