On Friday in a packed courtroom, Gallatin County District Judge John Brown read what one Treatment Court participant recalled her life was like prior to getting sentenced to the program.
In a word, her life was chaotic.
“I definitely wasn’t capable of staying clean and sober,” the woman had told Brown.
She was sentenced to participate in Treatment Court after a drug-related crash on Interstate 90 sent her to jail.
But after more than two years of sobriety, and 18 months of that in Gallatin County Treatment Court, things looked a lot differently for the 31-year-old Gallatin County woman.
“Thank you for saving my life,” the woman told the judge and other members of the Treatment Court team on Friday morning, where she was celebrating her graduation. “And for giving me the chance to find a way to live without using.”
Treatment Court is an alternative to prison for defendants diagnosed as chemically dependent. The 18-month program requires participants to stay sober, attend treatment and support meetings, and meet with the judge every two weeks, among other requirements.
On Friday morning, it wasn’t just the graduate’s family and friends in attendance.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines attended the ceremony.
“I’ve been to a lot of graduation ceremonies, but never one like this,” the senator said.
Daines congratulated the woman. “It’s great to have you in our community,” he said. Adding, “the difficulties you’ve overcome show your hard work.”
Treatment courts across Montana — 30 all told — have transformed the lives of hundreds of addicts, Daines said, while also proving beneficial for taxpayers by keeping people out of jail and with their families.
A 2014 report done by the Montana Judicial Branch analyzed data from those courts between 2008 and 2014.
In that time frame, 831 participants graduated from Montana drug courts for an overall graduation rate of 58.9 percent, which is on par or better than national rates, the report said. Those graduates, the report said, committed 145 re-offenses for an overall re-offense rate of 25.6 percent.
“I’m extremely proud of what Montana treatment courts have accomplished,” Daines said.
Friday’s graduate from the Gallatin County program was praised for her hard work and dedication to her sobriety.
“I’m very proud of you,” said Brown, the judge who oversees the local Treatment Court.
And, in an emotional end to the happy ceremony, District Judge Holly Brown, who initially sentenced the woman to a three-year deferred sentence, dismissed her case early, effectively erasing the charges from the woman’s record.
“Like everyone else in this room, I’m very proud of you. …Your obligation to this court is now terminated,” Holly Brown said with a big smile.
And that dismissal from the woman’s sentencing judge was emotional for the senator, he said.
“It shows that redemption is possible,” Daines said.