Idaho Mental health court gives woman new lease on life

By Alysen Boston

The Daily News

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) - Starr Olson, 25, is a supervisor at Papa Murphy's in Moscow and a mother of two, 3-year-old Maysun and 1-year-old Nevaeh. She's also a former intravenous drug user, and a participant in Latah County Mental Health Court after she was charged with burglary about two years ago.

"I was pregnant with my daughter when I started the program, so I didn't want to go to prison, obviously," Olson said. "They gave me this chance to do good, and I've been really successful thus far."

The program, which launched in October 2007, allows individuals charged with felonies to participate in four phases of classes, counseling and court for a chance to get their felony dismissed.

Olson, who said she has been sober for 17 months, is in the fourth and final phase and due to graduate in December.

Olson said she was diagnosed with depression after she was charged, and that helped her qualify for the program. The first phase is the most strict, with participants being subject to random urine analyses. They are also required to work or volunteer for 32 hours a week and attend classes as well as 30 Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 30 days, leaving little idle time.

"It seems really discouraging at first," Olson said. "It seems like no matter what you're going to fail, and all you ever hear about is all these people that failed out of the program."

However, though the participant remains heavily monitored, restrictions ease up as they move through the program, Olson said. Additionally, there are many opportunities for NA or AA meetings in town. Olson said between the Latah Recovery Center, Gritman Medical Center and multiple churches, there's a meeting for everyone.

"There's a huge recovery support system here in Moscow," Olson said. "I can guarantee you that anybody in this town that might have an issue with drugs or alcohol, there is meeting that they could enjoy and get something from."

By the time participants enter Phase 4, they only attend court, classes and counseling about once a month, unless they elect to go more often, as Olson does.

"I have a really great relationship with my counselor. She's played a tremendous part in changing my life and saving it," she said. "The people who put their heart and soul into this program, the coordinators, do it because they care."

Olson said the program's coordinators, like her counselor, Ruth Ross, and the court's judge, John Stegner, have helped her change her life for the better.

"I was struggling with depression and drug addiction for many, many years, and I was homeless for two years and living out of my car," Olson said. "I just got to the point where I didn't want to be doing what I was doing anymore. I was ready to change, and this program really offered me a structured and comforting way to do that."

Olson said she plans to share the story of her recovery with others by chairing an NA meeting. Olson said she hopes she can give other participants the courage to stay sober.

"If they haven't seen anybody who's recovered, and they're coming saying, 'I've been 24 hours clean and sober,' it seems discouraging," Olson said. "But now, it's just second nature to me. I don't struggle every single day."

Olson said she hopes spreading awareness of the program and its effectiveness will help more people like her.

"It's been a really long and hard road for a lot of people, and I think a lot of people just think that this program is complete crap," Olson said. "But this program really gives you the tools to not (relapse) and to move past those thoughts."

Published: Mon, Sep 25, 2017

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