YANKTON, SD (AP) – As a nine-year addict, Keri Curtis chose to stay away from her children rather than let them see how much she had fallen.
She lived on the streets, moving from place to place. She found herself trapped in abusive relationships and toxic people, also describing herself as toxic.
And she preferred drugs to her children.
“I stayed away from my children during my addiction. I didn’t want them to see me on drugs, ”she told Press & Dakotan. “I knew they were disappointed with me, but I didn’t want them to see me and be even more disappointed.”
But last month Curtis stood in front of his children and others as he graduated from the Yankton County Drug Court. She was not wearing a cap and dress, and there was no “Pomp and Circumstance” game.
But she felt a joy that she lacked in her life, including the ability to face her children and kiss them deeply. She also received support from others during the ceremony in the courtroom, including a judge, a police officer, her advisor and the drug court team who worked with her long trip, have reported Yankton Press and Dakotan.
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“I never thought I could be happy,” she said, shedding tears. “But today I feel more than happy. I don’t know what is the word for it. This day is definitely important. After being addicted to drugs for nine years, I have been sober for 534 days. It is a huge accomplishment.
Curtis has shown tremendous persistence in the past, according to Yankton Police Department Commander Todd Brandt and a member of the Yankton County Drug Court team.
“She’s scored over 500 sobriety days for something others can’t spend a few hours,” he told Press & Dakotan. “I saw the transformation, seeing her at the worst time as a young officer, then seeing where she is today, as a productive member of society and a fantastic mother. That’s why I come to Drug Court every Wednesday and see what it does for these people.
But graduation was also an opportunity for Curtis to share his painful story.
“In 2018, I was at the worst. I had been using methamphetamine for two years and had done K2 for the previous two years, ”she said. “I was so lost. I was homeless and far from my children. Often times, I didn’t want to be alive anymore.
She was arrested in 2018, sentenced to 30 days in prison. “I had never gone more than 30 days without using (drugs),” she said.
The court ordered him to undergo drug treatment at Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health Services (LCBHS) in Yankton. There she met Abbey Peltier, a mental health and addiction counselor, herself a recovering drug addict.
Curtis was admitted to the drug court program and worked with drug court defense lawyer Luci Youngberg. “I wanted my kids to be proud of me again. It was my last chance to get it right, ”Curtis said.
Yankton County Drug Addiction Court Judge Kasey Sorensen, who presided over the graduation ceremony, praised Curtis on his achievement.
“You are an inspiration to everyone in this room,” the judge said. “These graduation ceremonies make me cry. “
Drug court is usually the last option before jail, Sorensen told Press & Dakotan. State law excludes sex offenders and others deemed ineligible for the program.
“It’s a minimum of 17 months, and it’s hard work. They have to make the effort to completely change their lives, ”said the judge. “This is not a free prison release card. Some offenders say, “Just send me to jail. I would rather just serve my sentence and get out rather than go through the program.
As a police officer, Brandt said he also saw offenders who would be jailed by the drug court.
Curtis recognized the long and painful process. She had used drugs and alcohol to cover up a long, deep pain she had never experienced before. One of the most important steps was opening up to Peltier during counseling and then telling his story to a group.
Drug Court provides both accountability and support with new friends and sponsors, Peltier told Press & Dakotan. In addition, they develop good relationships with judges, courts, lawyers and law enforcement.
Curtis thanked the entire Yankton County Drug Court team.
“To the drug court team, thank you for believing in me before I could believe in myself,” Curtis said. “You’ve seen my worst, and now I’m so glad you’re here now and seeing me at my best.”
Susan Jacobs, former deputy warden of Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, has worked on cases in the Yankton, Vermillion and Wagner areas. She teaches Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT) for drug courts through the Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota.
MRT is a treatment system, often used in substance abuse programs, designed to lead to improved moral reasoning, better decision making, and more appropriate behavior.
“The Yankton Drug Court is one of the best programs I’ve ever attended,” said Jacobs. “The Drug Court team and its program have helped many adult offenders not only to shake off their addiction and become productive, law-abiding citizens, but it has literally saved lives and prevented many from becoming law-abiding citizens. them to go to jail. “
Sorensen said she saw the transformation in the appearance and emotions of the participants. She supports the program’s emphasis on rehabilitation.
“They are far from substance, and they are engaged with their family and community in so many positive ways,” the judge said. “The community as a whole is better off, let alone the individuals themselves.”
The debut also recognized the gradual promotion of Chris Pokorney in the program. He has completed the Drug Court program and is working with it on an additional level.
Brandt admitted he was not sold by the drug court early on when Yankton County became one of the first in South Dakota to adopt him.
“At first I was very apprehensive that the drug courts would actually work. I got into the idea by kicking and screaming, ”he said. “But as I began to understand addiction, and I still don’t fully understand it, I realized the struggle and the pain that these people were going through. Now I am very impressed with the result, and the taxpayer’s money is well spent.
The drug court team meets weekly, reviewing participants’ achievements and failures to help keep them on track, Brandt said. He sees the role of the YPD as helping those struggling with drug addiction and not just stopping offenders.
Peltier shared his own journey and praised Curtis for his accomplishments. Peltier encouraged others to take the first step and ask for help.
“Don’t let what you did in your past dictate your future,” she said. “We’re here for you, but you have to open up and let us in.”
Curtis wants his message to be a hope for drug addicts and their loved ones.
“There is a chance in life. They can get by, ”she said. “They can find real happiness on the other side.”
The Yankton County Drug Court team includes Sorensen; John Billings of the Yankton County State Attorney’s Office; Youngberg; Aamy Drotzmann as an agent of the drug court services; Nicole Peterson as Drug Court Coordinator; Sharon Kraft as Drug Court Program Specialist; Peltier and Ashley Olivier with LCBHS; Brandt and Dean Larson of the Yankton Police Department; and Jacobs.
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