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Drug Court Clients Inspire Hope for the Future by Sharing Their Stories with Rotary

By Echo Menges

The Knox County Rotary Club has hosted a wide array of guest speakers over the club’s decades long history. These speakers inform members about their work, specific projects, organizations, and topics often focus on the passions of the presenters.

The guest presentations take place during the club’s weekly lunchtime meetings and have hosted all sorts of people and entities from a wide range of fields.

Thanks to the efforts of club members Jane Moore and Judge Tom Redington, the club has come to know a great deal about the Second Circuit Drug Court program.

Over the past several years, Moore and Redington have spoken to the club themselves about the processes of drug court and its effectiveness. They have hosted a number of guests working from the court side of the program. And, most recently, they have introduced a few drug court clients to the club.

Those present for the luncheon and presentations from three drug court clients late last month agree, the engagement was quite special and full of impact. The presenters candidly told the club about their journey into and through the drug court program, and in doing that, they inspired great hope for their futures from those exposed to their stories.

Brandy Geist, Tony Shultz and Patrick Baker didn’t know what to expect when they joined the Rotary Club for lunch. They had never given a drug court presentation outside of their tightly controlled groups within the program. The engagement gave them an opportunity to share a meal and visit with Rotary members in a casual setting, however, they were nervous.

When it was time for them to speak, they graciously bared their stories speaking freely about some of their mistakes and the benefits the program has introduced into their lives. Their vulnerability was endearing. Their honesty was refreshing.

All three agreed to be interviewed after the meeting by The Edina Sentinel.

These are their drug court stories.

Patrick entered the drug court program in 2017 after a serious run-in with the law. He didn’t volunteer to be part of the drug court process.

“I was given a choice between prison or drug court,” said Patrick.

Patrick had been in jail before, but never prison. He took the opportunity to avoid doing serious prison time by Second Circuit Presiding Judge Russell E. Steele, who initiated the drug court program nearly two decades ago before passing it on to his colleague Knox County Associate Circuit Judge Tom Redington within the last few years.

“I lost custody of my kids, dove deeper into my addiction and a reckless pit of self-destruction until I hit a wall,” said Patrick.

Choosing drug court over prison led to a transformation of his life, but he didn’t know that would happen going in. Before entering into the program himself, he heard a lot of drug court horror stories about people who didn’t make it through the program and ended up going to prison anyway.

“I thought I could do it, but I didn’t have the greatest of chances. I thought it was going to be super hard,” said Patrick.
He had an ah-ha moment when he reached phase three of the program.

“Phase three is more focused on working your program, establishing life goals and embracing sobriety by incorporating it into every activity in the daily routine, and seeking out others to share your same goals. It’s about becoming comfortable in your sober world,” said Drug Court Case Manager and Tracker Jane Moore.

“I realized I could make it through the program and help other people while I did it,” said Patrick.

Early into the program, other drug court clients began reaching out to Patrick for support. He found himself helping a variety of clients connect with needed resources, which he discovered he enjoyed.

Patrick wasn’t the only one to notice his efforts and the positive impact helping others was having on his life. The drug court program staff began to notice his efforts too.

Patrick has been working with drug court clients with the blessings of the drug court staff. He has also been taking classes to further his effectiveness, and when he graduates from the program later this year, a job with the drug court team will be waiting for him.

These opportunities presented themselves because he chose to be part of it.

Patrick credits drug court’s Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT) program for changing his perspective.

MRT has been part of the program since its inception in the Second Circuit, according Moore. Clients are required to work through a 16-step program using a workbook provided titled “How to
Escape Your Prison” by Gregory L. Little, going to group meetings and visiting with a counselor regularly.

“You’re held accountable for everything,” said Patrick. “You have to be. Before that, I wasn’t accountable for anything.”

Besides being part of the MRT program, clients are required to attend court regularly, attend twelve step meetings, be gainfully employed and participate in random and frequent drug testing.

They also have to meet with their probation or parole officers and the Drug Court Case Manager on a regular basis.

Drug court clients are required to put the program ahead of anything else in their life, and the drug court process demands an enormous commitment of their time. In conjunction with those demands, clients also face the pressure of being under legal threat of losing their freedom and sometimes of losing their children.

Tony also joined the ranks of drug court clients in 2017 after asking a judge in the First Circuit for the opportunity.

“The prosecutor in Scotland County just wanted to throw me in prison,” said Tony. “I asked the Judge to put me in drug court.”

Luckily for Tony, he was able to transfer from the First Circuit to the Second Circuit to participate in the program. He was living in Knox City at the beginning of his drug court journey, and he entered the program closest to his home, which was in Lewis County. He later moved Kirksville for a job opportunity, and switched over to the Adair County Drug Court program.

After some time, he landed an even better job and went back to Lewis County, reentered the Lewis County Drug Court program – and completed it.

Before entering the program, Tony’s life spiraled out of control following the death of the mother of his children. A series of events landed him in trouble with the law.

“I fell off the deep-end when my children’s mother passed away,” said Tony. “I sank into something.”

Like with many drug court clients, Tony’s transformation had wide sweeping effects on the people around him – for the better.

