But for years, a growing addiction also steered his life.
He’d dig out prescription pills from medicine cabinets, fueled by the belief that these “benign” medications weren’t dangerous. He’d party on the weekends, and with opiate drugs “everywhere,” it was easy to get what he needed.
“You’re young. You think you’re invincible,” Lawton said. “You go out and try to have a good time. And before you know it, you’re getting arrested in Taunton.”
Lawton’s May 2010 arrest on drug charges – later dismissed in Wrentham District Court – was one of several public signals of the addiction plaguing the former assistant district attorney and son of a prominent Southeastern Massachusetts family.
“It’s something that has really ruined my life,” he said. “I really needed help.”
He’s now back to helping others – for good, he hopes.
One of 21 men living at a Wareham-based sober house, Lawton, 31, is promoting a golf tournament in memory of his friend and Raynham resident T.J. Voller.
Organized by Voller’s sister, Marissa, the tournament’s proceeds will help fund scholarships for men and women to stay at Gianna’s House, a non-profit organization started in 2008 that consists of five “structured, sober living sites,” including two in Brockton and the flagship house where Lawton stays.
T.J. Voller, 30, died last August of a heroin overdose after nearly 10 months of being clean, his sister said.
Lawton is part of the tournament’s nine-person committee hoping to add to the $1,400 already raised for the T.J. Voller Fund.
“He wants to be a part of making this memorial fund come together and this golf tournament come together as well,” said John Coughlin, founder of Gianna’s House, a tournament organizer and Lawton’s friend since they both attended Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton.
“Patrick, he’s available today, which is a great thing. He wants to be a part of making sure this is a success.”
Lawton – the son of Bridgewater’s Mark Lawton, a retired juvenile court judge, and Patricia Lawton, a former candidate for state representative – spoke openly about his well-publicized problems, which he said started with drug use in college and law school.
His addiction grew, he said, eventually leading to his arrest last May and the start of a tumultuous year.
In November, he resigned from his job as a probation officer amid the release of a report that tabbed him as a “problematic hire.”
His plans to take the bar exam fell apart, and all the while, he was in denial of his addiction. He said he turned away help, including from Coughlin, and believed the steps he was taking – attending meetings, finding a sponsor – were enough.
On April 3, he was again arrested after police say they found him with a bag of heroin. It was his self-described lowest point, and he said he’s still trying to figure out how it got this far.
He was due in Taunton District Court on Friday for a pretrial hearing. It was continued to Aug. 26.
“It just brought me to my knees,” he said of the arrest, likening it to receiving a scarlet letter. “It’s like this black mark on me, on my reputation.
“I just threw my hands up, and said, ‘I need help,’” he continued. “That’s what I needed to do to save my life. Because sooner or later, I’d be dead.”
Those who know Lawton say they have seen changes. His father, Mark Lawton, said more than ever Patrick has made an effort to speak to other groups battling addiction – a regular part, Patrick said, of the recovery program. His involvement in the T.J. Voller Fund is another sign, him helping himself by helping others.
Mark Lawton acknowledged that recovery is a process – “five steps forward, one step back,” he said – but he said he and his wife are proud of their son’s progress.
Patrick Lawton said he’s been clean since his April arrest and has stayed at Gianna’s House for the last month.
“He’s recently articulated the question to himself, what direction do I take to help others?” Mark Lawton said. “And maybe this is it.”
Marissa Voller understands Lawton’s struggles. A recovering heroin addict herself, the former Miss Taunton said the goal of the fund is to continue the work of her brother, who was a manager at Gianna’s House.
Coughlin started the nonprofit after his daughter, Gianna, died of sudden infant death syndrome. It “throttled” him into recovery, but only to find what he called “deplorable” sober living environments. He wanted to provide something better, and today, 75 people live among the five houses.
“With addicts, you forget how to live,” Voller said. The goal is help them begin “putting their lives back together, and not just living in a sober house.”
It’s a process Lawton is undergoing himself.
After drugs ‘ruined his life,’ Bridgewater man hoping to help others, by Matt Stout, enterprisenews.com