LIHUE — Seven men, who turned their lives around after addictions led to felony charges, graduated as the 24th Kauai Drug Court class Friday in 5th Circuit Court.
Judge Kathleen Watanabe presided over the graduation and said the graduates joined 148 others who have successfully completed the program in its 11-year history.
In getting to know the group over two years, Watanabe said she appreciated their progress.
“The court is very, very proud of you and all of your accomplishments,” Watanabe said. “I urge you to use the tools that you learned in Drug Court and apply them to your everyday lives, and above all, stay clean and sober and be contributing members of society.”
Drug Court graduate Terrance Balauro said the challenge with Drug Court was to “pick himself up and do what needed to be done.”
Loren Duarte said that sobriety helped him keep his job. He also thanked his family for never giving up on him.
“On my sentencing day, Judge Valenciano said he didn’t think I’d make it through Drug Court, and I set about to prove him wrong,” Duarte said. “After a couple months, I saw that it was about me taking advantage of the program and changing myself for my family and my own future.”
Garrett Naumu said it was a journey and an adventure. He had a rocky start, but it was exactly what he needed.
“I lost the respect of my family and myself, and thanks to this program, I rekindled what I have,” Naumu said. “I can’t express how happy I am that you have accepted me again.”
Marcy Fontanilla said this milestone was like teaching an old dog a new trick. He started the day he was released from jail, with no car, job or money. The program taught him to live, work and connect again to people he loved, and that led to a job as a safety inspector. His role models include a sister who continued to be there for her children while battling breast cancer and leukemia.
“You reminded me how precious life is and what is important,” Fontanilla said.
John Das said his addiction began with a shoulder and neck injury that led to an abuse of pain killers. He lost his purpose, and life began to spiral downhill as he turned to street drugs. His wife tried everything from counseling to treatment and eventually kicked him out when he refused. She finally had him arrested twice in an effort to save his life.
After six months in jail, Das started Drug Court clean and sober. However, mistakes led to a relapse. An inpatient treatment center that finally made the difference, he said, by helping him understand how an addiction waits for any opportunity.
“My life is now about giving back,” he said.
Corey Neri said he became chemically dependent as a freshman in high school and was using on a daily basis for years. At the end, he was homeless, broke, addicted, and wanted on felony charges.
“I was committing crimes to support my habit,” Neri said.
He turned himself in and was soon in an inpatient treatment center. The “Love the Journey” program took him in and his confidence grew as he found employment and started a business while earning a degree.
“My greatest accomplishment is that I get to live today and not just survive,” Neri said.
Dan Oshiro said he spent all his money on drugs and strained his family relations. Drug Court turned him around and he now runs a small business with the same family.
“Maybe someday I will be able to help someone else in their journey through recovery,” Oshiro said.
Graduates credited the Drug Court staff and Friends of The Kauai Drug Court, a nonprofit that supports the program with fundraisers for material needs and support for the community service projects that are not covered under the state budget.