Former addict praises Boone County's drug court, 20 years after it began
COLUMBIA - A year and a half ago, Rhonda Watson found herself at a crossroad: Go to prison or go to a drug treatment court.
She chose the latter part, and now says she is "very grateful."
Watson celebrated her graduation from Boone County drug court's treatment program on Tuesday, along with nine other people.
The program was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Casey Clevenger, the treatment court commissioner for the 13th Circuit, said such programs exist "because they work."
The treatment courts are an alternative to standard probation models like prison or jail. The goal is to help offenders reintegrate into a life of recovery, stay in recovery and become productive members of society.
The intention of treatment programs differs from punitive methods in that it focuses on rehabilitation with individualized plans designed to help the offender have a stable recovery and stop criminal activity altogether.
Watson said she didn't want to go to prison when she violated probation on drug charges, so she asked for the treatment court. She said her life would have been completely different had she served time.
"I would've got out and started using again and I didn't want that. I have two little grandbabies and I want to watch them grow up. I don't want to see them grow up from jail and I don't want them to see me high," she said.
Watson started using drugs shortly after her mother died and after her children moved out of the house.
"I just felt like there was no use for me," she said. "I had nothing to stay clean for."
Throughout her addiction, Watson said, her children stopped talking to her and she distanced herself from her family. It wasn't until she faced court and was going to go to prison that she chose the drug program to get clean instead.
Watson said she wants people to know that getting clean isn't easy and isn't always a choice.
"You have to want it. If you don't want it, it's not going to work." she said.
Clevenger said she usually sees major progress in participants during the third month, out of 15 months total.
"Many people come into drug court, they're very angry," she said. "But then they get involved in the treatment and start to see the benefits of living life sober," she said.
When offenders graduate from the program, there is still a network of support available for them in case they face moments of weakness.
"There's so many resources and the support team is amazing," Watson said. "You can call them any time talk to them about anything, they don't judge you."
Since the drug court started in 1998, more than 1,000 participants have graduated. Clevenger said, going forward, the goal is to further expand the program.