In Akron Municipal Court, Judge Joy Oldfield’s recovery courtroom feels more like a classroom.
“I believe in chances. I believe in the right amount of chances,” said Judge Joy Malek Oldfield.
“You get to see the impact of your decisions. As a judge, you don’t always see everybody on their best day. And then they are gone. You don’t always see them again. You hope you don’t see them again, right? That’s the goal,” she says, “In recovery court, I’m seeing the same people every week.”
Participants are nonviolent offenders, facing drug charges or related crimes, who agree to this alternate sentence. Most people spend a year in her program. On this special docket, Judge Joy's two rules are simple: you have to show up and you have to tell the truth.
“People say, ‘Isn’t your top rule don’t use drugs?’ And it isn’t! Because if you’re showing up where you’re supposed to be and you’re honest about what you’re doing, you will soon come to the realization and accept the help to not use those drugs. But if you’re not there, I can’t help you. And if you lie, I can’t help you. And addiction is a deceptive disease,” she said.
From the bench, Oldfield sees solution, a way to give the addicted and in trouble help, instead of criminal records. If they successfully complete treatment, their charges are cleared.
“I tell them; sobriety isn’t just ‘I stopped using drugs.’ It’s what got you to this point,” she said.
With heroin a deadly crisis in Summit County, and the rest of Northeast Ohio, somehow Joy forges ahead.
“It would be easy to lose hope if I didn’t get it every single week. Every week we clap for somebody who accomplished something. Whether its 90 days or nine days of sobriety…you don’t get to nine years until you hit nine days. To me those are celebrations,” she says.
Akron is and will always be home for Joy. She says she found herself, and her husband, in law school.
“I made it clear early on, you know, I love you, but if you’re going to move, I’m not the girl for you because I’m not leaving Summit County,” she said. “I have my whole family here.”
That includes her parents, five siblings, and now, three little girls. Her work in the community extends beyond the courthouse.
“I don’t think you can be the best at every single thing you try to do in your life. You’re not going to be the best mom, and the best judge, and the best community volunteer…if you were, then something is wrong. You’re missing something. I do try to do my best in all those areas,” she said.
Oldfield herself was given another chance after the Ohio Supreme Court issued her a reprimand in 2014. She credits those early missteps with helping her become the judge she is now. Just this month, she was elected to a new role on Summit County's Common Pleas Court.
“Within months of taking the bench…I knew the substance of the job was what I was meant to do…I love it.”