Drug Court graduates inspired to live right

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Drug Court held its 19th graduation Friday, a ceremony for nine individuals who expressed optimism and gratitude to their families and a program that changed their lives.

“This program has given me my life back when I didn’t think I had one,” said graduate Walter Gohn. “I thank the court for this second chance.”

The graduates each told the story of how their life had hit rock-bottom, and that Drug Court helped them realize an opportunity existed to pick up the pieces and start again. The consistent messages in the stories were praise for family that believed in them, and for judges and probation officers that were stern but fair in watching over their progress.

“I want to thank the Drug Court staff and judge for giving me a second chance at life, and living in a clean and positive way,” said graduate Leroy Caberto.

After thanking his family for continuing to see the good in him, Caberto paused to remember his son who he lost on New Year’s Eve.

“I want to thank the Women in Need program for providing me with a safe and sober living space, and to the Drug Court staff and judge,” said graduate Sheena Cheri Millare. “I am straight and have a path. It has been a struggle, but well worth it. I paid my fines and fees, and got my license back.”

Drug Court graduate Trish Flores said she worked hard and is extremely grateful to family and the probation officers. She the program has helped her to find balance in her life.

“In the past 20 months I have secured employment, earned my GED and improved my relationships,” Flores said.

Families of the graduates packed the courtroom and Chief Judge Randal G.B. Valenciano welcomed everyone. Also present were District Court Judge Edmund Dean Acoba and Judge Kathleen N. A. Watanabe of the 5th Circuit, who begins her six-month rotation presiding over Drug Court next week.

Life Choices Coordinator Theresa Koki spoke on behalf of Mayor Bernard Carvalho, whom she said was on O‘ahu for a conference. She said her program is committed to helping turn people’s lives around, and making the right choices for themselves, their families and the community.

Koki thanked the families for standing by the participants and waiting the real person that still existed within each of them to return.

Senior Probation Officers Jennifer Tone and Tori Laranio, Martin Steinhaus, and Substance Abuse Counselor Araceli Gonzalez introduced graduates and dignitaries and explained the history of Drug Court. The program is maintained by 120 volunteers from government, business, nonprofit and faith-based organizations.

“I thank God for watching over me and keeping me safe,” said graduate Crystal Kehealani Ho.

The remaining graduates include Doreen Mae Caberto, Ashua Dee Rice-Medeiros, Ryan Kaui, and Dominic Warren Vidinha.

Drug Court Alumnus Brian Kohatsu said the graduates share a bond of pain, misery, loneliness and the chaos that comes from disease. He said the program teaches people how to reach out for help and to develop the ability to face a problem each day with the tools of living a clean life.

Kohatsu said he is now involved in the church and is near completing a bachelor’s degree in social work. He told the graduates they are now leaders and role models, and to stick together and continue seeking out support networks.

At the closing of the ceremony, Joseph Savino, administrator, said the graduates have the tools and contacts to fight temptation and relapse. He encouraged them to keep in contact with Drug Court and to support the current participants.

It was a graduation ceremony, but it was still an official court proceeding for the judge and court staff to grant the Orders of Dismissal. Each graduate had their case called to court before being handed the diploma and having their cases dismissed.

Present for the State was County Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. State Deputy Public Defender Christopher Donahoe was also present.

Friends of the Drug Court Vice President Arvin Montgomery presented the diplomas. He is a certified substance abuse counselor and CEO of Love The Journey, a nonprofit counseling and rehabilitation center.

Kaua‘i is blessed to have a Drug Court program when only about half of all courts in the country have one, Savino said. There are currently three probation officers working with clients, and he said that more staff positions would allow the program to expand and take on even more participants.

The program is possible with the help of the United Way, the Friends of Kaua‘i Drug Court, and Kaua‘i Chapter of Visitor Industry Charity Walk.

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

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