WINCHESTER — The changing faces of a drug user on the road to recovery are portrayed in Robert Arthur Ewers' award-winning poster.
Ewers, a defendant in the Northwest Regional Adult Drug Treatment Court in Winchester and a Stephenson resident, was one of two winners of a statewide poster contest by the state Supreme Court last month involving defendants from seven of Virginia's adult drug courts. The theme of the contest was "Embracing the Challenge of Change."
Ewers' poster shows a man holding up four masks. Two portray the anger and despair of a user, the other the laughter and satisfaction of someone in long-term recovery.
"When you decide you are going to stop and you are going to change, you kind of ditch the old ways of your life and embrace a new way of life," Ewers said before a drug court hearing on Nov. 10. "In one hand, he's discarding the misery and the pain and the agony, and in the other hand, he's putting on a new face of happiness and serenity."
Ewers was encouraged to enter the contest by Tiffany M. Cadoree, drug court coordinator. She said the court team encourages defendants to display their talents. Other defendants have used their skills in art, cosmetology and masonry to benefit the community while in the program.
"We've always known Robert to have an eye for artistry, but his interpretation blew us away at how masterfully gifted he is," she said in an email. "After sustaining a period of sobriety, many clients are surprised to discover their hidden talents while in the program."
This was the first year for the contest, according to Kristi S. Wright, Virginia Supreme Court spokeswoman. She said in an email that five members of the Specialty Docket Services team judged the entries.
Half of the criteria was creativity, 30% was relevance to the theme and the remainder was for originality. The other winner was a member of the Smyth County Recovery Court. The winners received enlarged versions of their posters and "endless bragging rights," according to the entry rules. The posters will be displayed at the state Supreme Court's Specialty Docket Division.
The contest was a chance for the 58-year-old Ewers to display his artistic talent. The graphic designer and licensed tattoo artist began selling his T-shirt designs at age 14 in Romney, West Virginia, where he grew up. In 1998, he earned an associate's degree in visual communications from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Notable tattoo customers of Ewers included members of the heavy metal band Godsmack and the late Miami Dolphin and Los Angeles Raiders kick returner and defensive back Fulton Walker. Ewers also did album cover designs and had some of his drawings published in heavy metal magazines.
Despite some artistic success, Ewers had a drug problem. He said he started using drugs at 12 and realized he was a substance abuser by his early 30s. Cocaine, prescription painkillers and PCP were his drugs of choice. He went through eight or nine drug rehabilitation programs, most of them of the 30-day variety, before entering the drug court in August of last year after pleading guilty to cocaine possession and driving under the influence.
The court, which serves residents in Clarke and Frederick counties as well as Winchester, is an alternative to incarceration. In exchange for getting out of jail, defendants plead guilty, but their sentences are deferred. If they graduate from court, they avoid imprisonment, but if terminated, they often face lengthy incarceration.
Winchester's program, which takes city residents and people from Clarke and Frederick counties, lasts 18 to 24 months and involves intense scrutiny. That includes curfews, GPS monitoring, unscheduled home visits by police and regular drug testing. Defendants undergo individual and group therapy, do community service projects and regularly appear in court, where their progress or setbacks are tracked by a drug court team. The team includes judges, police, prosecutors and probation officers.
Ewers is one of 23 clients in the court, which has served 72 defendants since its inception in 2016, according to Cadoree. There have been 23 graduates and 26 terminations.
Ewers, who has been sober since July of last year, said the length and highly structured design of the court is why he's been able to succeed. During his time as a defendant, Ewers restored his credit, obtained his tattoo artist license from the state, and is on track to became a peer recovery specialist. A peer is a state-certified mentor of people in recovery.
Ewers, who is scheduled to graduate from the court in January or February, is grateful to the court team. He said they genuinely care about defendants succeeding.
"That's not something I'm used to: having somebody who really cares and works with you and helps you with all aspects of your life," Ewers said. "I've been able to achieve so many good things since I've come in this program."