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Drug court grad ready to write the next chapter

drug court, steele county
Staff photo by Kay Fate
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

The goal of the Steele-Waseca Drug Court is opportunity.

When it was formed in July 2014, “we knew that if we tried to work a little bit different, maybe we could keep these people out of the system,” said Nicole Grams, SWDC Coordinator.

“Maybe we can get these people to have an opportunity to be better citizens, to be better family members, to be better employees,” she said, “and to really have a better opportunity and a better outlook on life.”

Last week, Angela Herplinck had another kind of opportunity: To hear people tell her they were proud of her.

It was the day she graduated from drug court – nearly five years after she started.

“Angela has been part of drug court for over half of our program’s existence,” Grams said. “She’s been with us for four years and nine months.”

There were some setbacks along the way, “but you owned up to it, and you took responsibility,” Judge Joe Bueltel told Herplinck.

Her graduation came at the end of that day’s regular court hearing for the 15 or so members working their way through the program – some there for the first time.

They have at least 18 months to go, and a lot of work to do.

“Our philosophy here is wraparound services,” Bueltel said. “What do you need to be successful? Mental health, chemical health, physical health, dental issues … We’ve seen a lot of different things that people need, like housing, employment, licenses, education.”

And, he said, “we’re not exactly a ‘gotcha’ program. We’re testing twice-weekly, at least, on a random basis, and we do that so you can stay clean and sober.”

Herplinck has, for 150 days.

When she started drug court, her legal problems included the possibility of 17 months in prison for felony violations.

“She stayed here, in this community, and continued to work through struggles and problems,” Grams said. “The hallmark is that you’ve always been extremely humble, extremely honest, and shown yourself to be the person that people go to as a peer.”

Several of those peers were at her graduation, including Jason House and Rebecca Maas.

“Watching Angie … has been an inspiration to me and got me into my own recovery a lot more,” House said. “With people like her on my side, it gave me a lot more hope. I’m so proud of you, unbelievably proud of you, Angie, and I’m glad you get to celebrate this day.”

A drug court alum, who met Herplinck in outpatient treatment, said he most admired that “you speak your mind, and it’s almost always positive. You uplift spirits with what you say, and we’re so proud of you.”

David Klocek knew Herplinck when they were teenagers, growing up in the Ellendale and Geneva areas.

“We used to use drugs together,” Klocek said. “I’ve been sober 464 days today, and I’ve seen a big change in Angela, the way she carries herself, the way she uses her voice… I appreciate this program, and everything you guys stand for. It means the world to me, what you’ve done for Angie.”

Herplinck admitted there were several times she didn’t think she would make it through.

“I wanted to give up; I wanted to quit – but I didn’t,” she said. “I’ve got three kids that I want to look up to me, to be proud of me. Knowing that there were (other) people who weren’t giving up on me, that means a lot.”

It was likely a good message for those first-time attendees, who were each prompted to answer the same question from Bueltel: If someone were to write a book about your life, what would the title be?

The answers varied widely, of course, perhaps depending on the stage of recovery.

“My New Life;” “Resilient;” “Lonely, But Never Alone;” “Chaos to Normal;” “Overcome to Exist;” “It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change.”

A few had a sense of humor about it:

“What Not to Do Before the Age of 21;” and “It Wasn’t Me – Wait, Upon Further Review, It Was Me!”

“We know that drug court has saved lives,” Grams said. “We know it’s restored families; we know that drug court has improved people’s ability to work and to be independent. We’re looking at big-picture stuff, improving the community in which we live. We don’t want to make sober criminals; we want to make productive citizens who live a healthy lifestyle.”

Herplinck, who’s going to college for a degree in medical and business administration, fits that bill.

“I owe this program a lot,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be without it. Now I have my own place, I have a job, I’m going to school, I have goals. I’m doing it.”

She plans to “just keep going,” and when she finishes school, Herplinck plans to move to Montana to be with her children, ages 15, 11 and 8.

So what would the title of her book be?

“Difficult Roads Often Lead to Beautiful Destinations,” she said. “I think that would be a good book.”

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