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‘One day at a time’: Beadle County drug court congratulates first graduate

Posted: Monday, Feb 20th, 2017

HURON – At her lowest, Cassandra A. was a very angry person who hated everyone and everything and stayed high to deal with her pain.

“Nobody mattered,” she said. “Nothing mattered.”

She lost her job and her house. When she looked around, all of those who were her friends and family were gone. No one cared. She had zero self-esteem.

One time, after days away, those who went to bring her home didn’t recognize her.

In a full courtroom at the first Beadle County drug court graduation on Thursday, a sobbing Cassandra shared the tragedies and the turmoil in her young life.

Doing so publicly, she said, would hopefully help others.

“All right,” court services officer and drug court team member Skip McWethy said to Cassandra as he rose to deliver the keynote address, “268 sober days.”

The room erupted in loud applause.

It happens at weekly drug court sessions – that enthusiastic and heartfelt applause – when clients talk about how they are working hard to overcome their addiction, and taking it one day at a time.

It’s why it’s sometimes called “the clapping court,” said Magistrate Judge Dawn Elshere, who listens to them, offers suggestions and doles out plenty of encouragement.

Members of the drug court team are among their greatest supporters. Drug and DUI treatment courts are post-plea, designed to help those battling addiction. The drug court model requires constant vigilance, motivation reinforcement and treatment to prevent relapse and promote change.

The 10-member team consists of law enforcement officers, attorneys, counselors, a judge, a court services officer and a coordinator.

Clients are constantly monitored with home visits and searches, drug testing, court appearances and daily conversations with their probation officer.

“She referred to me as her stalker,” McWethy said. But, he said, “the train she was on was headed in the wrong direction.”

Cassandra hated law enforcement officers and trusted no one, he said. She was one of the best deceivers and liars he had ever encountered in his long law enforcement experience.

But she stuck with the program and gradually turned things around. She stayed employed and got a place to live again. McWethy said he and others began noticing changes in her attitude as a different person emerged.

People called to say, whatever the program is doing for her, it’s working.

Cassandra finally rejected her old “playground and playmates” and started telling McWethy, “I got this.”

It has been the longest sober stretch she can remember since 2002.

But she had to hit bottom first. “My body was falling apart,” she said. “I just didn’t know it because I was high all the time.”

She got “sloppy,” she said, and began selling drugs. Police raided her house. She was put on probation. It was raided again.

But the intensive drug court program – for a year and a half – worked for her. It also kept her out of prison.

“I know I’m OK,” she said. “I know I’m going to make a difference. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it for my family. I’m doing it for everyone who believes in me.”

Many in the audience helped her, she said.

“I hope and pray that something I said will help,” Cassandra said. “I never should have made it. But I did.”

Her tearful telling of her life story was powerful.

But what she did next was even more so.

“You’ve got to want it,” she said in speaking directly to a half dozen other drug court clients who are on their own journeys toward graduation day.

“You’ve got to want it more than him,” she said, pointing to McWethy. “You can do it. You have to try and you have to work hard. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.”

Cassandra faced many challenges, said Elshere, the judge who presides at drug court each week.

“But her desire to help people was always there,” she said.

And, with that, the judge handed her two things: a plaque to commemorate graduation day and her discharge from probation.

The clapping court did just that.

As it does every week.

To celebrate success, one day at a time.

For the complete article see the 02-17-2017 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-17-2017 paper.

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