55th District Sobriety Court Celebrates 23rd Graduation Ceremony

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

All the graduates of 55th District Court Sobriety Court came into the program for the same reasons, drinking and driving, but the length of time they need to graduate varies with the requirements and motivations of the graduate.

Casey Lienhart, 15 months in the program, said, "It is a lot of work, but it kept me busy and kept my mind off of things; in that way it is a good thing. It brought me back to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). And, it helped me get sponsorship and do the actual steps. I want to go back to school."

Kevin Stevens, 20 months in the program, said, "The hardest part was meeting all the tests without a (driver's) license. I needed a lot of support from friends and family."

Asked what he took away from the program, he answered, "It was getting me connected with people that are good for me in my life. And, really, it was about me looking into myself to see what I was doing wrong and maturing and being a responsible adult. Now, in the past 20 months, it has been amazing the positive moments I have had with my two kids, 10 and 8."

Scott, who graduated in the spring of 2009, came into the program homeless and jobless and having absconded from probation. He is no longer homeless, is in the insurance business and is a sponsor for others. He is active in AA and "never has to face those issues alone again."

"I can safely say," he said, "that I never could have imagined the way of life I have today. If I would have settled I would have sold myself short."

Why did it work this time?

"It gave me an opportunity to re-create myself within a structure so that I was surrounded with recovery and accountability until I was able to understand why I operated the way I did. My drinking was a symptom of a greater problem. This program was crucial in setting a standard to produce a better way of life."

One of the graduates, David, celebrated two graduations in a week, the first from 54A Veteran's Treatment Court and the second, Sobriety Court. Judge Allen referred him to Veteran's Treatment Court when he realized that he was a veteran who could benefit from the services of that court.

"He had to do everything he had to do for Judge Allen and some additional steps with us," said Judge David Jordan, presiding judge of the Matt Brundage Memorial Ingham County Veteran's Treatment in 54B District Court, from which David graduated on April 11.

"By and large, his alcohol addiction was the big problem. That was with Judge Allen. We offered the Veteran's services. He is so different, now. He was a nice guy but he was pretty angry."

Veteran's Treatment Court was able to help him address his anger issues, which were hampering his progress in Sobriety Court.

The fifteen graduates of the program would agree with Scott that Sobriety Court changes lives. As each stepped up to receive their discharge from probation and a certificate of graduation they had a story to tell. Comments such as 'The day I woke up in the hospital, I knew I never wanted to be there again,' were common.

The graduation ceremony was held on April 17th at Mason City Hall in Mason, MI. With this graduation, there are now 252 graduates of Sobriety Court.

Commissioner Todd Tennis was the keynote speaker. A graduate of the program, he congratulated the graduates, reminding them that "your work is not done. The addiction wanes but you need to keep taking those baby steps away from it. It does get better."

The Honorable Judge Donald L. Allen, Jr. presides over the 55th District Court's Sobriety Court.

"Our Sobriety Court continues to be a win-win situation, proving rehabilitation effectively protects the community, saves significant taxpayer money, and returns citizens to productive lives," Judge Allen stated.

"We are very proud of our program, our participants, and of the community support we consistently receive. The long term success of Sobriety Court is based upon close supervision of probationers by an interdisciplinary team dedicated to the safety of our community."

Like the other 2,500 operational Drug Courts in the United States, the 55th District Court Sobriety Court is a judicially supervised court docket that reduces correctional costs, protects community safety, and improves public welfare.

Published: Mon, Apr 30, 2012