As they stood before Ninth Judicial District Judge Richard Zimmerman on Thursday, diplomas in hand, Lee Ann Reynolds and Nicholas Wynn had much to be proud of.
Reynolds, 41, and Wynn, 21, both of Brainerd, are the first two graduates of Crow Wing County's Drug Court. Twenty-three others are now going through the program and hope to also graduate, depending on when they fulfill the program requirements.
Drug court, which began in May 2006, is designed to target adult offenders who have criminal charges pending, meet program criteria and are willing to participate in the program.
The program features a team approach to rigorous treatment that is coordinated with intensive supervision, random and regular drug testing, regular and frequent court appearances, education and employment opportunities.
The goal of drug court is to help rehabilitate offenders back into their communities so they can become successful, rather than simply sending them to prison.
On Thursday, Zimmerman officiated over a graduation ceremony for Reynolds and Wynn in his courtroom, an event attended by other drug court team members and participants, family and friends.
Reynolds, who as of Thursday had been clean and sober for the last 448 days, said she has been a drug addict since she was 11. Her drugs of choice were meth and marijuana until she was arrested last summer.
While in jail, on June 22, 2006, she signed the contract to voluntarily enter drug court. Instead of prison, Reynolds went through intensive drug treatment.
Participants go through three steps during the process, including weekly court visits and two drug tests each week. If they relapse or miss meetings, they likely have to return to jail for a few days, go back into treatment or perform community service.
If necessary, the drug court team helps participants find a job, a safe place to live and other help to try to make sure they don't return to their old ways.
"If I wasn't arrested, I wouldn't have the help," Reynolds said. "They're here to support you and help you. As long as you're honest, they'll help you."
The last time Wynn used meth or any other drugs was Nov. 9, 2005.
"I'm definitely proud of it," Wynn said of his drug court graduation. "I have structure and tools to deal with my addictions. I don't need to get up and get high everyday. I'm really proud of myself. It wasn't easy."
Wynn wanted to share with people who are battling addictions that it is possible to break free from them.
Lee Ann Reynolds, Brainerd, smiled at Ninth Judicial District Judge Richard Zimmerman following her graduation ceremony from drug court Thursday afternoon at the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"You can always recover," Wynn said.
"It's nice to see people doing well," said public defender David Hermerding, also a drug court team member. "When we're able to break those addictions and make lives complete, it's a wonderful thing."
Hermerding said the program is limited to 35 participants and now includes 25 people, including Wynn and Reynolds.
Lori Olson, Merrifield, will graduate from drug court in December. She and many other drug court participants attended the graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievement.
Olson, who was arrested in 2005 for fifth-degree drug possession, was addicted to meth. She started drug court in September 2006, relapsing once. Her daughter also is enrolled in drug court.
"It really changed my life," Olson said. "It got me into AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous). I've come a long way."
Olson plans to conduct NA meetings in jail for women starting sometime this fall.
"If I didn't have this opportunity and found recovery, my crimes would have escalated," Olson said. "It's a downward spiral: Jails, institution, death. I believe that's true."
Olson said the greatest support is one another in the program, as well as the drug court team.
"Every week you see the successes with individuals," Zimmerman said of drug court. He also is a drug court team member. "They're good people suffering from addictions that are destroying their lives."
In the past, a frustration for Zimmerman and other judges was seeing the same people in court over and over.
"You put them in jail and they go in as an addict and come out as an addict," he said. "Treatment works. The key is keeping them in treatment."
Reynolds and Wynn will remain involved in drug court but will have six months of unsupervised probation. Then their criminal cases likely will be dismissed if they followed through with the program, Zimmerman said.
Following Thursday's graduation, a reception was held with cake and refreshments. Reynolds chased her nearly 2-year-old grandson, Lucas Ewertson of Long Prairie, through the hallway of the judicial center while her daughter, Debbie Reynolds, watched.
"She's more happier and more fair," Debbie Reynolds said of her mother. "She's more clear. She's a lot happier than she was."
Lee Ann Reynolds' 20-year-old son Andrew Cluever of Brainerd also suffered from a meth addiction. He is not involved in drug court but has been clean and sober 13 days longer than his mother. He attended his mother's graduation from drug court.
"I'm really happy he's in recovery," Lee Ann Reynolds said of her son. "Things are different now. We can actually have a mother-son relationship now. I can give respect and so can he. We can be a family now."
Reynolds now has a job working as a shift manager at a local Subway restaurant. Her goal now is to buy her own home.
"Now I can accomplish things instead of losing things," she said. "I've lost my house, cars, my kids, my self-respect. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Life has so much to offer."
"Especially," added son Andrew, "when you don't have to worry about your next high."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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