By 1997, Rockett was often sleeping outside on benches, or "wherever [he] passed out." His sister Kathleen describes John during that period as having "lost his way," "suffering the consequences and never seeming to learn from the experiences." He only worked occasionally, as a mover, and only then to gain access into homes and liquor cabinets. On a November day that year, Rockett was arrested for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after a confrontation with a woman on a bus heading from Cambridge to Waltham. He claims that he was attacked, but the courts came to a different conclusion.
Awaiting a potentially serious sentence, Rockett continued getting wasted. One night, he smashed his fist through the front window of a home he thought belonged to a friend. In fact, it belonged to a Boston police officer, whose wife was there alone with their children.
Unwilling to face the consequences for the assault charges, and with new charges pending against him, Rockett decided to commit suicide. On December 8, 1998, he'd been imbibing for days, and, nearing the end, rode into Waltham to visit his old hangouts when he had second thoughts and checked into a nearby rehab center. It was his mother's birthday, and the last time he'd ever tie one on.
"I was either going to drink myself to death, or drink until I had the balls to jump in front of a train," says Rockett. "But for some reason I decided to get help."
Rockett had washed out of rehab more times than he could remember. But this time was different. "When I called my mother [to tell her], she said it was the best birthday present that she ever had," he says. "My mom saying that just went right through me. It was the first time in a long while that I didn't think everyone else would be better off if I was dead."
This time, it stuck.
"All I want is to get on with my life"
Rockett surrendered himself in 2003 after five years dry and on the run. He now says the duration of his flight was twofold: he wanted to prove to himself that he could stay sober for that long, and he was afraid of going back to prison. On account of his reformation, upon Rockett's return a South Boston District Court judge let him slide for the disorderly conduct charge he picked up on the cop's doorstep. Waltham District Court placed him on probation for the bus assault and for fleeing, and in 2005 a judge ordered Rockett to serve 19 days in Billerica to complete his sentence. It was the same prison where he first matriculated 29 years earlier; the circle was complete. Or so he thought.
Rockett looks back on most of his life with shame and regret. But not the past 12 years; since sobering up, he got his truck driver's license, and was at one point earning $75,000 a year. Even now that he's indigent and unemployed, Rockett takes pride in helping friends get clean, and in his volunteer work at the Hull Seaside Animal Rescue shelter. He brings with him to every court appearance a stack of character references, including one penned by Massachusetts State Senator Robert Hedlund explaining: "[Rockett] appears to have successfully turned his life around. A conviction on this minor charge would cause him personal hardships, and threaten to undo the progress he has made."