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By Echo Menges
Cheyanne Marie Hemmerling, 31, of Knox City, was honored on Tuesday afternoon, February 15, 2022, for reaching a milestone achievement – graduating from the Missouri Second Judicial Circuit Drug Court Program – a challenge not easily obtained.
“Drug court is changing everything in your current life plan. Change is very difficult and most times takes all your effort as a participant changing your lifestyle, your circle of friends, and the places you go. With time and practice, it becomes what you love about your life – a routine, a new life, a new set of friends that love you for you, and your family again involved in your life. Graduation of the drug court program is a new beginning to your life, once put on hold, due to addiction,” said Second Circuit Treatment Courts Administrator Jane Moore.
The Knox County Courtroom was transformed for the occasion in celebration of Hemmerling’s hard work and tenacity ahead of her final drug court appearance.
A decorative welcome sign, balloons and candy greeted attendees on the stairwell landing outside of the courtroom. Colorful footsteps and words of encouragement were placed in the aisle through the gallery. Cake, desserts, pizza and refreshments, bunches of balloons, a sign and flowers adorned the well of the courtroom. Hemmerling invited family and friends to witness the occasion, which was held in stark contrast to the usual courtroom procedures.
The Second Circuit Drug Court Team showed up for the conclusion, and included Administrator Jane Moore, Second Circuit Drug Court Counselor Shawna Patterson, Knox County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Boster, Missouri Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Officer Jordin Luthenauer, Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Naomi Tharp and Preferred Family Healthcare Counselor Valerie Pialet.
Presiding over Hemmerling’s final hearing was drug court team leader Knox County Associate Circuit Judge Tom Redington, arguably one of the toughest judges in Northeast Missouri.
“It’s about five phases. It’s about 20 months long. Each drug court participant is randomly drug tested to make sure they are not using any alcohol, marijuana, any illegal drugs,” said Judge Tom Redington about the drug court program. “We’ve never had a positive drug test from Cheyanne. She’s taken 129.”
Judge Redington highlighted Hemmerling’s achievements throughout her participation in the program.
“Cheyanne didn’t have one broken rule through the program. I want you to know what a big deal that is,” Redington remarked to Hemmerling and the other attendees. Holding up court documents, Redington continued, “Here’s the order Judge Steele signed when you were placed on probation. It has 31 rules. She didn’t break any of those rules. One of them is kind of sneaky. It says, and any directive of your probation officer. The probation officer’s rules are two pages long. There are ten more rules. She didn’t break any of those rules either. Here are the drug court rules that she didn’t break. There are actually five pages for my rules for her. She didn’t break any of those rules. She wasn’t sanctioned or punished in any way throughout the entire program. Today we’re here to celebrate her recovery, even though she has been clean and sober for a long time, 1076 days.”
A wave of applause and “woo-hoo’s” rippled across the room.
Judge Redington continued, a few words catching in his throat, “Being truthful is a very big part of the program. Cheyanne has not only been truthful, but she has made others be truthful. She’s been sort of the enforcer making sure that people are telling the truth, and in that way she helps other people from the Lewis County program, from the Adair County program, from the Knox County program, she helps all of those people on their way to recovery.”
“We’re here today to celebrate her, and to graduate Cheyanne from the Drug Court Program,” Redington said with a smile. “I have a certificate for you.”
Applause and celebratory “woo-hoo’s!” echoed through the Knox County Courthouse again as Redington and Hemmerling posed for photos with her certificate of completion in hand.
The ceremony continued with a few words from the Drug Court Administrator.
“I’ve known Cheyanne since she was little and the fierce determination that girl has is unbelievable – to make sure she succeeds, her family’s first, everything. It’s been a tremendous pleasure having her here at drug court. She has held us all accountable,” said Drug Court Administrator Jane Moore choking up a little. “She’s told me a couple of times, this is ridiculous, I don’t know why we’re doing this, why can’t we do something different? And it turned out, we needed to do something different – and we changed some things – because she said something. And, you know, she was right. Cheyanne would tell me something and I would go home and think about it and think – that is something we probably need to change.”
Moore presented Hemmerling, her sponsor, and two of her drug court mentees with specially made personalized shirts to signify the occasion. On them, a saying printed in the shape of a butterfly read: They whispered to her, you cannot withstand the storm. She whispered back, I am the storm.
Moore also presented Hemmerling with a book, “Green Lights” by Matthew McConaughey, to encourage her as she continues her journey through recovery.
As the proceedings of the graduation concluded, the drug court team fanned out to serve cake, pose for photos, talk with attendees and congratulate Hemmerling on her achievement, which was shared with Hemmerling’s husband Damon, their four children, her parents Robert Goodwin and Angie Kite, sister Brie and a slew of friends and supporters from throughout the recovery community.
“Without the team, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Cheyanne Hemmerling. “I am so happy, I could sit down and write a 78-page letter to the team filled with all kinds of gooey emotions. The biggest challenge for me was being scared to fail. While in the program, I was safe. I entered the program scared, and I left the program with a new family. The drug court team is what we as addicts need – to do better and be better. I want to say something about how Judge Redington is human just like I am. He actually cares. I never went one time seeing him without him personally asking me if I needed anything or if I was doing okay. Going into the program, I just thought I would be set up for failure. But instead, I was met with a Judge that genuinely cares about his people. For a new person coming into the program, there is absolutely no shame in being clean and serene. The drug court program works, if you put the work in. The team wants nothing more than to show you that it is never too late.”
On Friday, February 18, Second Circuit Presiding Judge Russell E. Steele granted a motion to end Hemmerling’s probation early marking the official closure of Hemmerling’s “drug bust” chapter. Hemmerling’s criminal charges stemming from a drug bust that occurred at her former Edina residence in March of 2019 will be removed from her record.
“I was there with her grandfather (the late former Knox County Sheriff, Deputy and Edina Police Officer Mike Kite) the night she got arrested,” said Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy David Fagin. “Mike was always proud of her. It goes without saying, he would be extremely proud of her right now – for turning her life around the way that she has.”
Hemmerling is looking to the future with a renewed sense of optimism and excitement as she closes the chapter on her past legal entanglements. This is not the end of Hemmerling’s story. It is the beginning.