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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 11, 2008
Back from the brink
By Saranac Hale Spencer
KNOX Laid low by a stroke at 35, the world seemed an unfair place to Jonathan Francis.
“I threw caution to the wind, more or less,” Francis said of his attitude after the stroke. “It culminated in this event.”
On Saturday, May 8, 2007, dozens of police officers armed with shotguns barricaded Lewis Road after Francis, depressed and drunk, called a suicide hotline.
He was 38 then and had been arrested several times, including for assault of his wife. The blockade ended without gunfire. Francis came out with his hands above his head. Police found only two BB guns in the house.
His last drink “was the morning of that incident,” Francis said recently.
Following his arrest, Francis spent a couple of months in jail.
“You start to think,” he said of his time there. “That’s really what woke me up spending time in jail.”
He was raised in Knox, the son of Rev. Jay Francis, the pastor of the Rock Road Chapel. His father said at the time of the arrest, “I can’t justify his actions, yet I can say that Saturday doesn’t define who he is.”
He was a good kid, Rev. Francis said, and people can redeem themselves. “Forgiveness can be instant,” he said. “It takes a while to build up trust.”
A former lawyer, whose license to practice has been suspended, Francis has a new perspective on the criminal justice system.
Of his gut reaction to his incarceration, Francis said, “It’s a slap in the face to be on the other side of it.” His time in prison was humbling, he said, and forced him to recognize his addictions to drugs and alcohol.
When he opens his law office again in a few years, after petitioning the court to be reinstated, “I can really be empathetic,” he said. “I’ll be able to say, ‘I’ve been there.’”
Getting to that point, admitting his failures and problems, has been difficult. “Addiction is the hardest thing in the world to get over,” he said. Francis had tried several rehab programs before without success and, in the end, had to come to terms with being a man no better than any other.
“I’m a big shot. I’m a lawyer,” he said, boiling down the ego that he had stumbled on. “I’m a failed human being… It was in rehab I learned that,” he said, concluding that now, “I do not look down my nose at people.”
In the five years that he was cycling through rehab, Francis’s wife said the hardest part was watching their three sons wonder what was wrong.
“Drugs and alcohol turned him into someone else,” Mrs. Francis said.
“Drugs and alcohol are an anesthetic that make you feel good… [It] feels good for a minute,” Francis said.
What he missed most during his time in jail, Francis said, was his family. “I want to tuck my kids in at night,” he said.
The children wrote cards and letters and sent pictures while he was away, Mrs. Francis said, “and he wrote back always.”
“Our family is back together,” Jonathan Francis said. “It seems normal again,” his wife said. “He seems happy.”