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Two more graduate Lake County Drug Court, funding continues

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POLSON – Being a drug addict isn’t easy; turning your life around is even more difficult, but two more people have done it through Lake County Drug Court, according to Judge James Manley.

On Thursday, Oct. 17, two graduates accomplished the life-altering victory and were celebrated in Manley’s courtroom, at the Lake County Courthouse, with hugs, cake and balloons, among family and friends. About a dozen drug court participants also attended.

Harold Mitchell was the first of the two to receive a certificate of completion from the judge and another big hug. His journey wasn’t easy. The judge said Mitchell had a tough start with the program. Mitchell later said he was homeless and running from police before he signed up for drug court. “I didn’t want to go back to jail,” he said. He was eventually arrested. “They offered me this program and it was like a second chance,” he said.

Diana Dalke was the next graduate at the ceremony. She struggled with addiction and was, according to her, one of the “hard-headed” cases in the program. She also held the record at 24-months for being in the program longer than anyone else. She was one of the first people to attend. 

She said she didn’t want to participate in regular counseling meetings when she first started the program or get tested for drug use or find work or go to school or anything else required. But then, she received a “wake-up” call. “I was about to have my rights terminated as a parent, which meant I was going to lose my son,” she said. 

With her parental instincts in gear, she worked overtime to do anything necessary to graduate and keep her child. They said she needed an education so she got six certificates in the medical field in phlebotomy and as a nursing assistant. Graduation day was a huge accomplishment, she said.

Before the graduation ceremony, Manley talked about addiction. He explained that people don’t just come into the program and instantly stop using. “People come in and go for a while and think they have it beat.” He said people think they should be “instantly successful,” and when they aren't, can become depressed and sometimes relapse. He said it's important to work through those issues. Getting clean is a process that takes time, and drug court was designed to help people work through it. 

“It takes the brain a minimum of six months to start to heal (from drug use),” he said. He added that some people start using drugs around 12 years old or younger, and as adults, they are trying to heal a 20-year addiction. “The brain does have the ability to heal,” he said. “It is going to get better if you keep trying.”

Manley has another theory about why people use drugs: “One reason people use is that life is so damn hard. People need to learn to deal with the hard parts of life without addiction.”

The judge looked out into the courtroom where about 50 people were seated and called out one participant who had a “dirty UA” earlier in the day. He said, “You may think you are failing, but you are succeeding.” He explained again that healing was a process.

Manley said he thinks Lake County's Drug Court is successful in part due to the bonds between participants. Many drug courts don’t allow participants to interact with each other. Lake County's program lets participants work together. They talk about their struggles and accomplishments. 

Manley also has a theory as to why people need that support. He said humans are social creatures. “Human beings are one of the most herd animals on the planet. We gather in groups. We need groups. It’s not rocket science. We need each other.” With that in mind, he said the program was focused on support.

One participant stood up in the courtroom to add his thoughts about why he thinks the drug court program works. He said he had been in jail in several capacities all his life from juvenile systems to the state department of corrections and nothing worked for him. He would get out of jail and go right back to using within weeks. 

 “All the programs I did were in a confined box,” he said. 

Drug court, he said, allowed him to get the tools he needed to succeed in life in real-time. He could go to counseling and talk about a problem and learn how to handle it as it occurred, as opposed to going to counseling in jail, learning tools and forgetting about them as soon as he got out. He also credited the program’s support systems for his success. “I’m also succeeding because of the support,” he said. He explained that he had a list of phone numbers to call if he needed help at any time.  

Funding for Lake County’s drug court program was scheduled to end on Sept. 30, 2020, but it has been so successful that funding was extended for another year through a grant from the Federal Justice Department. “We will be good to continue the program for another couple of years,” said Jay Brewer, Lake County Drug Court coordinator.

When the program started, a budget was created with a cap that allowed 30 people to participate at one time so funding would last. With two more graduated, 28 people are now participating. “We have seven on the waiting list,” he said. “As of today, we have had 14 graduates.”

To help participants, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Vocational Rehab program purchased a van to provide transportation to drug court, Brewer said. “This has been amazing for us to have this,” he said. “We have funding, we have the van, and we will continue to help people.”

After the graduation ceremony, Dalke said she had made some friends with past graduates after almost two years in the program, and their success has been encouraging. She said the first graduate, Karen Tromp, is doing “really well” and moving up in her career. Nic Stasso is continuing to do well in his job. As for Mitchell, he used his degree in heavy equipment to start a very successful painting business. As for Dalke, she plans to attend nursing school.

She also has a bit of advice for new participants: “When you get here, you might think these people don’t know what they are talking about, but you learn that they do. You also feel like a failure, but you’re not. The thing to do is to ask for help. Ask for lots of help. When you graduate, it’s humbling. Many times, I didn’t think I would get here. But I did. I did it.” She turned and smiled at her son who asked for another celebration cupcake.     


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