In Drug Court, they found their dignity — and each other.
Lester Westfall first felt the need to escape when he was 11 years old. It started with marijuana, and as he got older, the substances he abused grew stronger.
When the pot no longer sufficed, he drank. When he struggled to get out of bed in the morning, he’d snort cocaine. When he no longer wanted to be high on cocaine, he’d take opiate pills — and then go back to cocaine. And when the intense high from cocaine finally subsided, he went to methamphetamines.
The cravings consumed him. His next high was all he could think about.
“I’m a pretty strong fella,” Lester said, “but I never thought in a million years that something could take control of my mind like that.”
Lester moved to Flagler County from Warren, Ohio, in 1998. He met a woman and had several children with her. But things fell through: He couldn’t hold a job and his addictions did not subside, so the couple separated.
But he soon met another woman.
He liked her a lot. Things were starting to look up. He even had plans to join the Army, to make something of himself.
But his girlfriend was struck by a car and killed in 2007.
The demons returned.
“It just got to the point where everything in my life was just drugs,” Lester said. “When I woke up until I went to bed, that was all I thought about. I didn’t care about anybody else. I didn’t care about my children. I didn’t care what people thought of me. I didn’t care about anything.”
For the next few years, he went couch to couch, crashing with friends whether they wanted him there or not. When he ran out of friends, he’d sleep outside under a tarp.
On one night 2 1/2 years ago, he was sitting on the edge of a bed with the mother of his children in the home of a friend.
Lester was tired. He couldn’t do this anymore, so he prayed.
“I didn’t want to be high anymore,” he said. “I didn’t like who I was , so I asked God to get me out of this situation.”
Still high, he ran out of the house and into the woods. He trespassed on neighboring properties and sprinted through people’s yards. He found a boat with a cooler full of water bottles. He wanted a drink. According to an arrest report, he stole three bottles of water, a rope, cigarettes and a lighter.
He was arrested, spent 30 days in jail, was released and was put on probation.
He continued to abuse drugs and alcohol.
“I thought I could be above it all. I thought I could work the system and not get caught,” he said. “I guess I wasn’t quite ready then.”
Then came April 28, 2017: Once again, he was staying at a friend’s house. He had violated his probation, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Law enforcement arrived around 4 p.m.
He tried to run, but was caught.
When he stood before the judge at the Flagler County courthouse, he vowed to himself, and to God, that he was going to change.
“That’s when I admitted I had a problem, and I needed help,” he said. “It was the final nail before they closed up my coffin.”
He was in jail until Aug. 30, 2017. Then, he started drug court.
Elizabeth Westfall, formerly Elizabeth Jones, had lived in Palm Coast most of her life. She was born there, but went back and forth between Palm Coast and Annapolis, Maryland, to be with her father.
She enrolled at Flagler Palm Coast High School her sophomore year. She played softball for the Bulldogs. She was supposed to graduate in 2005.
Elizabeth used to move around a lot with her three children.The drinking started about three years ago. At first, it was only at night. But after tearing a hamstring in an adult league softball game on May 25, 2016, she was confined to her home. She didn’t have anything else to do, so she drank all day — every day.
Bacardi was her liquor of choice.
Her 12-year-old daughter, Danielle, used to find her mom’s hidden bottles, empty them and add water.
Elizabeth knew she had a problem. She had a hard time caring. For a brief moment, she felt like putting a gun to her head to end it all.
Everything fell apart on July 12, 2017: There was an argument between her and her boyfriend. Deputies were called. She said he hit her first. Deputies conducted an investigation and determined that she’d hit him first and had put her child in danger. And she went to jail.
She was charged with child abuse and domestic battery.
She lost her home and her children.
Elizabeth had never heard about drug court. Her lawyer signed her up. It was her chance to turn her life around. She entered the program shortly after Lester did.
“All I knew was that I had a problem,” she said, “and I had no idea how to fix it.”
The first few months of drug court were often painful for Lester and Elizabeth.
The urges were still very real. They boiled underneath their court-mandated sobriety.
The urges were so strong they even infiltrated their dreams. Lester would dream of using drugs. Elizabeth would dream she was drinking. The dreams were vivid. Waking up in cold sweats.
How were they going to make it?
“At first I thought it was impossible,” Lester said. “But I had a strong support system and mentors who kept pushing me forward.”
The first time Elizabeth saw Lester, he was on his way to jail. He had drunk a beer, which violated drug court’s rules. He was just three weeks into the program.
But they soon crossed paths again on the softball fields at the Flagler County Fairgrounds in Bunnell. The grew close the first time they hung out.
They bonded over their love of sports. Lester grew up playing baseball in Ohio, and Elizabeth had been playing softball since she was 8. They also bonded over their children. But most of all, they bonded over their new-found passion for God. They both agreed that he should be at the center of their relationship.
“Once we had that conversation, we were ready to do this,” Lester said.
They began a relationship in December 2017.
On Feb. 9, the day before Elizabeth’s birthday, Lester asked her for her hand in marriage. He had bought the ring two weeks prior.
Growing up, Elizabeth never imagined she would get married.
“It didn’t seem real,” she said. “It used to be about me and my way or the highway.”
In addition to getting engaged, Elizabeth had just gotten her children back, and the Department of Children and Families found out about her relationship with Lester. Because they were not married yet, DCF threatened to take Elizabeth’s children away again. So, sooner than they had planned, they got married on Aug. 9 and kept the children at home.
They followed the legal ceremony with another of their own. On the morning of Aug. 25, they were married on the softball field at the Flagler County Fairgrounds. In the afternoon, they hosted a charity softball tournament.
Michael Feldbauer has been involved with the Flagler County Drug Court for more than five years and has worked with the Drug Court Foundation for almost two years. The foundation has helped its participants earn their GEDs and driver’s licenses, pay bills, start
businesses and more.
“Everything we do is to help them move forward,” Feldbauer said.
He’s known the Westfalls since they first started with the program. They weren’t close in the beginning, but they became like family.
However, he opposed them dating at first. Too many times, he’d seen drug court participants in their position not make it.
“In this case, it’s good because we’re seeing success,” he said. “But sometimes you get really close to people, and you don’t see that success. That hurts.”
Recovering from addiction requires complete focus, leaving little room for potential distractions.
“They beat the odds,” he said. “I believe that they decided to put God at the center is why it worked.”
Before Lester set foot in Courtroom 401 of the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center for the Flagler County Drug Court Team’s 33rd drug court commencement ceremony, he looked in the mirror.
Two years ago, he would have seen someone who disgusted him.
“I was somebody I could be proud of now,” he said. “I could be respected for once.”
Lester and Elizabeth both graduated from drug court, and now they’re leaders in the program’s alumni association. They organized a charity softball game, Bat for a Cause, which raised a little over $1,000. And they show up to meetings every Thursday, even though they don’t have to, to share their testimonies with the program’s current participants.
“I think it’s very important to help people and give back in order to maintain our own sobriety,” Elizabeth said.
Lester and Elizabeth entered drug court at the lowest points of their lives. They had lost their health, their freedom, their family.
They didn’t enter drug court thinking they were even worthy of love — let alone expecting to find it.
But they did.
“God has had his hands in our lives these past couple of years,” Lester said.