[FONT=Arial,Helvetica] DRUG COURT HELPS MANY TO GET FRESH START ON LIFE
Charges Are Dismissed If Program Completed
Mario Rodriguez's life was going downhill in a hurry until he joined a support group aimed at helping people whose addictions had become stronger than their will.
By 1998, the 44-year-old Premont resident had been arrested four times for driving while intoxicated.
He reached the end of the road in March 2006, when he received another citation.
This time, Rodriguez's probation officer introduced him to the Brooks and Jim Wells County 79th Judicial District Drug and Alcohol Diversion Court Program, which was started by a $65,000 grant from the governor's office. The county has applied each year for the grant and relies on the money to provide counseling, training and equipment, said Dalia Garcia, project director for the drug and alcohol court.
Through individual and group counseling, those placed in the program participate in a strict treatment plan that includes random drug testing, curfews and attendance of biweekly treatment sessions. Average completion of the program is 12 to 16 weeks, and at the end charges are dismissed.
"The most rewarding thing is to see people realize how the drug court empowers them, allowing them to recognize that they can actually be in control of their lives," said Oscar Cortez, program coordinator.
It took Rodriguez more than a decade to realize he is responsible for his choices.
In 1990, while Rodriguez was living in Port Lavaca, he lost a job with a water treatment plant. He held the job about 10 years and lost it because of his alcohol and marijuana addiction.
Rodriguez said he drank and used drugs to drown the stresses of life. He was a young father and worked hard to provide for his child, Rodriguez said.
Life had become too routine and mundane, he said.
Much of Rodriguez's life now consists of mentoring others.
Although Rodriguez graduated from the program in December, he continues to attend group sessions to share his success story. He attends Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous three times a week. In 1998, he started his own plumbing business.
"I'm a firm believer in the saying that God looks over fools and drunks," Rodriguez said. "I could have killed somebody or myself, but I didn't. I'm still here."
Rodriguez stays in the treatment programs to encourage others and for positive influence, he said, adding that alcoholism is a disease that never goes away.
Since its existence, the court has graduated 39 people, Cortez said. The number of participants varies. Currently, there are 47 active participants in Brooks and Jim Wells counties. A total of 37 people have either dropped out of the program or were non-compliant, Cortez said.
Judge Sandra Watts, 117th District Judge for Nueces County, commended the smaller counties for taking initiative to better their communities.
On March 8, Watts was honored by the White House Office of National Drug and Control Policy for her efforts in saving the lives of drug addicts in Nueces County.
Her Divert Court, which celebrated its three-year anniversary in March, is one of the most successful in keeping addicts off drugs, officials with the White House Office of National Drug and Control Policy said. Since its inception, the program in March had reached more than 200 defendants.
"It is one of most rewarding things that I do because I see lives change," Watts said Friday while at a National Association of Drug Court Professionals conference in Washington. "Lives that have been on a self destructing path, and all of a sudden they become productive."
In 2001, legislators mandated drug courts for counties with populations of 500,000 or more, Watts said. Legislators have not yet mandated such courts for counties the size of Brooks and Jim Wells.
"You're talking about counties that have never been mandated by legislation, but that have a vision to make a difference," Watts said. "That's commendable." [/FONT]