Latest Douglas County drug court graduates celebrate completing this step of their journeys

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Three new graduates of Douglas County drug court can now start with a clean slate and continue to build on the people they’ve grown to be throughout their time in the program.

Drug court is an alternative to incarceration. It’s an intensive program that generally takes about 14 to 16 months to complete. After participants complete the program, their cases are dismissed and expunged from their records so they can get a fresh start.

Judge Mark Simpson, who presides over the program, said the three latest graduates bring the total to 22 since drug court launched in January 2020. Family members, friends and supporters of the three — Wendy, Dustin and Bob — celebrated their accomplishments in a packed courtroom Friday.

Shannon Bruegge, adult services officer who works with the drug court participants, spoke about each of the three graduates and their accomplishments in the program.

Bruegge said when Wendy joined the program, she immediately started to work on barriers that had caused her to make poor decisions in her past. She joined an Oxford house and found a sisterhood, maintained steady employment, and become more self-sufficient, Bruegge said.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Wendy, left, receives her parting gift from Bruegge: a poster with the words “Rise above the storm and you will find sunshine.”

One of her biggest goals was to reconnect with her family.

“Wendy knew that she would need to prove herself, not only by words, but more so by her actions,” Bruegge said. “Today, I’m happy to share that Wendy has done just that.”

Dakota Loomis, the defense attorney who works with drug court clients, said Wendy has made herself a person who can be counted on and who will do what she says.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Wendy becomes emotional as Loomis speaks about her.

Bob accepted resources provided to him and immediately started to do the work, Bruegge said. He found a job, then secured a job that pays better, and he’s working toward promotions to better himself and his future.

Bruegge read some words Bob wrote during his time in the program:

“I think honesty is important in recovery, because we lie our way through life when we’re using. I know that if you don’t change the way you think and act in your recovery, you’re really not in recovery.

“For whatever reason, once you start being honest with yourself and others, you start to grow spiritually. I’ve also seen that when people begin to trust you, doors begin to open, and healthy relationships come into your life.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Judge Mark Simpson, right, hands Bob his signed order of dismissal.

Bob completed the program more quickly than most, Loomis said, and he said he wished he could be more like Bob, who was often early for appointments and just did everything that needed to be done.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Dustin and Bob

Bruegge said Dustin had a long journey through the program, but the extra time has served him well.

Bruegge said Dustin secured employment and worked hard to provide for his family.

“Dustin would, in turn, find happiness by being a responsible, loving father to his children, along with repairing relationships with his sister and his mom,” Bruegge said.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times “I have gained my life back, the tools to live life with structure and responsibility. I gained the chance to have my daughter back in my life and be a present father,” Dustin wrote, as read by Bruegge during the graduation.

Loomis said it’s been “a real joy” to watch Dustin grow as a person and a father. Loomis said he’s glad Dustin has completed the program, but he doesn’t want to stop seeing him, and it was a somewhat bittersweet moment.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times

Dustin was the only one of the three participants who chose to speak to the crowd.

He said when he came into the program, he didn’t know how to get his life together, and the drug court team had changed his life.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Friends, supporters, fellow drug court graduates and staff members of the Douglas County district attorney’s office packed into the courtroom Friday for the graduation.

The three graduates might also join the ranks of their peers in the drug court alumni group that formed recently.

In attendance Friday was October 2023 graduate Hope Thommen.

Thommen and other former participants of the program started the Drug Court Alumni Group in January. The group provides peer support and mentorship to those who are completing the final two phases of the program and meets for social activities and community events.

Thommen was present Friday to accept a $2,500 donation from the Social Services League.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times
Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Representatives of the Social Service League — including Meg Davis, second from right — give a big check for $2,500 to Hope Thommen, right, president of the Douglas County Drug Court Alumni Group.

The alumni group and drug court participants will hold their first fundraiser, a Recovery Car Wash, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Donations are appreciated but not required.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Jim Carpenter, facing away, tells each of the graduates that their cases will be dismissed and expunged.
Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Defense attorney Dakota Loomis speaks during the graduation.
Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Drug court team members smile and laugh during the graduation.
Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Kar Woo, center, founder and program director of Artists Helping the Homeless, was among those in attendance at the drug court graduation.
Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Dustin speaks with Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez.
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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.

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