“I don’t have to worry about spending the night somewhere and coming home to see if dad is still breathing, if he took too many pills or anything,” said Tony’s 17-year-old daughter, Stormy. “I feel like he listens a lot more and he doesn’t just want us to shut-up so he can go back to his room. That’s where he stayed all the time.”

Stormy doesn’t worry about leaving her dad at home alone anymore. She worries a lot less in general.

“It’s way different because he holds down a job. He used to work at the saw mill, and he was just a grouch. He’s not like that anymore. He does a lot more with us, too,” said Stormy. “And, all of our bills get paid on time now. I don’t have to worry about having no water.”

During Tony’s drug court journey, he too changed his perspective.

“It stopped being about drugs and alcohol for me. It was about being a better son and a better father,” said Tony. “I gained back the respect I’d lost from a few people that really matter to me. Two-years ago I know I would have never been invited to this lunch today. We got invited to this because of who we are now, because of this program.”

Tony pointed out that he continued to experience hardships as he progressed through the program, and he credits the tools and support he has acquired from drug court with helping him face some daunting life challenges including losing a young family member. Tony sought support instead of turning to substances to help him cope with the devastating loss. He had a turning point.

Tony officially graduated from the drug court program last week. Besides transforming his perspective and his relationship with his children, he credits the program with helping him land a well-paying new job.

“I wouldn’t have been able to pass the drug test,” said Tony.

Brandy went into the drug court program thinking she didn’t need to be there. Drug court represented the means to an end of a legal dilemma.

After being charged with a felony, she agreed to make a deal with the then Lewis County Assistant Prosecutor Corey Moon back in 2017.

“The only way he would agree to it was if I graduated from the program,” said Brandy who was up to do anything that would keep her clean record from being tarnished.

She applied to be in the drug court program with the understanding that if she could make it through successfully, her criminal charge would be removed from her record, which is a common agreement between defendants and the courts.

Going in, Brandy chose to fight for her family over a criminal record. It took time for her to realize and admit she had a problem with drugs.

“Judge sent me to a 30-day program and said, ‘You’ll stay in there until you can be honest,’” said Brandy. “I was a functioning addict.”

Brandy had her ah-ha moment through the intensive counseling she was required to participate in.

“For me, it was figuring out my anger and why I was the way I was,” said Brandy.

Brandy learned more and more about what caused her to use through the counseling component of the program. She made weekly trips to see a counselor who helped her work through her anger and the causes of her addiction. She found that dealing with her pain and having a strong support structure impacted every aspect of her life – for the better.

“I have goals now,” said Brandy. “I never set goals before.”

During the process, she worked hard on another goal she set for herself, and Brandy opened her own business.

Now, looking forward to graduating while having met nearly all of the stringent drug court requirements, Brandy has bigger goals than completing the program. She’s making peace with herself and she’s looking forward to life.

What these three clients have in common is their attribution to accountability, to being held accountable by a team of support staff – by a team of drug court personnel.

For drug court to function, some of the most astute members of the court system are pushed together into tightly controlling units. It is their business to familiarize themselves with the court history of every client, then they get to know the clients themselves and work vigorously to hold them accountable. The drug court process is intensive.

“When someone begins the program, they get the works,” said Knox County Prosecutor Corey Moon. “They begin group and individual counseling, come to court every week to meet with the team and the judge, begin the process of finding a job or completing community service if they can’t find a job, random drug testing weekly, attending AA or NA meetings, meeting with other participants and finding a sponsor as an additional person to reach out to and hold them accountable. It’s very intensive in the beginning and can be very overwhelming. There’s a lot of pressure because there are a lot of rules that have to be followed and any violation of those rules could mean the participants can be fined, put in jail, or a variety of other possible consequences.”

Amid all of that intensity, human connections are made between the most unlikely of people.

“The team that has been assembled in Lewis and Adair counties is absolutely key to the success of those programs. From the judges, to the tracker, to the counselors, the prosecutors, the probation officers and the other participants themselves. All the members on those teams care so much about the program and the participants. That is evident to anyone with inside knowledge of those programs,” said Moon. “The team really gets involved in the participants lives. I’d say at some point, the team becomes personally invested in the success of the participants. It’s part of our nature as humans to want to see others succeed.”

And in Moon’s case, Tony and Brandy are people he continues to watch. His personal investment has outlasted his time as a member of their team. He proudly clapped in court when Tony’s graduation was announced. He’s proud of Brandy’s progress, and he looks forward to clapping for her, too.

Moore pushes people to their limit and to conquer some nearly insurmountable odds of completing tasks like finding and holding onto gainful employment. She goes above and beyond to send them back to school if necessary, and she gives them plenty of pep talks, either inside of her office or when she shows up at their homes to search them for drugs. She experiences their transgressions and their triumphs alongside them. In all of that, Moore is invested.

“I don’t know what I would do without Jane,” said Brandy.

“I couldn’t have done it without Jane,” said Tony.

“I love my clients,” said Moore. “I would do anything to help them.”

When Brandy, Tony and Patrick were introduced to the Knox County Rotary Club, they were introduced by a doting, yet intimidating, Judge Redington. When they gave their presentations to the club, Moore stood beside them.

This story was published in the February 13, 2019 edition of The Edina Sentinel.