Nearly 14 years after its inception, Saskatchewan's first drug court has celebrated its 100th graduate.
The Regina Drug Treatment Court (DTC), a voluntary program that addresses drug addiction as an underlying cause of criminal activity, involves regular court appearances, drug testing, treatment for substance dependence, counselling and access to other supportive services, including employment training and job placement.
Pamela Acoose, one of four program participants who graduated on Tuesday, said she decided to go through DTC because she needed to make a change in her life.
"I was really heavy in addiction," she said. "I felt really defeated. I was in and out of jail for about two years, and I wanted to leave the street life behind me. … I was really tired of living that kind of life. I didn't have it in me anymore."
Now that she has completed the program, she says she has so much to look forward to.
"I've slowly rebuilt my life back up," she said. "I'm starting university at the U of R in the fall for social work. I have employment now, I've got my car and I'm slowly getting visitation with my children again."
Jean Rice, another DTC graduate, said the programming was intense — but worth it.
"They taught me how to love myself," she said. They connected me with other people who had the same problems as myself, and they just showed me a better way of life — they gave me the tools. They really just showed me how to live a proper life and love myself."
People charged with certain kinds of offences, including sexual assault, family violence and serious violence, are not eligible to participate in DTC. While successful graduation from DTC can mitigate a person's sentence, Judge Pat Reis, who has sat on the Regina DTC for the past two years, said it is in no way an easy alternative for participants.
"On graduation day, I always say … that the graduates have done something harder than jail," he said. "The programming that you receive is intensive [and has] certain expectations. It's hard work."
Reis said DTC participants take an average of 12 to 18 months to graduate from the program.
Looking back on their experiences, many DTC graduates talk about how challenging it was, both on a practical and an emotional level.
"At first it was really hard," said Rice. "I didn't want to follow any of the rules, and I figured if I just provided clean screens, that would be enough - but that wasn't nearly enough. Just getting clean is not actually being in recovery. … When you actually work on your underlying issues and deal with your past traumas it does bring up a lot of emotions that you haven't felt. Being clean and sober makes those emotions a lot more intense."
Reis said his work in the Regina DTC has been gratifying, because he has seen how it makes a positive difference in people's lives. He has also found that providing treatment and support to people who are ready for change makes sense on every level.
"It saves money," he said. "It saves lives. It reunites graduates — and other participants before they graduate — with their families. It provides employment and educational opportunities for our participants and then graduates."
Fresh off her graduation, Acoose had a few words of advice for people thinking about entering DTC in the future.
"Stick it out and have hope, no matter how challenging it gets," she said. "Just keep moving on forward. It is so rewarding in the end."