Walworth County OWI Court celebrates graduation and National Drug Court month

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Andrea Anderson
Thursday, May 8, 2014

ELKHORN—Peter Wadlund drove 5 miles before getting into a car accident in November 2012. The next day he woke up in a hospital bed.

That was his third OWI offense.

Several months later he found himself listening to a woman who lost her son to a drunk driver. She said her son didn't die by accident, that he had died because someone made the choice to drink and drive.

That's when it hit Wadlund that he could have killed someone.

Wadlund has been sober since November 2012 and is a proud alum of the Walworth County OWI Court program. He graduated from the four-phase program in January 2014.

On Wednesday, he made an appearance—voluntarily—at a bi-weekly OWI Court hearing to show his support for those in the same position he was in not long ago.

“The fifth phase is the rest of your life,” Wadlund told participants. “My only mantra is the desire to not drink.”

May is National Drug Court month, and it marks the 25th anniversary of the first U.S. drug court forming in Miami, Fla.

To date, there are more than 2,840 drug courts across the country. They treat 142,000 drug-addicted individuals a year, according to a Walworth County press release.

OWI Court is mirrored off of drug courts.

The program is for third- or fourth-time offenders, who must not have a history of violent offenses. Their OWI charges also cannot include homicide or injury.

The program is broken into four segments, each running a minimum of 12 weeks.

Participants are on probation, wear alcohol and GPS monitoring bracelets, complete random urine samples for screening and participate in a treatment program.

The participants meet every other Wednesday to talk with Walworth County Judge David Reddy about their progress.

The county's program began in 2011, and has had 76 participants with a range of stories. Some are on their fourth offense and chose the program instead of forgoing treatment, getting another OWI and then finding themselves in jail. Others lost the respect of their children and/or spouses and are slowly mending those relationships.

On Wednesday, the 30th participant in the county's court graduated from the program. To celebrate the graduation and National Drug Court month, past graduates were invited to attend.

“You're only going to get out of it as much as you put into it,” Wadlund told more than 30 participants.

The bi-weekly court appearances are a 180-degree turn compared to a typical court appearance. Silence is replaced with light-hearted laughter. Straight faces have smiles, and participants speak with Reddy as if he's a close friend. They also cheer for fellow participants when they “phase,” or move from one segment to the next.

Reddy jokes with participants and makes it a point to find out what they are struggling with and what he and other county staff in the program can do to help.

“This is different than normal court,” Reddy said to participants. “Nobody claps or laughs in court, but that's the whole idea. Everyone here is here to help you.”

Ken Weber has been in the program for about 10 months and is in his last phase. He said his fellow participants are family.

“We all go through this together and grow together,” Weber said. “We're a band of brothers and sisters and have become a family.”

Weber is on track to graduate in July and said the program has been a lifesaver.

“It was a life-changer, it really was,” Weber said. “It taught me skills that I need in my life to fix what was wrong.” 

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