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'This program saved my life,' says HOPE grad

Judge Bruce Anderson congratulates George Cournoyer on Monday for graduating the HOPE probation program at Lake Andes Courthouse. (Libby Leyden/ Republic) 1 / 3
Two participants of the HOPE probation program in Lake Andes graduated on Monday. left to right: George Cournoyer and Melvin (Leo) Hopkins. (Libby Leyden/ Republic) 2 / 3
Melvin "Leo" Hopkins is congratulated by Judge Bruce Anderson for completing the HOPE probation program. (Libby Leyden/Republic) 3 / 3

LAKE ANDES — A day like Monday makes coming to work worth it for Jerry Barnett, a court services officer in Lake Andes.

Barnett and Judge Bruce Anderson congratulated 38-year-old George Cournoyer and 54-year-old Melvin (Leo) Hopkins for completing HOPE probation, a six-month drug abstinence program. And for Hopkins, the program made an enormous impact on his future.

"This program saved my life," Hopkins said. "It got me to a controlled atmosphere. It was either go to prison or straighten up and live right."

HOPE probation, named after Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, is a form of presumptive probation, requiring participants to be subjected to random drug testing and sanctioning. A random color is assigned to each probationer. He or she must call a hotline every morning and if their color has been called that day, then must immediately report to the county sheriff's office and submit a urinalysis test.

More than one year since the first success story in the Charles Mix program, Barnett was proud to see a new set of graduates earn their certificates Monday at the Charles Mix County Courthouse in Lake Andes.

"It is a great day. These folks were considered high-risk because they had lengthy drug histories," Barnett said as he prepared the graduation certificates for the ceremony.

And it was a special day for Hopkins, too.

For the first time in 25 years, Hopkins feels like he can finally start a new drug-free life. Hopkins struggled with his addiction of methamphetamine and already spent time incarcerated for his drug problems prior to starting HOPE probation.

Previous attempts to get sober failed in the past, but Hopkins said he is determined to take his success from the HOPE program and continue on the "red road" — a term he said Native Americans use to refer to the road to sobriety. Since completion of HOPE probation, Hopkins will continue on regular probation for four years.

Cournoyer, also struggled with his addiction to methamphetamine since he was 21 years old. Now 38 years old, he is hopeful that he can continue staying sober.

"I am glad they came up with this program instead of going to prison," said Cournoyer, who will continue on regular probation for three more years.

Charles Mix County was one of the first counties in the state to adopt HOPE probation as a part of their court services. Since it debuted in 2015, Barnett said the program started out with a few graduates and has since seen more success stories.

In May, Darrell Drapeau and Jennell McShane graduated and currently Charles Mix County has 12 participants in the HOPE program. Barnett also thanked Charles Mix County Sheriff's Office and the Wagner Police Department with assisting the program by administering the drug tests.

Anderson encouraged the two graduates to place their certificates in a spot they can be reminded daily of their hard work.

"HOPE probation had a rough start in Charles Mix County," said Anderson. "But it is proving to have merit now."