Three Wyoming County residents began a new chapter of their lives on Thursday evening, as they became the most recent graduates of the Wyoming / Sullivan Counties Drug Treatment Court.
Crystal Jonas, Lindsey Lohman, and Stephanie Brace each proudly thanked a sponsor before acknowledging “their” story to a packed house at Triton Hose Company in Tunkhannock.
Wyoming County President Judge Russell Shurtleff was emcee and proclaimed that with the evening’s graduates, a total of 83 persons had successfully completed the program since it was instituted in 2007.
He said that participants had paid back 18,315 community service hours, and the total in fines, fees and costs collected from the participants over the past 11 years was at $522,894.71.
The program is for adult residents who have been charged with non-violent criminal offenses perpetrated by alcohol and other substance addictions.
The participants are sentenced to 30 months of probation, and attend weekly court sessions, have random alcohol/substance abuse testing, engage in community service, and have intensive cognitive behavioral treatment and are involved with community-based recovery groups.
The primary substance use for participants has been opiates (63 percent), amphetamines (25 percent) and alcohol (12 percent).
Sandy Vieczorek, whose family helps to underwrite the costs of the dinner and graduation each time it’s held - usually twice a year - said, “I am so proud of you three. You did it.”
Vieczorek had lost her son Randy to a drug overdose more than a decade ago, and noted, “It’s always heart-warming to be here. You know this is a family disease which affects a lot more than just one person. Treatment court is a way to stop the cycle. When somebody is restored to sobriety, it’s a wonderful thing for the community.”
Alexis Johnson was the guest speaker, whom Judge Shurtleff had introduced as having seen 16 friends buried as a result of drugs, but today is a fitness model.
She spoke of graduating from a similar treatment court in 2014, and remembered seeing a picture of herself when she had hit rock bottom, and how she was that night.
“It was nothing short of miraculous to see the transformation,” she said.
Johnson spoke of three DUI’s by age 27, and a point in her life when she was using 50 bags of heroin a day.
“I suffered for 15 years before realizing that being sober and clean was a beautiful thing,” she said. “We’re just good people making bad choices. Congratulations to you three for the path you’ve chosen.”
Jonas was up first and recalled a dark time: “I had no idea where I was or where I’d go, but now I have the support of my parents and children.”
She said, “That being in this program, the whole world opened up to me,” and she thanked everyone for making that possible.
Lohman recalled where she was three years ago and never thought she’s make it.
“I was broken and hopeless and after my hospitalization had an overdose after trying to overcome pain.,” she said. “Then, after 14 months in the program, I realized there was a better way. I wanted to do whatever it took to get there.”
Her sponsor said Lindsey was proof that recovery works. “It’s the end of a chapter, but it’s the beginning of the rest of your life.”
Lohman noted that she had become a certified recovery specialist with Trehab and wanted and was passionate about helping others in their recovery
He wasn’t on the program, but Lindsey’s father came to the podium and turned to Shurtleff.
“I want to thank you for saving Lindsey’s life.”
Brace came to the podium and also thanked Judge Shurtleff for saving her life, too.
She said that after a DUI and a drug charge, “I watched my family fall apart and didn’t know what to do.”
She looked at the judge and then her sponsor and struggled to hold back tears.
“Treatment Court accepted me in. I really didn’t have a desire to live,” she said. “Now I do. Thanks for making my life good again.”