54A District Court celebrates Sobriety Court Graduation

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Five graduates are honored

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

"Alcohol brought our graduates here," said Honorable Louise Alderson, Sobriety Court Judge for 54A District Court, opening the Sobriety Court graduation ceremony, "but that wasn't what it was all about."

It was about conquering addiction with treatment, Alderson noted at the graduation ceremony that took place on June 23rd.

Judge Alderson explained that Sobriety Court is built around a twelve-step treatment plan that is the glue holding the program together and "that's what brings us to graduation today. We provide a team and the tools, but it is up to these graduates to implement them in their lives."

"We tell them at their sentencing that 'It's time for you to take personal responsibility for your own recovery. We give people the tools but it is a stick-to-itiveness in using the tools that gets them here to graduation today."

Each graduate must complete the four phases of the program that are required. It starts out with daily drug tests, Alcohol Anonymous three times a week, seeking employment, providing for their family and "doing all of that without a driver's license. You have to learn the gift of 'ask'--asking for help. Each has paid their fines and costs, which are not minimal."

"We began in 2005," she said,. "We trained in three sessions all around the country. We started under a grant. Out current funding allows for up to 50 participants, there are currently 35 in the program. We also have home visits where we look for alcohol or memorabilia. One participant had a pyramid of empty beer cans, which was removed because of concern about triggers that could lead to failure."

Judge Alderson recognized that therapeutic programs require a team of people to assist the participants. 54A Chief Probation Officer, Robin Osterhaven, is the Sobriety Court Coordinator; Heather Duhoski is Sobriety Court Probation Officer. Other members of the team include the treatment providers, a defense attorney, the Ingham County Prosecutor, the Ingham County Sheriff's Department and the Lansing Police Department.

Heather Duhoski, Sobriety Court Probation Officer, presented the graduates. Each came to the podium, supported by their family, friends, and counselors. Many commented on how the program changed their lives:

"I do want to thank everybody. Being treated as a person rather than a number helped a lot. What I was using was slowly killing me."

"I always felt alone a lot when I was drinking and I don't feel that anymore. The smile I have on my face today is a true smile."

"I learned to face my problems."

At the end of the ceremony, Judge Alderson gave each graduate a lapel pin in the shape of the puzzle piece that stands for "you" in the Healthy Lifestyles Puzzle and a copy of the Sobriety Court poem.

"I can't read the poem," she said, "it makes me cry."

The graduates and their friends and family adjourned to the library for cake and drinks.

54A's Sobriety Court program utilizes court and community resources to support individuals in developing and maintaining a substance free, sober lifestyle. Funding comes from grants and donations.

"We have received grants from the Michigan Drug Court Grant Program and the Office of Highway Safety and Planning," in addition to several others," said Judge Alderson. The additional funding has aided in the expansion of the program.

The courts have established the Sobriety Court Foundation, a 501(C)(3) fund raising arm to support Sobriety Courts in Ingham County. Hon. Donald Allen, Jr, oversees the sobriety court program in 55th District Court in Mason and Hon. Janelle Lawless manages the treatment program in family court in which substance abuse is a significant factor. The goal is reunification of parents and children.

The 54A program is available to non-violent offenders who have been convicted of repeat misdemeanor drinking and driving offenses. The participants must live in the greater Lansing area. The program does not discriminate based on race, gender, sex or national origin, as long as they meet the original eligibility requirements. Non-eligibility criteria will include a history of violent offenses, drug delivery and sale and a significant mental health diagnosis.

Published: Thu, Jun 30, 2011