'It's a life-changer' Jackson County Recovery Court celebrates largest graduation class

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

During Friday's Recovery Court graduation ceremony at the Jackson County Courthouse, a woman in the rear of the courtroom stood up and reminded the graduates how lucky they were.

"I wish I had this opportunity back then because it's a life-changer," said Stephanie P., who spent 10 years in prison for bank robbery and auto theft and now chairs local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. "I'm like, `This is crazy. Why wasn't this in place 10, 20, 30 years ago?' Because a lot of human beings' lives would have been altered with this kind of support and accountability."

The Jackson County Recovery Court is a sentencing alternative to jail or prison for those charged with a felony alcohol/drug crime. Recovery Court monitors participants for at least 16 months while they attend treatment and other programs to help them through their addictions and become productive members of society.

Last week, 16 men and women graduated from the program--the highest number since Recovery Court was established in Jackson in 2004.

Circuit Judge Susan Beebe, who presides over the court, said studies show that when addicts get out of prison, they're still sick; still addicted.

"They have no tools to deal with their addiction or change their thinking," said Beebe. "Addiction is a chronic illness and it's something they have to fight all of the time. This program gives them the tools to work with their addiction and a life in recovery. It doesn't just warehouse them."

She said graduates of other rehab programs often return to their previous lives and influences, which means they often are back where they started.

"There's accountability and structure in this program; it doesn't just abruptly end," she said. "And as you can see, they form friendships and peer groups.

In addition to Beebe, the Recovery Court Team consists of a; program coordinator, case managers, treatment providers, probation officers, an assistant prosecutor and a defense attorney, as well as representatives from the 12 step community. Team members make joint decisions related to the participant's progress.

One by one, the graduates took the microphone Friday and thanked their support systems. Several noted how they finally had hope for the future. One woman said that being sober taught her who she really is; and that she now realizes she can have fun and "party soberly."

"Life is 100 times better," said one man, noting that even when sober, "I'm a riot to be around."

"I'm ready to be part of the solution instead of the problem," said another.

"I've learned how to live again," said graduate James Gonzales. "I found out there were two kinds of people in this program--spiritual tourists and spiritual explorers. I became an explorer. Tourists play it safe. Don't play it safe. Find out who you are and turn it over ... Everyone in your family will benefit from that, because it always starts in your home."

In addition, Beebe welcomed three new participants into the program.

"Are you in the right spot?" Beebe asked one of the men.

"Definitely," he responded, noting that the last 12 years have included nothing

but drinking and getting into trouble. "It'll be a rough road, but I'm ready for it."

Another of the three said he'd been through a couple of rehab programs that were "a joke."

"This seems more involved," he said.

Participants are required to attend substance use disorder treatment, which can include detox, residential, intensive out-patient and out-patient therapy. They are also expected to submit to regular random drug screenings, attend a minimum of five 12- Step meetings per week during the first two phases and three meetings during the third and fourth phases. They adhere to a curfew and pay a fee to Recovery Court for participation in the program. They must report to their assigned probation officer and attend Recovery Court sessions.

Kelly Bannister got involved in the program in 2005 when her husband graduated from Recovery Court. She's now a recovery coach who wishes the program had been there for her when she needed it.

"It took a long time and a lot of relapses for me to get it," she said. "I believe if I had a program like this, I would have got it sooner because of the treatment that's offered and the one-on-one with the team and because of how they teach you what addiction is and check up on you. They really care about people's lives and saving them from addiction. I had to learn everything on my own."

About 60 percent of participants end up graduating from the program, and many become sponsors themselves.

Susie Rothlisberger graduated from Recovery Court two years ago after she was charged with a DUI. She stood up and warned the graduates, however, that this is just the start, and that they have to keep on the straight and narrow path day day after day.

"This is your journey. You are the driver!" she said. "You have to plan your route and your destination. So turn on your inner GPS and stay on the right road."

Published: Thu, Mar 14, 2013

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