Treatment court graduation fuels emotions

May 20—One by one they appeared before Cleveland County District Judge Michael Tupper and presented their case for staying out jail.

But instead of pleading for mercy, Krista Collmorgan, Ronnie Harjo, Jessie Ochoa, Christian Espinoza and David Carnes talked about how far they’ve come since entering the treatment court program Tupper administers.

“I’ve been drinking alcoholically since I was 12 years old,” said Collmorgan, who was facing five years in prison for driving under the influence when she entered the program.

“During my time in treatment court, I have been able to create a life where I do not have to take drugs.”

Tupper just beamed.

“Look at who you are now and what you’re capable of,” he said. “Don’t get complacent.”

The special ceremony in celebration of Treatment Court Month drew family and friends, elected officials, judges and others to The Well on Thursday night.

Each time a graduate addressed the judge, a mug shot flashed across a monitor, drawing gasps from some in the audience.

“I don’t even recognize you,” Tupper said to Carnes, who spent 12 years in prison for crimes related to his drug addiction and was looking at another 17 years when he pleaded into the program. “You are not the same person.”

By the time Ochoa got to the program he had been abusing alcohol and drugs for 16 years.

“I didn’t care about anything,” he said.

He risked losing his freedom along with his wife and two young daughters.

“That scared me big time,” he told the judge, calling his arrest for driving under the influence and possessing a shotgun “a blessing in disguise.”

By the time they successfully petitioned Tupper to dismiss their charges, the five graduates had amassed nearly 1,800 days of sobriety, avoided 42 years in prison and saved taxpayers $748,000.

Thousands of treatment court participants in Oklahoma receive treatment, counseling, drug testing and other services as an alternative to prison.

Cleveland County also offers Wellness Court, Family Drug Court, and Misdemeanor Recovery Court programs.

According to Tupper, treatment courts differ from traditional court because “we invite treatment providers and other public health professionals to be a part of the team.”

Those providers include The Virtue Center in Norman and Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center, also in Norman.

Team members, led by program coordinator Danielle Williams, work to ensure each participant receives an individualized, evidence-based treatment plan.

They also work with the judge, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation, and law enforcement to provide ongoing support and accountability.

Team members identify and meet individual needs beyond clinical treatment, such as education, employment, housing assistance, family reunification, restitution, and healthcare.

The program is designed to be completed in 15 months, but a participant could remain for up to 36 months because of setbacks, such as failing drug tests or missing court.

“It’s hard to make it through without a sanction because there are a lot of requirements,” Williams said. “They’re human.

“It’s easy to be late to an appointment. We show grace to people in our program.”

Tupper agreed, applauding participants for their willingness to keep trying despite setbacks, for showing up, and for being honest.

Each graduate received a certificate of completion, a gift from treatment court team and a hug from the judge.

“This is a hard program,” he said. “There is no cure to this. You’ve got to keep working.”

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