Janesville66°

Hope is a key part of drug rehab

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Mike DuPre'
July 13, 2008
— The three cornerstones of Rock County’s drug court are abstinence, honesty and responsibility.

The mortar that holds them together is hope.


“I’m cautiously optimistic that people who graduate will have a much better life,” said Kate Buker, the Rock County assistant district attorney assigned to drug court.


“I think this is helping people,” said Judge Richard Werner, who presides over drug court. “Realistically, it’s not going to work for everybody, but from my practical experience working here, it is helping people.


“People are making positive changes in their lives. They’re dealing with their addictions, getting clean and are in ongoing positive relationships.”


Dara McAlister, one of the drug court case managers contracted through ATTIC Correctional Services of Madison, said:


“I think the program is like a godsend. It gives people an opportunity to make positive changes in their lives.”


Drug court defendants go through rehabilitation sessions for drug and alcohol addiction. They are counseled to change criminal thinking and to learn to manage their anger and finances.


They must work or try hard to find work.


They pay a portion of the cost of the programs. They also must regularly attend meetings of a 12-step program.


And being a member of the drug court group is integral to the program because “you can’t kid a kidder,” Werner said.


When someone offers a lame excuse in drug court, Werner said, he often hears the sarcastic groans of other participants.


Judge James Daley, the county’s lead judge, concurred:


“You can see mental modifications being made because you have to watch everyone else and hear some silly excuses, and you probably used some of the same silly excuses. It’s (group participation) absolutely one of the factors (for success) because they know in their heart of hearts that they used the same silly excuse to their family and the court.


“It’s like any brain modification. It’s done between the ears of the person who owns the ears.”


Drug court clients are finding jobs, getting high school and high-school-equivalent diplomas and are better managing their lives, Werner said.


“They know what a clean life is now and that it’s worth something,” he said.


Besides using predominantly marijuana and cocaine, the other common threads among younger defendants are lack of education, lack of employment and lack of motivation to find a job, Werner said.


Their most common obstacle is lack of transportation, closely followed by unemployment, McAlister said.


Most don’t have jobs or cars, and many don’t have driver’s licenses because they lost them to the judicial system, she said.


“So we work on getting them new driver’s licenses or getting their old driver’s licenses re-established,” McAlister said.


And most don’t have high school diplomas, she added.


The factors exacerbate each other: Without diplomas, people can’t find jobs. Without work histories, people can’t find jobs. Without jobs, people can’t afford cars. Without cars, they can’t get to work.


“Without the GED, you can’t get a job except for flipping burgers,” Daley said. “And without a change in your lifestyle, you’ll never be able to hold a job.”


And so, Daley said, drug court participants face tough challenges: overcome addiction, change their lifestyles and get educations and job skills.


Drug court is designed to help in all those respects, Daley said, but “it’s a difficult program because you’re dealing with four areas of life that people learn instinctively from their parents. …


“Some people find it very difficult to change these aspects of their lives.”


Many drug court clients found their first jobs either in the program or when they graduated, Daley said. “And one of the things is, frankly, that they will learn they have to change their circle of friends (to change lifestyle).


“Birds of a feather flock together.”


More than half the people whose drug-court experience has ended failed in the program.


“For someone who’s ready to quit, I think the program provides the help and support they need because hardly anyone can stop by themselves,” Buker said.


People who failed “were just not ready to stop,” she said. “We get attached to these people. We want things for them that they might not want themselves.”


McAlister agreed:


“People who have been successful or who have been in the program for at least six months have a real desire to change. They work at the program. They work at change.”


Attending to the program’s requirements and details provides them with structure, stability and accountability, she said.


“One of the most important things is having someone to listen to them, who thinks what they have to say is important,” McAlister said. “We work with so many young people, and a lot of them have not had people stop and listen to them.”


People paying attention and taking time to help increases the clients’ self-esteem and enhances their hope, she said.


And hope is a component of success, Werner said.


“If you’re abstinent and make a life for yourself, you get a feeling of self-worth,” the judge said “I think this is a good program because it’s giving people a chance to help themselves.”



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