By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In a packed Hennepin County board room, faces in the crowd beamed with joy. People who are proud of a loved one’s diploma — for a program that is tough as any degree.

“This is a milestone that no one can take away,” presiding Drug Court Judge Marta Chou said.

The 25 graduates of the two-year program come from all walks of life. But they each shared the same demon — a drug or alcohol addiction that at one point landed them in court.

The county’s Drug Court program offered each non-violent defendant a choice. They could accept entering the rigorous drug treatment program or end up in jail.

“Life is better, that’s my main point to this,” explains graduate and keynote speaker, Chris Gillum.

“I can handle it now, no matter what’s happening now. I can wake up, I can face it, I can make smart decisions,” Gillum told the crowd.

At age 30, Tim Sizer finally has his first legal driver’s license. After completing the program he drew laughter when he spoke of no longer driving in fear.

“I cannot tell you what a blessing it is to be able to drive down the road and have a police car get behind you,” Sizer said. “I hope they’ll pull me over because I hope they’ll take a picture of me.”

One by one, each graduate came to the front to accept their diploma certificate and to give thanks to the counselors who helped guide their recoveries.

“I want to thank Drug Court for helping me, for believing in me and not just letting me down,” graduate Angela Dotson said.

Many would credit the program for allowing them to take back control, to be responsible for the decisions they make in their lives.

“I’m grateful for the chance to regain my life. Sobriety is awesome, so is family,” Jeff Goodwater said.

For others it was clear that they credit the program for making them feel good about themselves again.

“I feel like a senator or somebody. This is my new beginning, I ain’t even going to lie,” graduate Ed Anderson said, earning applause.

(Keynote speaker Chris Gillum also created a rap poem he read to the crowd to express his heartfelt thanks. He credits the Drug Court treatment program for turning his life around and thanked his mother and true friends for believing in him.)


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