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Drug court grads take first step toward new life

SYCAMORE – Jacob Minuth wanted to die.

The 23-year-old’s drug addiction landed him in jail and he knew he needed help. He tried to enter the county’s drug program the year before, but was denied and he did not think a second attempt would be successful.

“I remember being in jail and wondering if I fall back maybe if my head hits the cement hard enough I’ll just die,” Minuth said. “But I stand before you today a happy person and that’s saying a lot. I’m working on changing … one day at a time.”

Minuth was one of five people to graduate the DeKalb County Drug Court: Choosing Life and Ending Abuse Now program Friday at the Legislative Center. The voluntary program that started in 2006 requires participants to complete treatment, appear in court, undergo drug testing and more.

Participants receive treatment and rehabilitation in a five-phase program; each phase takes about three months. Participants who do not complete phases as they have agreed to may face sanctions, including community service or redoing phases. In extreme cases, a participant may face jail time or be kicked out of drug court.

But Minuth and his fellow participants cleared their first hurdle to long-term sobriety Friday and were determined to continue.

For Angela Tatroe, a 32-year-old mother of three, the program offered her a second chance to be a mother, sister and daughter.

“What this program gave me back is my family. I lost them all and today I have them all,” she said “In all honesty, I am scared to death [of the future], but it is a healthy scare. I have my family and friends behind me 100 percent.”

Participants were not the only ones who had to overcome challenges in the program this year as administrators and volunteers had to work through an investigation from the county’s state’s attorney.

The program hit a rough patch when former DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell decided to investigate it in April after receiving information that a drug court staff member had an inappropriate relationship with a drug court participant. That staff member resigned in June 2011.

In May, Campbell announced that new information had come to light that prolonged his investigation, naming specific situations involving former public defender Regina Harris. The program accepted no new members for more than a month as part of the freeze.

Nick Gaeke, a Kane County assistant state’s attorney who used to work with DeKalb’s drug program, said he was glad to see Richard Schmack take office in DeKalb County as the state’s attorney is integral to a drug court program.

“One thing that is not a component to a successful drug court program is politics,” Gaeke said. “A drug court team needs to have the cooperation of a supportive state’s attorney.”

A drug court program also needs community support, which is why Tom Inboden, owner of Inboden’s Meat Market, was awarded the Friend of Drug Court Award. Inboden, who has employed graduates of the program, said the program holds a special place in his heart as he has experienced the struggle of addiction.

“Recovery is part of my life,” he said. “Being clean and sober is going to be the hardest journey you’ll go through in life, but it will also be one of the most rewarding journeys you have.”

The neverending fight is one graduate Jacob Dorland said he is ready for. The 25-year-old Sycamore resident said he knows life will knock him down along the way, but the program has taught him to get back up and make good decisions.

“Second chances don’t always happen in life,” he said. “When your dealt a hand like this, you don’t fold it.”

The program costs about $150,000 a year to run and is funded through fees tacked on to traffic and felony convictions as well as grants. The program, which takes anywhere from 14 months to two years to complete, has produced 47 graduates since 2006.

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