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Nine Graduate from Drug Treatment Program

Last Thursday evening an unprecedented nine participants were graduated from the Wyoming/Sullivan County Drug Treatment Court. The Court is a two-year program emphasizing responsibility and answerability, which has had remarkable results for those who successfully complete it. Participants are those who have committed a non-violent crime under the influence of drugs or alcohol and must meet a strict set of admission requirements as well as abide by stringent program rules. Following a dinner catered by Triton Hose and held at the Tunkhannock facility on West Tioga Street, Wyoming/Sullivan County’s President Judge Russell Shurtleff made a few remarks in which he lauded the Treatment Court Team. The team is made up of the Public Defender, the DA, the County’s Chief Detective, members of Probation, law enforcement, district courts, representatives from A Better Today the counties’ Drug and Alcohol Counseling entity, Wyoming County CARES and other concerned parties. Shurtleff said the team’s hard work and dedication was a large part of the success of the nine graduates honored that evening. “These participants have now been given the tools and the confidence to be assets to the community. You can’t put a price on that,” he said. Since beginning in October of 2007 the court has graduated eight people; the nine graduated last week more than doubles that total. There are currently 21 in the program and one applicant pending. More than $112,000 in fines and costs has been collected through the court and more than 3,700 community service hours have been given back to the community. Additionally, seven participants have earned a GED, a requirement for graduation from the program. “But it’s not all about money,” stressed Shurtleff. “The true benefit is that these people have been able to break the chain of addiction.” Following the Judge, Pastor John Shaffer of the Nicholson United Methodist Church made a few comments. He talked about the start of his involvement and the seeds of interest in what has become the Treatment Court. “Back in February of 2005 some people from Wyoming County CARES gathered because they were concerned about drug and alcohol abuse in the county,” he said. “They wanted to create an enlightened community supporting recovery,” he explained, adding that addiction affects people in every social stratum and in every age group. “They have done so much to bring public awareness to what we are battling in this country,” he noted of CARES. “Wyoming County really does CARE about you, and about you getting well,” he told the graduates. Certificates of Appreciation were presented to Sandy Vieczorek of Wyoming County CARES and to ABT's executive director Eric Posner for their direct work with the Treatment Court program. In turn, Wyoming County CARES gave certificates of recognition to the “hometown newspaper,” the Tunkhannock-based New Age Examiner for their support of the Treatment Court program. It was then time for each graduate to come forward and say a few words to those assembled and receive his or her graduation certificate. For many, it was the first time they had made an address publicly and been photographed for area publications, but although some were nervous or shy they all rose to the occasion, itself an achievement. First up was Bryan Colvin who joked with Shurtleff that the Judge had been wrong: “I did finish the program,” he said proudly. He admitted that he hadn’t planned to at first, but then he got a job, got a better job, stayed with the program, got his girlfriend to apply to Treatment Court, and is now graduating. “My life is the best it’s ever been,” he said. Second to receive his certificate was Scott Ramey. He praised Probation’s Kelly Carpenter and Chris Boyer, who go out, he said, at all hours of the day or night at great personal sacrifice “if one of us screws up.” He also gave credit to his fellow participants for their effort and support. Allen Perez received his certificate and told the crowd that he “realized I was not only hurting myself, but those who care about me.” He admitted that if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Treatment Court, he would not be alive today. “I’d be in an early grave,” he said, adding that he is grateful to have learned that “life is more than your addiction.” Next was Stephen Pifcho, who spoke about taking responsibility for his actions and said that Treatment Court had taught him that. He thanked everyone from mentors to fellow participants for their support. Matthew Blaisure told the crowd of about 120 that “being a heroin addict was a job that destroyed everything around me.” He admitted however, that he loved the way the drug made him feel. He said he finally had two options: one, to kill himself, and two to enter the Treatment Court program. “I can’t even describe how I feel,” he concluded. “I am so grateful for the clear mind I have today: I wouldn’t give that up for anything.” In a touching moment he gave and received a warm hug from his father. The next speaker, Michael Tetlack, said that he was “finally beginning to be happy.” He said Treatment Court taught him to reach out and ask for help if he needed it, and that has made all the difference in his life. The lone female graduating this time, Deborah Pringle spoke next, telling her audience that she was almost a hermit before she started with the Treatment Court program. “I wasn’t good out in public,” she admitted, but said that once she had firmly engaged in the Treatment Court program—it took a couple of tries—-she “got a real sense of belonging. I’ll admit it, I took Treatment Court as a way to get out of jail,” she said. “But now I see it’s a program for life.” Jesse Nulton accepted his certificate and told those assembled that participation in Treatment Court had enabled him to get his family back. “I’ve got a real good job now, and I’m proud of everyone in Drug Treatment Court,” he said. The final graduate, Dale Belles, told the audience that before the Treatment Court program he “didn’t care if I lived or died. I had no direction.” He admitted that not every day is an easy one: “I’m a recovering drug addict. But now I know how to take care of myself, and get through the bad days [without drugs].” Each graduate had a family member, mentor or sponsor speak on their behalf as well, and each of these praised the graduates’ efforts and dedication to the program. Many times they spoke of what amazing people the graduates had become, now that they were no longer under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The Wyoming/Sullivan County Treatment Court is an ongoing program funded through state and federal money from the PCCD (PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency) and is run at no cost to the taxpayers.

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