CHILLICOTHE, Ohio - On Friday, Nicole Bowen strapped on a virtual reality headset for the very first time.
She wasn't sure what she was in for at Objective Reality Games in Chillicothe. But, before long, she was laughing so hard she was in tears.
"It's different, it's neat," she said of her virtual reality jaunt through an ancient pyramid.
The brief escape was a welcome break, and one she likely needed.
She's been through a lot in recent years, just as her fellow virtual reality gamers have.
The group she was with on Wednesday was from the Ross County Drug Court Program. The visit was a sober support activity.
"I think it kinda saved mine and my kids’ life, getting in trouble and getting into the drug court program," she said. "It saved all of our lives, a family of five."
Bowen battled addiction and lost custody of her four children before completing the family drug court program and now this one. She graduates on Feb. 18.
"The look on my kids’ faces is all I needed, to be honest," she said. "Drug court helped me get there. It was motivation. It’s been the only thing I’ve ever graduated in my life, so I’m here."
In just a couple of weeks, she will be joined at graduation by Kevin Scott, who also tested out his gaming skills in virtual reality for the first time on Wednesday.
"It’s work, it’s not easy, but it shouldn’t be easy, you know," he said of the drug court program. "You gotta work the program to get something out of it."
For years, Scott says he was a drinker, and it finally caught up with him. He entered the drug court program in January of last year.
"You automatically think bad when you hear something about drug and alcohol court, people want to think bad, and drugs and alcohol are bad, but, you know, people need to get help, and this is a way for them to get help, through Judge (Michael) Ater’s Ross County Drug Court," he said.
Since it started, the program has had a success rate of about 75 percent, according to Brandon Puckett, the drug court coordinator.
"Drug addiction has hit our town pretty hard, and there’s a lot of negative stigma attached to the drug addiction, and we just like to show the community that we’re trying to be proactive, not just reactive, trying to reintegrate these folks back into society so they can be a productive member of society," Puckett said.
The program usually lasts at least 18 months, taking low-level felony offenders through counseling, probation, treatment, community service and more. Part of the program includes regular outings known as sober support activities.
"They put a lot of work into their recovery with the drug court program, going to a lot of counseling, but it’s also important to show them that they can have fun in their recovery and learn to have fun while sober," Puckett said.
Wednesday was not the first time the drug court program has made a stop at Objective Reality Games. Colin Rose and his wife, Sara, opened the shop back in October. But just six months ago, Colin Rose was in the drug court program himself.
"Sobriety and getting your life back, you don’t realize what you’ve lost through addiction, then you come back and you start to rebuild your life, you realize what you’re capable of again," Rose said.
Rose says he lost five years of his life to addiction, so he understands the need for an outlet that does not revolve around drugs or alcohol. And he is happy to team up with the drug court program to offer up his shop as a place for a sober support activity.
"When people are in addiction, they’re not themselves," he said. "It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but with programs like this and the support that drug court gives to people and helps them to work on those essential coping mechanisms and the things that help people find recovery, it is possible, and people do come out of it."
For more on the Ross County Drug Court Program, click here.