The next step… sobriety
"This is more than a graduation from the Steele Waseca Drug Court. It is a commencement, or a new beginning."
Those were the words of Third District Steele County Judge Joseph A. Bueltel as he addressed the 38th and 39th gradates of the Steele Waseca Drug Court on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
A nearly packed Court Room B at the Steele County Courthouse was the scene of many accolades being directed to two new graduates of Drug Court.
Decked out in their graduate gowns, Randal (Beau) Jones, 45, and Christopher Powers, 43, stood proudly as Judge Bueltel praised the two Drug Court participants for turning things around in their lives. He commended the two graduates with overcoming "so much adversity" in their lives.
"This is a commencement more than a graduation because people are moving on," Bueltel said.
"Remember, you are still on probation," the judge said, with a large grin on his face.
Nicole Grams, coordinator of the Steele Waseca Drug Court program, said between the two of them, Jones and Powers have logged 1,882 days of sobriety, 1,265 for Jones and 617 for Powers.
"I was one day away from getting booted out of the program," Powers confessed. "This program has saved my life and there were times I wanted to give up," said Powers, choking back pure emotion.
"I worked hard to get to where I got to today, and I chose to give up drugs and have a better life," Powers said.
Powers thanked the Drug Court staff and also said he found something higher than himself and "that is my God," he related. "Today, I can say life is good without drugs," Powers said emphatically.
Jones, known as Beau to most everyone, said he "tried to write something down" to say at the graduation but admitted that his ego took over. He spoke without preparation of remarks and then thanked the presence of God. "I'm so grateful I'm the guy who wanted to get clean himself," Jones said.
Saluting Nicole Grams and others on what he called his "PR team," Jones said they helped him to feel differently and to think differently.
In the beginning with Drug Court, Jones said he had to make nine meetings a week. "I came in (to Drug Court) very aggressive, and I had to find some trust," he explained.
Pastor Joel Stauffer of the New Life Community Church of Owatonna said he baptized both Jones and Powers. "They have both stepped into a new life and you are rewriting God's story," Pastor Stauffer said with sincerity.
Prior to the weekly Drug Court session, Jones acknowledged to this writer that it had been "a long road" for him to reach sobriety. "There is hope," he said, "by reaching out and anything is possible."
Jones started the program on Aug. 6, 2015 and has participated for about 3 1/2 years. He entered the program on a felony, possession of a pistol. This offense carries a mandatory commitment of 60 months, said Drug Court coordinator Grams. Jones also faced a first-degree burglary charge, which carried a stayed stench of 33 months.
During his time in Drug Court, Jones exceeded 456 drug tests and has logged 1,265 sobriety days.
Grams said Beau continues to self-direct during adversity and reaches out to others in recovery, as well as giving back to the recovery community.
Grams also detailed Powers' time in Drug Court. He started the program on July 13, 2016 and has participated for about 2 ½ years. He entered the program on two separate domestic violence convictions and a violation of an order for protection. He had a stayed sentence of 23 months in prison.
Powers exceeded 288 tests and totaled 617 sobriety days.
Grams said once Powers became committed to his recovery, he adapted his entire lifestyle to support his goals.
Grams challenged both Jones and Powers to "continue to be connected and to utilize the supports you have gained through the recovery community and to consider mentoring others."
Grams detailed the beginning of the Steele Waseca Drug Court, which was implemented on July 1, 2014. As the program grew, it was enhanced with more state grant monies from the Bureau of Justice Assistance grant top incorporate early mental healthy evaluations, mental health consultation, defense counsel services, gaining and continued evaluation.
Another grant, this time from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, provided funding to launch a DWI track specifically targeting how to best serve high risk/high need DWI offenders. This grant allowed the Steele Waseca Drug Court to expand its capacity from 40 to 60.
Grams said SWDC has served 165 participants with 76 withdrawing or electing to serve jail/prison time, or being transferred to another drug court.
Today, the program has 53 participants, Grams announced. It is a "rigorous program," she said about its four phases. It lasts a minimum of 18 months, she said.
The combined total amount of sobriety amongst the Drug Court to date is 15,017 days, an estimated average of 41 combined years, said Grams. The average sobriety per participant is 283 days.
Judge Bueltel, as always, allowed probation officers and others time to reflect on the accomplishments of the graduates.
County Attorney Dan McIntosh complimented Jones and Powers on their number of sobriety days and said he saw a change of attitudes and perspectives by both. McIntosh also mentioned that their involvement in the New Life Community will continue to be a positive influence on the men.
Jones' brother, John, said he had seen "a whole change" in his brother. "You keep doing what you are doing," he challenged Beau.
Helena Shaw, the mother of three of his seven children also praised Jones' accomplishment. "You're Beau, keep going kid."
Beau didn't jump into the program with both feet, remembers Grams. "He has helped develop activities in the recovery community and he has done a tremendous amount of research to assist others in their journey toward recovery," Grams added.
As the commencement ceremony came to a close, lots of hugs were exchanged by Jones and Powers with their families and friends.
Pastor Stauffer then joined the graduates for cake in celebration of their newest accomplishment.
Their accomplishments are just mile markers in the road that they are passing, said Stauffer. "It's not an end; they will keep going and growing," he said.
Stauffer's church meets Sundays in the small auditorium at Owatonna High School and draws over 400 for two services.
More commencements are imminent. Stay tuned by following the final Wednesday court date of the month, the day typically designated for graduation/commencement.