TWIN FALLS • On Oct. 15, 2014, more than a dozen people graduated from Drug Court in Idaho’s 5th Judicial District.
They had to attend weekly court hearings, do homework and check in or meet with court officials nearly every day.
Once they graduated, most had to continue to check in with probation officers, but they had a lot more free time — and chances to relapse.
Here are snapshots of three graduates, three months later.
Chuck Frame lost everything. Then he got it back.
He went to out-patient rehab for his addiction in 2008 but six months later was back at his old habits.
In September 2012, his wife filed for divorce. He lost access to his five children, now ages 12 to 21. On July 10, 2013, he was caught with meth and arrested.
At his sentencing, he was offered a place in Drug Court. By September, Chuck and his wife, Alisa, started talking again. Eighteen months after divorcing, they remarried.
“That never happens,” Chuck said Thursday at their home in Kimberly.
At first, Alisa told him he would have to be sober for years before they could reunite. Then she saw him change.
“That guy he was was gone,” Alisa said. “He changed into the person I always knew was there.”
A lack of love was never the problem, she said. Chuck’s bad choices were.
As of Thursday, he’d been sober for 557 days.
Wednesday was one of his toughest days in a long time. He ran into someone he thinks was high.
“It’s tough to see someone in that situation,” said Chuck, 39.
He knew he needed to talk to someone, so he called Alisa and went to her office for lunch.
Chuck said he prefers to attend recovery meetings at his church, but he knows when and where other meetings are held, just in case.
“They’re not my favorite, but you always hear something you need,” he said.
Since Drug Court, Chuck and Alisa have made a lot of changes. They quit the softball team they were on for years because there was too much drinking, Alisa said, as their two new kittens dashed across the hardwood floor.
Now their social circle is made up mostly of family and others in recovery. They get up early, go to work, and go to bed early. Outings include church, recovery meetings, high school sports games and an occasional dinner out.
“I wouldn’t take back getting busted,” Chuck said. Without having hit bottom and gone to Drug Court, he said, he’d be back drinking and using drugs.
“Life can be amazing without using. Life can be as good as you make it.”
Every day won’t be a good day, said Jennifer Ordaz.
But even on her worst days, it doesn’t feel as bad as it would if she used meth.
“If I relapsed again, that’s three strikes,” said Ordaz, 36. “There’s no more out there for me. There’s not another chance. There’s nothing else. I do it again, and I’m done.”
When she gets a craving for meth, she goes to a meeting or calls someone.
“Once I’ve said it out loud, there’s no desire there,” she said. “It’s like when you say something to somebody and you really didn’t mean to. But as soon as you say it out loud, you’re like, ‘Oh crap.’”
Her relapse after 10 years of sobriety was traumatic, Ordaz said.
“I lost my job, I lost my family, I lost trust. There are still trust issues there.”
At meetings, Ordaz said, she finds support and helps others. She can see when other people make excuses the way she once did, and she calls them out on it.
“I’m not going to let you bull— me,” she said. “My life is more valuable than it was before.”
Seeing people who have gone back to drugs makes Ordaz remember how easy it is to slide back into her old ways.
“Sometimes you need to hear the truth. Who better to hear it from than the people who walked the line with you.”
When Ordaz relapsed, she cut off all her connections and stopped going to meetings.
“The people I did hang around were people that I could manipulate.”
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Now life is a series of goals to be met.
First, she completed Moral Reconation Therapy, then paid all her court fees. Finally, she graduated from Drug Court. Her next goal was to hire an attorney to try to get her drug charge dismissed.
“As soon as I walked out of jail, I said, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to fix this.’”
She hired an attorney and is waiting for a hearing to make her case for dismissal.
Because her other charges are more than 10 years old, she has a chance.
In the long term, Ordaz said, she wants to continue her education in geriatric medicine. With a drug charge on her record, a job in the medical field is nearly impossible.
For now, she said, she loves her job at an assisted-living facility in Kimberly.
“If (the charge) doesn’t get dismissed, life goes on. I still move forward.”
Over the past 18 months, Nick Jessen, 35, has accomplished more than he thought possible.
Some are seemingly small things, such as paying bills on time, keeping food on the table for his family and holding down a job for more than six months.
“I haven’t had an eviction notice in two years,” he said Friday at his Rupert home.
That might seem normal for most. “But for users and abusers, that’s a huge deal.”
In April 2013, Jessen got a felony charge of driving under the influence, but it wasn’t the first time he drove while drunk.
“I drank and drove every day,” he said.
Jessen said he often drank a 30-pack of beer before heading to the liquor store. He crashed into canals, stole alcohol and once forgot one of his children at a martial arts class.
A judge sentenced him to eight years in prison for his DUI. But Jessen also was offered a spot in Drug Court.
Probation felt like a game, he said, but Drug Court was intense. “They give you just enough rope to hang yourself.”
He said he went into the court “kicking and screaming” and just wanted to finish.
Then one day, another participant told about crashing a car while drunk with the entire family inside.
That resonated with Jessen. It could have been him. From then on, he took treatment seriously.
Jessen was in the court for 17 months.
Now he has more free time with his family but also time to run into people he’d rather not see.
“They’re everywhere—shopping, eating. You just give them the head nod,” he said. “You don’t want to get too close and get sucked back in.”
Jessen said his support system consists of his children, girlfriend and parents.
“The most important thing I’ve seen him go through is finding out who his real friends are,” said his girlfriend, Jami DeJager, as 15-month-old son Wyatt cooed in a high-chair.
There were times she planned to leave him and other times she felt like a duck — calm only on the surface.
But when she saw Jessen choose to change for himself, she knew his recovery was real.
For Jessen, it was one day at a time staying sober.
“For me,” DeJager said, “it was one day at a time saying, ‘I’m still here, and things are getting better.’”
Since getting clean, Jessen has saved enough money to buy two vehicles.
Wyatt was born, and now another baby is on the way.
Jessen’s next goal is being released from probation. He has a review in April and, if he’s allowed off, plans to eventually move his family to northern California or southern Oregon.
He said it’s hard to get all the help he needs in a rural area.
Recovery meetings aren’t always available, so he calls someone who can talk him through the hardest days.
When he can’t reach someone, “you just keep dialing the numbers until you can,” he said.
Sometimes the person on the other end of the line is a stranger. But the stranger knows what he’s going through.