Drug Court graduates 18th class

LIHU‘E — Nine recovering addicts shared stories of finding their true paths with friends, family and community members, Friday, at the 18th Kaua‘i Drug Court graduation.

Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Randal Valenciano, who also officiates Drug Court, offered opening remarks in his courtroom with fellow Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe and retired Judge Calvin Murashige present as president of the Friends of Kaua‘i Drug Court.

Valenciano thanked supporters and reminded everyone in attendance that graduation is not a final step. He said it is a transformation time to move forward using the tools they have learned combined with the support of friends and family. Everyone is a stakeholder in their success, he added.

Mayor Bernard Carvahlo Jr. congratulated the graduates. He said life is about choices and consequences and that this group in completing this phase of their recovery has every reason to be proud.

In moving on to the next phase, Carvalho said to keep in mind the source of that unconditional love that helped them to turn around.

New Kaua‘i Drug Court Administrator Joseph Savino introduced some of the graduates and thanked the nonprofit support network Friends of Kaua‘i Drug Court for the incentives it provides to the participants. Whether bus passes, training, projects or mentorship, he said they and others such as the United Way make a big difference.

Drug Court alumni including Troy Morikawa and Cherie Lemalu said the network of clean friends and a good environment helps prevent people from falling back to old habits.

One by one the graduates came forward to talk about life before and after drugs and alcohol. They said Drug Court was a lifeline after incarceration and that they weren’t always sure they would complete the program.

The program is self-paced and participants may be in various levels of recovery, from in-residence to out-patient or follow-up. They do community service, often beautifying areas they once frequented as addicts. There are many classes and the Wednesday court meetings, but also fellowship and community involvement.

Participants speak out

Each participant named someone who made a difference for them, whether the judges or probation officers Araceli Gonzalez, Tori Laranio, Martin Steinhaus and Jennifer Toni. They also named many members of the Friends of Kaua‘i Drug Court.

Steven Saflor said drugs ruined his music career and that he lost his home and family by 1998. It was 10 years later when he was arrested that he saw the light as he faced a possible 20-year sentence.

The program gave him “reality, responsibility and purpose” in his nearly three years of sobriety that has brought his life and his family back.

Kristie Hoapili told of entering a program after having her kids taken away, and following the tragic deaths of her mother and a brother not long after. She said two years of structure and guidance has led to college and she is back with her children again.

Matthew Madrid had 10 cases that could have added up to 60 years behind bars. He said the Salvation Army in-residence treatment program, the doctors and probation officers all made the difference in changing his attitude and life.

Stephanie Leonard was introduced as the ambitious graduate. She turned a self-centered approach of trying to “run her own program” into a drive to succeed by working with others. She said things started to change when she saw herself and not the court as the problem.

Leonard said this “boot camp” of a recovery program helped teach her to develop tools to succeed in Narcotics Anonymous. The 12-step program changed my life, she said.

Jesse Soares said it was God who helped him find the strength to face an addiction that was ruining his life. He said it has helped him face responsibilities and take control of his life.

Tracy Ewing said drugs left her physically, mentally and spiritually bankrupt. She said her faith and hard work brought control back in her life as a student and mother to her three children.

Sione Napaa, nicknamed the gentle giant by the group, said this is a special time in his life now and thanked everyone involved with the program.

Joanna Llego said she was a good mother and an obedient daughter and that drugs took all of that away including her children. Today, she has her kids back and is caring for her mother while she studies for her associates degree.

Brian Kohatsu offered a passionate talk and never got around to reading his speech. He recalled having it all, a big home, a great job, coaching and that he lost it all in short order to drugs.

The big step was realizing that it’s not all going to work out OK, he said. He said the missing element was his spirituality and that after that he could see himself and become closer to his family again.

Kaua‘i Drug Court was established in 2003 as a treatment program for offenders with substance abuse problems. Its mission to divert non-violent offenders treatment and rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration that also reduces recidivism and increases community involvement.

It has about a 10 percent recidivism rate that is successful when compared to other intervention models.

State Rep. Dee Morikawa, D-16th District, said the program was very moving and reminded her that many people would benefit from programs other than incarceration. It saves taxpayer dollars, she added, and it also helps make a bigger transformation in the participant.

The HOPE Drug Program is run strictly by the Judiciary, where the Kaua‘i Drug Program is run in partnership with the prosecutor’s office, according to County Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho.

She said a strength of the program is to involve the offender in the community. This is an important connection to form early on in the rehabilitation.

There are three tracs for the program. Track one is the pre-trial candidate who can have their charges dropped with successful completion and probation. Tracks two and three are referral candidates who apply to have their probation shortened but the conviction remains on the record.

Candidates are screened based on many factors including the severity of the crimes and a diagnostic background study to determine the likelihood that they would succeed.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com.

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