HURON — Amidst plenty of happy tears and breaking voices, stories of redemption and recovery were the focus as Beadle County Drug Court graduated a large class of five on Wednesday afternoon in commencement ceremonies.
Beadle County Drug Court judge Patrick McCann opened the celebration with a brief overview of the drug court program and how unique it is to have five graduates in the same class.
With a state graduation rate of 55%, McCann noted that the road to graduation often is difficult, battling the throes of addiction throughout the process, but this class is very unique.
In total, he said the class has paid off nearly $4,000 in court costs and fines combined, passed 1,500 drug tests, and, most importantly, combined for 2,106 days of active sobriety.
Four women and one man comprised the class with a common refrain of improved relationships and life circumstances coming out of their work in the program.
Each graduate was presented by a friend, family member, or co-worker who could speak to the transformations that occurred as the graduate was a Drug Court participant.
Presenters discussed personality transformation as the time of sobriety lengthened, including becoming more public with family and friends to seek help in achieving and maintaining sobriety.
Judge McCann offered a brief comment on each of the graduates, noting frequently that participants had seen notable changes in their performances at work, improved their living conditions, and become better parents and examples in the community through their hard work in the program.
Cindy Bartunek was introduced by Judge McCann as a case that Drug Court is ideal for as she and her husband were both able to participate and see significant growth, which will not only impact their marriage but also their six children.
Her presenter mentioned Bartunek’s participation on a panel with law enforcement personnel and other people that she had previously “run away from” and now she joined with them to help answer questions regarding addiction.
She discussed how sobriety has transformed her life, allowing her to provide her children and grandchild with a stable home environment.
Graduate Roni Nelson shared an emotional story of redemption after fighting the program initially.
Nelson had the most active sober days and most passed tests among the graduates. She has been able to celebrate renewed relationships with her family.
She spoke specifically of re-established contact with one of her daughters after three years of no contact and renewed contact with one of her nieces after ten years.
Being able to have steady employment has allowed her to put herself into a new home.
Each of the other graduates, who requested anonymity, shared similar stories of the impact Drug Court has had on their lives, and those of their families and friends.
Discussing the unique nature of this class, Judge McCann remarked that this class “began together, struggled together, and, when they were ready, succeeded together, which is why they were all able to be here together today.”
Drug Court is one of the Problem Solving Courts, which include DUI and Veterans Courts, under the umbrella of the S.D. Unified Judicial System.