(La Porte, IN) - There was no shortage of positive change during a Monday night ceremony for graduates of a program turning people behind bars from substance abuse into law-abiding productive citizens in La Porte County.
An audience of about 100 people at the La Porte County Complex applauded upon learning one new graduate has just become a licensed heating and cooling system specialist. “You are living proof that some people change,” said La Porte County Superior Court 4 Judge Greta Friedman, the main speaker during the one-hour ceremony. Friedman also oversees the La Porte County Problem Solving Court which offers the five-stage substance abuse program, focused more on providing a second chance at life than incarceration.
The four graduates, whose names were not disclosed to protect their privacy, completed what’s typically an 18 to 24-month program that requires more than staying clean. Participants must take part in treatment, three self-help meetings a week, and show up for regular appointments with their case managers and progress hearings. 84 people have graduated since the problem-solving court was established in 2012.
Friedman said non-violent offenders turning to felony crimes like drug possession and theft to support their addictions are typically chosen for the program. People must also be considered at medium to high risk of reoffending to qualify.
One of the speakers was a past graduate who said positive change results from within once applying the teachings about a “whole new way of living.” She said the knowledge must be practiced on a regular basis even after completing the program to maintain the benefits like a positive outlook and avoid relapse.
“Today I have confidence and I have strength. Every single day, I am grateful for a whole new day. Life is so beautiful today. A life worth living,” she said.
After the ceremony, new graduate Elizabeth Ashby of LaPorte agreed to discuss her journey from years of alcohol abuse to sobriety. Ashby, 38, said she was in an abusive relationship for years and drinking was the only way she knew how to cope with her emotions. She was introduced to the program following her second arrest for operating while intoxicated.
“I was a shell of a person before all of this. Now, I’m just full of gratitude and love. It saved my life,” she said.
Vern Hohnke, chief courthouse security officer for the LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office, told the graduates to be thankful for the program. He said his daughter was a former honor student from a good family who started her downslide after first experimenting with drugs. She was 31 when she died from an overdose in 2015.
Hohnke said she was arrested prior to her death and might be alive today if the county where she was taken into custody offered something similar to its offenders. He now makes himself readily available to people in the program to share his story and if they simply want to talk.
“Like I told each and every one of you, you got kids at home? That’s what you’re leaving behind. You got parents at home? That’s what you’re leaving behind. It’s not an easy row to hoe but you’ll get through it. I’m proud of you guys for making it,” he said.