JEFFERSON — The descent into drug use and addiction can happen any number of ways. An injury and the prescription of opioids as painkillers, trying to kill emotional pain through use of drugs … the reasons are as varied as the individuals who find themselves using and abusing.
Often along the way, drug users find themselves in court on any number of criminal charges, and a trip to jail sometimes seems inevitable. However, with the advent of a new approach to non-violent offenders, there can be a second chance.
On Nov. 7, the Jefferson County Drug Treatment Court recognized its first two graduates after the program began in the summer of 2017. A special ceremony took place at the Jefferson County Courthouse, with Ann Ocampo and Lindsey Bickle being honored and getting a chance to share a bit of their journeys.
Serah Muinde, a graduate of the Winnebago County Drug Court in 2010, was the special guest speaker at the event.
The Jefferson County Drug Treatment program operates like others, giving substance users a chance at reduced jail time or even having charges dismissed with successful completion of the five-phase, year-long program. The program has positive effects, reducing the chance of a relapse by about 30 percent.
The court is officiated by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Dehring, who served as the master of ceremonies for the graduation. After a brief explanation of the drug court — which involves a team of social workers, therapists, probation and parole agents, prosecutors and case managers — Dehring turned the floor over to Muinde, who had a “clean date” of Sept. 26, 2008.
Muinde credited the Winnebago Drug Treatment Court with saving her life.
“All the friends I used with, they’re all dead,” she said simply.
Muinde said that despite the advice of her lawyer, she decided to pursue the drug court option rather than incarceration. “Drug court was what I needed,” said Muinde, who has a history of addiction in her family.
She said she needed the weekly urinalysis and the accountability, because she really “had nobody.” She said that the program was pain she had to work through, including keeping counseling appointments she wanted nothing to do with.
Finally, the judge told her to either keep the next appointment or “bring your toothbrush to court,” because she would be going to jail.
“Thank God I had that judge,” Muinde explained, adding that the counseling appointment was as bad as she expected, but it gave her the steps she needed to move forward. “I walked through the pain,” she said. “You get to the other side. It’s something beautiful.”
Muinde even had to have surgery while involved in the treatment program, and credited her treatment team for pulling her through without her turning back to drugs. She said she needed painkillers for only two days after the surgery.
“They were going to make sure I got through that surgery clean, and I did,” Muinde said. “I went through a real transformation process at that point.”
Now, after being fired from numerous jobs, Muinde said, she takes pride at being able to quit a job, leave on her own terms. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, at the same time working at Nova Counseling Services Inc., in marketing and business development — the same center she credits for getting her clean.
Working in counseling, she said, is an important part of her life, because “our literature tells you to get out of yourself and go out and help somebody. “I get it. I lived it,” she said. “(It)’s an honor for me. I know what we need. I know what I need.”
The treatment court team also proved to be mentors for her, something she said she needed in her life. “My case manager? I got a planner because she’s got a planner,” Muinde said, joking about having to write everything down because of her history with drugs.
Since implementing a mentor program in the Winnebago treatment court, her clients get planners, too. “They love their planners,” she said.
Moving forward would not always be an easy path, the speaker advised. She urged the graduates to speak with others, to help others, and to recognize where they had come from.
“Those bad days will come and go. That’s life,” Muinde said. “Sometimes in life we feel bad. We can’t always cover that stuff up.”
Ocampo and Bickle both spoke when they were presented with their certificates for graduating. Ocampo said she was celebrating 10 months of sobriety, and acknowledged there were times she didn’t think she’d make it. “Without drug court, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.
Bickle also said she had “hesitations,” but the program had allowed her to not only get clean, but repair relationships with her parents. “I needed this program,” she said. “I needed this accountability. This program definitely saved my life.” Dehring wrapped up the graduation with a quote that he thought might be from the actor Morgan Freeman, but had no attribution. It spoke to the knowledge of having one’s own life in order, and not allowing outside forces take control.
“Self-control is strength,” Dehring read. “Calmness is mastery. You have to get to a point where your mood doesn’t shift based on the insignificant actions of someone else. “Don’t allow others to control the direction of your life,” he added. “Don’t allow your emotions to overpower your intelligence.”