Renewed hope: Douglas County drug court graduate has created a new path for herself

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Over the past couple of years, Hope Thommen and Jason Hall have been the only constants in each other’s lives. Everything has changed for the better in sobriety, and they’re putting broken pieces back together.

Thommen, 41, had criminal charges in Douglas and four other counties. 

“I have a long history of drug use and criminal behavior, and so I was in big trouble,” Thommen says. 

She’s now been clean for two years and four months, and she became the 17th graduate of Douglas County’s drug court program on Friday.

“There’s a lot of recovery here,” Thommen says. 

“I was just willing to do anything — whatever it took, whatever I was told, whatever I needed to do — to get myself out of the situation that I was in. And it’s totally turned my life in a complete different direction.” 

Thommen and Hall have been together more than a decade. In more recent years, they’ve been propelling each other forward. 

Hall, 37, came to Lawrence two years ago. While he was living at Hearthstone, a men’s recovery house in Lawrence, he heard about drug court and Shannon Bruegge, the drug court officer.

Douglas County’s drug court program started in January 2020 under now-retired Judge Kay Huff. It’s an alternative to incarceration that includes supervision, drug treatment and community service. It takes about 14 months for each participant to complete the program; if they’re successful, their charges are dismissed. 

Hall wanted to advocate for Thommen while she was incarcerated, so he called Bruegge to find out how Thommen could get involved with drug court. Hall told Bruegge that Thommen was ready to do the work. 

Bruegge remembers that call. She says things like that don’t happen often, and she took note of the support Hall showed.

“I was so overwhelmed with hope that I was going to be able to get into (drug court),” Thommen says. 

“That was the answer to everything for me, was to be able to have the opportunity to find a way to show and work and change things around that I had created in my drug use — and not go to prison,” she emphasizes, “… because that wouldn’t turn out the same. It would not turn out the same at all.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Jason Hall and Hope Thommen at Thommen’s drug court graduation

She joined the program in August 2022. 

Thommen never had a positive drug screen out of more than 120 throughout the program, and she never missed a day of her intensive outpatient drug treatment, Bruegge says. 

“Hope made it look really easy, but it wasn’t — she just really invested herself and did all the work,” Bruegge says. 

Thommen reflects with amazement about being on such a personal level with a judge, prosecutor and probation officer — people traditionally in positions of authority — and how they wanted to see her do well. And she says she’s never had a defense attorney care to help her as much as Dakota Loomis did. 

“They didn’t have any reason to care for me, so it builds confidence in yourself,” Thommen says.

That can be an important piece of recovery. 

“You got to find people who believe in you when you can’t believe in yourself,” Hall says. 

Thommen isn’t exaggerating how much Loomis had to do, Bruegge says. He had to get five counties in agreement to afford Thommen the opportunity to complete drug court and allow Douglas County to supervise her through the program. 

Loomis says there are lots of folks who have similar stories to Thommen’s — perhaps not with quite as many cases and as major of addictions, but they’re doing a lot of work to stay sober, stay in compliance. Drug court gives people opportunities, but Thommen did all the work herself, and her spotless record in the program is “unheard of,” he says.

He’s looking forward to hearing about what she’s doing in the future and helping her with anything that may come up, such as expungements of her criminal cases, he says. 

“Oftentimes, I think attorneys like to think we play a role protecting our clients, or have a big role in helping them get through this,” Loomis says. “But in this case, I can say fairly confidently that Hope did almost every single thing possible here for herself, and in an incredibly admirable way. So I’m super proud of her for that.”

Thommen has also held employment and paid off thousands of dollars in fines and fees in multiple counties, Bruegge says. The couple have been saving money — “which is not anything that we’ve been used to in the past,” Hall says — and they’re looking to improve their credit scores in hopes of buying a house. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Shannon Bruegge, right, gives Hope Thommen a poster that reads “The best view comes after the hardest climb.”

Judge Mark Simpson, who presides over drug court, read a quote during Thommen’s graduation: “Hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

“And I thought, you know, that perfectly describes Hope, and that’s why she is here today as a graduate, and more importantly, as somebody in long-term recovery who’s clearly gotten her life into the sort of life she wants to live,” Simpson said. 

Thommen and Hall have been each other’s biggest supporters, Bruegge said during the graduation — even when that meant taking time and distancing to focus on themselves.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Carpenter, right, speaks at Thommen’s drug court graduation. Carpenter is the “prosecutor” on Douglas County’s incarceration alternative programs. He gave Thommen a signed motion to dismiss her case. Judge Mark Simpson is at left.

Thommen told those in attendance at the ceremony that now is their chance to use the resources and the help available to them through the drug court program. 

“Decide what you want in your life and knock down all the hurdles that you have, and use their help to get yourself where you want to be,” she told fellow participants. 

She had a special message for Hall, seated in the front row:

“We follow each other anywhere, I feel, so today you’re graduating with me.” 

Thommen and Hall are taking things one day at a time. 

They have both become leaders in 12-step programs, chairing meetings. Thommen does “H&I,” or hospitals and institutions, outreach to get people involved in Narcotics Anonymous. 

“We’re just probably going to be more involved in our recovery community — it’s not really something that you quit doing,” Thommen says. “It’s something that we’ll be working on for the rest of our lives.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Thommen beams during her drug court graduation.

Hall lived at Hearthstone for more than a year. He’s now on the board, and he goes back weekly for meetings with the men in the house, he says. 

“I felt like Lawrence is a great place for somebody to come to and get help, and there’s a lot of opportunities here,” Hall says. “The people who have been established in Lawrence are just really helpful, and that made all the difference to me. … I couldn’t be more blessed to live in Lawrence, Kansas.”

Perhaps the best part of all is that they’re reconnecting with their son, who will turn 6 next month. 

Thommen was in jail when he was born, and Hall was having a hard time raising him while he was struggling with his addiction. The boy has been living with a member of Hall’s family. 

They reunited with him about two years ago. They see him more frequently now, and they’ve had him overnight a few times. He has a room at their home. 

“We’re just working our way up, as far as that goes,” Thommen says. 

Other parents in similar situations might lament that they feel like they have their lives together now, and that they should get more time with their kids all at once; Thommen’s face lights up when she talks about her son, but she understands that it’s a process, and she has patience, Bruegge says.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Bruegge (left) and Thommen pose for a photo at Thommen’s drug court graduation.

“I remember she said to me, ‘I’m just grateful — I wanted more, but I’m just grateful for the one day I get,’” Bruegge says. 

Thommen is taking classes through a University of Kansas program for women who are or have been incarcerated. Right now, she’s learning to use Google Sheets to make a budget.

She’s also taking online classes through the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services to become a certified peer mentor. 

“We want to be of service to our community now — show other people who are in our situation what can be done, what is possible for them,” Hall says. 

“Yeah — show a good example,” Thommen adds. 

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Thommen says she believes that if she’d gone to prison, she would have come back out in the same spot she was already in — committing more crimes and continuing their life of drugs. 

“I probably would have lost a lot more than I’ve already lost,” Thommen says. 

Instead, she’s learned to respect herself.

“Drug court has helped me because they gave me a backbone,” she says. “They held me accountable, but at the same time, they really helped me in every way that there is — just believed in me and encouraged me, and gave me the platform, I guess, all the different resources and options. …  I’ve never been helped so much in my life.”

She hasn’t yet applied for a job to take the next step in the peer mentor training program. She’s been waiting for her drug court graduation, and she doesn’t want to do anything too impulsively. 

“I’m getting ready to make the move,” she says. “I’m slow at making moves. But I’m on the verge here.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Thommen, fourth from left, poses for a photo with drug court team members.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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