After several sentences, county judge officiates wedding of recovering addict

By Judy Putnam
Lansing State Journal

LANSING (AP) - She saw potential.

That's what Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk recalls when she sentenced 18-year-old Corey Warren. He was in her courtroom first for writing unauthorized checks on his grandparents' estate and later for an unarmed robbery at a Tim Horton's.

That was 2008, and Warren was a teenage heroin addict.

"I looked at him and I saw potential, which I see when I look at people and sentence them and they have an addiction," Draganchuk told the Lansing State Journal, choking up. "They're not bad people. It's not a moral failing. Addiction hijacks the brain."

Warren started using heroin while still in Mason High School. For years he said he struggled to fit in.

"That's why I fell in love with the drug because it helped me finally, for once after 16 years, feel comfortable in own skin," he said.

Warren, now 30, is the grandson of the late Jack Warren, a longtime Ingham County Circuit Court judge. His dad. Scott Warren, was a well-regarded teacher at Mason High School, now retired. His uncle, Assistant Michigan Attorney General Thomas Warren, back then worked for the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office.

Warren was still in high school when he was caught stealing from his elderly grandparents' estate by writing himself checks. His family sent him to rehab but when he turned 18 he said he checked himself out and kept using.

For a few years, Warren was a frequent visitor to Draganchuk's courtroom. She had already put him on probation for the theft from his grandparents' estate and sent him back to rehab.

"The minute I learned who he was and the family's name I was like, 'Wow, this really does happen to anybody,'" Draganchuk recalled.

Then he turned up in court with a more serious charge for unarmed robbery. In September 2008, he walked into a Delhi Township Tim Horton's and demanded money.

"I said, 'I'm really sorry to do this,'" Warren recalled.

He said he wasn't violent. He was a lacrosse player who had never gotten in a fight in his life.

"For me to do something like that was nothing less than me being completely desperate to get money for drugs," Warren said. "I didn't know any other way."

Draganchuk said she could have sent him to prison for up to 10 years.

"Now he's got sentencing guidelines that were optional prison. I had to make a choice on what to do. Under the guidelines, it could have been jail or it could have been prison," she said.

"There was no violence per se. He didn't hit the person over the head or harm them physically but the nature of an unarmed robbery or larceny from a person is that it is assaultive in the sense that you put someone in fear and take something from their immediate presence. It is extremely serious and I had to decide."

Draganchuk gave the 19-year-old a year in jail with the final two months in rehab.

"The ultimate and only solution I could give him at that point was wake-up jail time," she said. "It really is a legitimate tool where you really have to make someone hurt enough to stop the behavior."

Still, Warren said he was mad at Draganchuk.

"I remember feeling no gratitude for the fact that I could have gone to prison for up to 10 years but rather, 'How could you do this to me? How could you put me in a jail for a year?'

"And it probably didn't click for years until I finally looked back and thought, it if it wasn't for that jail time, I wouldn't be here today. One hundred percent - that jail time saved my life," he said.

There were 783 deaths from heroin overdoses in Michigan in 2017, the latest year data is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jail allowed him to kick heroin, but once he was out, he replaced it with alcohol and kept violating his probation.

Draganchuk was disappointed but not surprised, as those in recovery often face relapses, she said.

She sent him back to jail in 2011 on a work release program.

When he finally got sober, he began talking with his mother about how to help other recovering addicts.

His mother, Jacque Liebner, left her job as vice president of finance with the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the pair launched WAI-IAM Inc. (Who Am I...I Am Me!) & RISE Recovery Center July 2014 in Lansing

"He wanted to help people, and I wanted to help parents and families not go through what we went through," Liebner said.

It now has 81 beds of transitional housing to help those struggling with substance abuse put their lives back together. Warren and his mom are frequent visitors to area schools, telling their story of addiction and recovery. They call it "Straight Talk."

When they founded their program, Warren asked Draganchuk to be on the board of directors. She said yes, and remains on the nine-member board.

Three years ago Warren met Brittni Clark, now 23. The pair clicked.

"We just had a connection from Day 1," Warren said.

In December on a vacation to Breckenridge, Colorado, Warren surprised Clark with a proposal at a mountain cabin where their families had gathered.

She said yes, and the couple later asked Draganchuk to officiate.

Draganchuk, who has only presided at a handful of weddings in her career, agreed to do the nuptials but warned: "This is the one wedding where I'm going to cry more than the bride."

The pair were wed in an outdoor ceremony June 2, at the Grand Ledge Opera House. The weather was gorgeous, despite weeks of rain prior to the wedding.

Warren said it was important to him to have Draganchuk officiate because he credits her with saving his life, allowing him to help others.

She disagrees. "That's his work, not mine, I just pointed and said 'That way Corey.'"

Still, Warren told her: "Not to argue this point but I can only do the work if I'm alive."

Published: Wed, Jul 17, 2019