Breaking News
More () »

'A wonderful story of triumph': Eighth grader inspires Cuyahoga County drug court defendants

Jason Rossi was born addicted to opioids and spent the first weeks of life in withdrawal.

CLEVELAND — Jason Rossi is one of dozens of infants who started life in the addiction section of MetroHealth's neonatal intensive care unit.   

Thirteen years later, this eighth grader took on a unique school project.

SUBSCRIBE: Get the day's top headlines sent to your inbox each weekday morning with the free 3News to GO! newsletter

“We get to pick a question, and I chose how drugs affect families or how does drug addiction affect families. I thought this would be a really cool opportunity to get to see it in person,” Jason said.

His mom, Daenelle Oberson, called Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to ask if Jason could spend a day in drug court. When Judge David Matia heard Jason’s back story, he couldn’t say no.  

Jason spent the day learning about the struggles people like his biological mother faced.

“How long people have been sober for is really amazing and I’m really proud of them because they’re really fighting, they’re really trying to get past this,” Jason said.

Daenelle Oberson and her husband adopted Jason from foster care.  He was the first of four they adopted out of the system. Jason has a thirteen-year-old brother, plus a brother and sister who are both age ten.  

Two of his siblings were also born addicted to opiates.

Jason knows the name of his birth mother, but he’s never met her. Daenelle also spent the day in court, although Jason was seated next to the judge and she stayed in the gallery.

\“I think it gives him an understanding that the person that gave birth to him is still a wonderful sweet person that had a problem, and he can see that by looking at these people that are wonderful, sweet people with an addiction issue,” Daenelle said.

Jason chose this topic for school because it’s personal.

“I was born addicted to opioids and it was hard. I had to do a lot of treatment, I was doing physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and so it kind of connects with my life, too,” Jason said.

Every day he still battles the impact.  

“I have to work harder than my peers. My peers get things easier, it could be academically, it could be physically but I like working hard because I think that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything,” Jason said.

Judge Matia thought Jason’s story was a positive one for defendants to hear, so he asked Jason to tell his story before court began.

“Here's a wonderful story of triumph that people need to know about. It's about the brain's plasticity, it’s about nurturing, it's about overcoming odds,” Judge Matia said.

The experience cleared a few misconceptions about substance use illness and judges.

“There was a little bit of a stereotype that I see sometimes that judges are more strict, but he was really, kindhearted and it was really cool to see that,” Jason said.

Jason’s future plans were also solidified after the experience.

“I want to go to law school, I want to be an attorney,” Jason said.

Judge Matia says he already has the foundation of knowing how to work hard, and accomplish anything.

“It's not the talent you're born with, it's your grit, and Jason has grit,” the judge said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out