How a Mi’kmaw man went from being ‘trapped’ to helping others with addiction struggles

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A young Mi’kmaw man is using his own experience to help others facing addiction. He credits an Indigenous restorative process with helping him find hope, and a new beginning. Alexa MacLean has his story – Jan 26, 2022

A young Mi’kmaw man has come full circle with being able to help those struggling with potentially fatal challenges that he once faced on a daily basis.

“I remember when I was a client, coming in here and just being talked to like a human being, it made a huge difference. As somebody who was living on the streets, who has addictions concerns,” Landon Morton said.

Landon, who goes by “Morty,” is now a peer support worker with Mainline Needle Exchange in Halifax – a harm reduction community organization that he once relied on to help him through some of his darkest days.

“I felt trapped, and I was pretty much ready for death. Anytime I tried to make any changes, (I) hit a barrier,” he said of his struggle with addiction.

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When Morty was in the depths of a substance use disorder, he encountered legal troubles in his home province of New Brunswick that led him down a road of desperation.

Overwhelmed and afraid, he hitchhiked to Nova Scotia where the connection he built through community groups like Mainline, helped give him the strength and insight to eventually face his charges.

“I did some bad things, right, to be completely honest. A lot of it was because of my addiction, right. But, I feel like a certain level of accountability is needed, so that’s another reason for wanting to do it but for the most part it was just to not have it over my head,” Morty said.

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Morty’s charges were transferred to Nova Scotia following his guilty plea. When that process was complete, his lawyer asked for a judicial referral to the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program.

The judge granted the referral and the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network took on his file to help guide him through the restorative process and prepare a pre-sentencing report.

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The Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network helps First Nations people living in Nova Scotia navigate the justice system by working in partnership with the province.

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Their work is focused on healing the root causes of trauma that can predispose First Nations people like Morty to negative encounters with the criminal justice system.

“I went in and said why I did the things I did, my story, what led me to where I’m at. It was a lot more trauma-informed than a typical court would be,” he said.

 “And, instead of thinking how can we punish you? It was, how can we help you?”

When his pre-sentencing report was complete, Morty went before a judge who ended up granting him an absolute discharge, allowing Morty the opportunity to move forward with his life without the weight of a criminal record hanging over him.

“Life’s good today, which is surprising. I never really thought I would enjoy my life – even as a child I didn’t like myself. Now, I’m happy, and I always thought that was just kind of a made-up word but I get it,” he said.

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