Today I spoke at a graduation ceremony for two participants in Gallatin County Treatment Court, an alternative to straight jail or prison time that addresses its clients addictions and their crimes. I have seen first-hand the success of Treatment Court. Here are some of my remarks:
Treatment Court is one of the best on-the-ground, real-world models for helping people change their lives. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. People often say that something has changed their lives, and it’s usually something like ‘that movie or that book changed my life!’ or ‘this haircut totally changed my life!’ Certainly some people do have truly life-changing events like educational opportunities, or relationships, or traumatic events; but Treatment Court is about changing fundamental behaviors, addressing addiction, and requiring personal responsibility, in a last chance.
I’ve seen our Treatment Court participants make profound changes.
This is a process that brings first discipline, then acceptance, then respect. That’s one of the most profound changes that happens. The resentment at the start--of the court and of the whole situation--changes to respect for the court and the judge and the Treatment Court team, but most importantly, I see you respect yourselves. Once your addiction is addressed, you feel better. You do more. You think clearly. You work toward integrity in your jobs and your relationships. You make your own decisions, instead of letting an addiction make them. That goes on for a while, and then I see your individuality. After a while longer, and on a day like today, for Mike and Jimmy, you regain a true freedom—from addiction, from supervision or punishment, from dependency in many forms, from sentences of jail or prison time—and our Treatment Court participants really do change their lives. The dramatic changes that you make are perhaps the most substantial anyone can make.
The fact that Treatment Court can offer people the opportunity to help themselves and start reclaiming what their lives are meant to be is immense. That’s what Treatment Court is all about. Not everyone chooses to follow the program, not all succeed, but those who do have totally changed their lives. They—you—have overcome a mighty dependence and a destructive path, and changed your lives and the lives of many, many people around you.
In 2007, 16,000 people nationwide graduated from Drug Courts and more than 840 babies were born drug-free to Drug Court clients.
We’ve celebrated graduations and births in our Treatment Court. Mike and Jimmy, you’re a graduating class of two here today, but really, this year, I hope you’ll be among a graduating class nationwide of 20,000 people.
Our current Attorney General, Eric Holder, said this about Drug Courts: This is crime fighting. This is tough. But you save money in the long run. It is government at its best. It is helping people win when they are at their most vulnerable moment.
There is more help, everyone, and more people who are trying to help you succeed, than you know. I’m a state representative, and just twelve days ago finished my second term of service in the state legislature. I was proud to fight like a dog for $1.4 million in funding for Treatment Courts statewide, including Gallatin County’s Treatment Court. I have seen its successes, and I will do all I can to support this program on your behalf. I sponsored a bill hoping to make state law to reduce the length of time of a suspended driver’s license for a participant in treatment court. Mr. Bryson, your court coordinator, came to Helena and testified with me in support of the bill. We tried to get it passed. But as happens with quite a lot of legislation, my bill was killed in committee, didn’t reach a full vote of the legislature, and was not signed into law. This time. But I will not give up. I will do all I can, however I can, to help you and this program.
There are many people who help. The Gallatin County Commissioners are dedicated to this Treatment Court, and to you. The community of Bozeman and the people of Gallatin County support you. The Friends of Treatment Court contribute whatever they can: employment, household goods, bikes, beds, gift certificates, whatever we can to help you reassemble your lives. The Treatment Court team is constant and unshakeable in its devotion to this program and to you. And I hope that you are as dedicated. You’re the reason we’re here.
I came to Treatment Court to see an alternative to the jail system. I came to Treatment Court to see if a program could work that offered a mix of penalty with treatment, accountability, and opportunity. I came to see if people in Treatment Court were committed to making this work. Then I came to know you. And now I come to Treatment Court to see the process and to see you. To know how you’re doing. Some sessions are awfully difficult because when you’re starting a new and hard path, one that’s unfamiliar and not fun, temptation can drag you back into the same situations that got you here. There have been days when it’s been just about heartbreaking to see our fellows in jail jumpsuits, or to hear that the recommendation is that someone be terminated from the program.
But for those of you who persevere, I want you to remember the Treatment Court graduates who visit this court every once in a while. They don’t come regularly because they’re busy with their lives, their work, their families, their recovery, doing things they enjoy. They work hard, and they’ve come out on top.
Now, I come to Treatment Court for another reason, a selfish reason: you inspire me.
I take inspiration from many sources, and I’m reminded of a quote by Winston Churchill, who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. It’s a simple quote—five words—but in light of the situation in England in the war, I think it’s an amazing testament to the spirit of fortitude that any of us can have. When London was being bombed to rubble, night after night, bomb after bomb falling and destroying buildings, killings Londoners, when there seemed there was nothing left to wreck, when Britons were losing their families and friends and homes, when there seemed to be no hope, Churchill said in a speech, “Never, never, never give up.”
Churchill also said, “If you're going through hell, keep going.”
You will overcome addiction, dependency, irresponsibility, and some bad earlier choices through your work in this program. You’ll resume the lives you are meant to be living.
I also try to follow the wisdom, and I hope you will, too, from a line in Ghostbusters II—“look fast, stay sharp, make good decisions”. I also follow the title of a film by Spike Lee: do the right thing.
You have a grateful and congratulatory roomful of people here today who want you to do well and who wish you well.
I’m honored to know you, honored to do all I can for you and for everyone who makes the most of Treatment Court. Mike and Jimmy, congratulations and best of luck.