It wouldn’t be easy. They’d both have ups and downs. But Amber Gonzalez, 22, and Patrick Reid, 49, decided to go for it.
And on Wednesday, June 13, they each achieved a milestone. They graduated from the Pershing County Adult Drug Court in a ceremony at City Hall.
“First on the agenda we’re graduating two great people,” said Court Master Bernie Schneider as he opened the bimonthly meeting.
Gonzalez and Reid read personal essays to the panel: Court Master Schneider, Franklin Wilkerson, DDA Jack Bullock, Public Defender Steve Cochran, Probation Officer Markus Heimbruch, Carol Elerick and Mike Fuller, treatment provider.
Gonzalez compared her life before and after the program.
“I was in a bad spot. I lost everything — my house, my friends, my family,” she said. “Now, so many good things have happened. I got a job. Then came a promotion to shift manager. Then came another one to second assistant. And a third. I’m now assistant general manager. I have my own place, and I’m happy in life.”
Gonzalez qualified for the diversion program. Not everyone does. A panel member motioned to dismiss her charges.
“No objection!” piped up DDA Bullock. The young mother begins with a clean slate.
Her mother, grandmother and two sisters attended the graduation.
“We’re so proud of Amber,” said her grandmother. “The past is the past. Now we look forward.”
Patrick Reid spoke about the challenges of drug court.
“At first it seemed overwhelming with all the rules and regulations, but I faced them head on,” he began. “My first step was joining the New Frontier Recovery Center. It gave me tools to prepare for drug court.”
It takes at least 18 months to complete all four phases of the voluntary program. Initially, the court drug tests each participant three times a week on a random basis. They must work full-time or perform 20 hours of community service weekly.
In addition, new clients attend three group meetings, one individual counseling session and three self-help sessions per week. Gradually the panel tapers down its requirements.
“I attended all my counseling,” said Reid. “I became a secretary for the NA (Narcotics Anonymous) program. I did 40 hours a week of community service to keep my mind occupied while I looked for work. I took a job as a housekeeper because it worked around my drug court obligations. It turned into a full-time position and kept me current on my fees.”
Reid’s supervisor attended his graduation.
“She’s one of the reasons I made it through,” he said.
Each client pays a set amount each week to offset the cost of their treatment. The bulk of the funding comes from state and federal grants.
“When I asked for this program I know some doubted that I could complete it, given my record with drugs and alcohol,” Reid told the panel. “I appreciate that you took a chance on me.”
“My advice to anyone starting this program is that when you feel like it’s too much, push yourself harder,” he concluded. “Make the extra effort, and maybe you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of.”
Court Master Schneider introduced Judge Jim Shirley.
The judge spoke about the history of the drug court program.
In 2003, Judge Shirley served as Pershing County’s District Attorney.
“As prosecutors, we knew that addiction is not just a criminal issue. It’s a mental health or brain issue; a health issue,” said the judge. “So Judges Richard Wagner and John Iroz brought the DAs and public defenders together to create drug courts in Pershing, Humboldt and Lander Counties.”
“Now, 15 years down the road we’ve had some great successes,” he continued. “We’ve also had failures and moderate successes.”
Moderate successes occur when graduates revert to their former lifestyles, explained the judge.
Judge Shirley encouraged the new grads to “be one of the statistics I talk about that change their lives. If you put the needs of other people ahead of your own, you’re less likely to use. Those that have kids- – don’t raise them in that environment. You can’t be an effective parent if you’re using; plain and simple.”
Besides their certificate of completion, each graduate took home a plaque, created by Court Master Schneider.
It featured the drug court’s motto:
“Change your thinking and change your life.”