Drug Court, for some is the last chance before prison, and for others it’s the chance for a person to turn their life around —to live life with a new found hope and confidence.
Monday, March 2, 2020, three women entered the court room, not for charges or trials, this time it was to graduate. The room was packed, filled with family, friends, and alumni from the program.
District Court Judge Steve Dobrescu gave a quick synopsis of the program. “Drug Courts were initiated 30 years ago in Florida and Las Vegas, and this year, our drug court program will be 15 years in existence.” There are over 3,300 drug courts in the United States serving almost 200,000 people each year Dobrescu explained.
The program is an arduous journey, it edges the drug court participants out of their comfort zone. In the beginning there is a lot of pressure, people wondering if it’s worth it, questioning themselves if they can do it. The program is strict with several requirements. Participants have to gain employment, attend treatment, counseling, submit to a drug test, not associate with old friends, complete community service and pay for it while living their daily lives.
A team of specialists from judges, counselors, probation officers, public defenders and sheriff deputies assist with the participant through the program that can last from 12-24 months depending on the person.
Local businesses contribute to the program as well by hiring individuals in the program.
Many participants have a very dark past, some hold a lengthy sheet of criminal charges, trespassed from businesses, or their children have been placed in protective custody. Drug Court gives participants a chance to take charge of their own lives.
Dobrescu notes to the graduates, “the concept became this, just because you have an addiction doesn’t mean your a bad person, addiction doesn’t mean you’re a moral failure or weak, it just means there is something about your brain that clicks in a different way than others do, and it has to be addressed.”
Marissa McCracken the first graduate to speak stood before the crowd and expressed her thankfulness to everyone who had supported her along this journey. “Unfortunately going to prison was one of the best things that happened to me. While I was there my brother was hospitalized over a life threatening condition, there was a possibility I would never see him again due to my own actions. I lost my mind. That day I knew something had to change.”
McCracken described herself as lost and confused, not knowing how to get where she wanted to be. “It is a good thing this program is designed to push you to your limits, how to react under pressure and teach responsibility.“ “Most importantly don’t be afraid of your past, because one day you will be able to tell your story of the trials you have been through, it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.“
Advice McCrackens gave to her fellow drug court participants was simple, “drug court is not easy, you have to have the want and desire to do so. I have seen friends go to prison or relapse shortly after graduating,” McCracken said.
Vickie Peterson, the second graduate to give her speech announced it had been 662 days since she was sent to rehab. Being tired of the way her life was, and seeing the affect it had on her kids, Peterson was sent to rehab and after her time there she self admitted herself into a transitional living program.
“I appreciate the life I have now, and all that I have accomplished. I have my kids and family back, something I thought I would never see again. I have learned the tools and know how to recognize the triggers that can set me back and I will use them the rest of my life to keep me on a straight path. I have made a new and better way of life and want to live it to the fullest, I will always be an addict but I am also a survivor.” Peterson
Jennilee Tabura the third graduate thanked everyone. “Judge Dobrescu thank you for believing in me, and making things possible when I couldn’t do it myself. Amy, thank you for living your life to change ours. Thank you for showing me that life is our new dealer and success is our new drug.”
Tabura thanked her family for all of the support. “I am a woman in recovery and as of today I have 601 days clean and sober.” Tabura explained how she was given the first opportunity to participate in the drug court program, or take probation. At the time still deep in her addiction, Tabura chose probation until she violated probation for using. Shortly after that she was presented with a second chance, the Drug Court program.
“I was in jail in September of 2017, thinking how am I going to get out and pull this off when I had no home to go to, all I had was the clothes on my back, no phone, and I had to stay distant from family and friends for a short period of time.” Tabura said.
Tabura had lost her home, her kids, been arrested, leaving Tabura’s mind to wander, causing self doubt, leaving her to wonder if she was setting herself up for failure. “There was no way I was going to be able to pull my life together and do this. I had to get back on my feet somehow, I gave it a shot, and now here I am standing before all you amazing people.” Thankful for everyone who has supported her, family, friends, stating she would not have graduated without all the support.
“Was it easy? No, not at all. Does it get easier? I’m gonna be honest, to say no it doesn’t, it just gets manageable.” Tabura.
A harsh reality of what could happen when a person doesn’t choose a path of sobriety was described very hard hitting by Tabura. “While we have this opportunity to turn our lives around there are so many people who will never get that chance. Families will now get that phone call that they have been dreading for quite some time, and the discussion with their children of why mommy and daddy are not coming back. Funeral plans instead of graduations, weddings, or birthdays— mothers and fathers will be forced to lay their children to rest, before they are ready to let them go. Rivers of tears will be shed, a type of heartbreak that only exists in nightmares. Before you go and abuse your second chance in life, remember the reality of the families who loved someone who didn’t get that second chance.”