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Overcoming addictions: 3 graduate from Mitchell treatment programs

A drug treatment program in Mitchell added three new names to its list of graduates Thursday, including the first graduate from the county's DUI Court.

Amy Demaranville, left, and Thomas Engebretson, right, celebrate their graduation from the James Valley Drug and DUI courts, respectively, on Thursday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell. (Jake Shama/Republic)
Amy Demaranville, left, and Thomas Engebretson, right, celebrate their graduation from the James Valley Drug and DUI courts, respectively, on Thursday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell. (Jake Shama/Republic)

A drug treatment program in Mitchell added three new names to its list of graduates Thursday, including the first graduate from the county's DUI Court.

"Probably should have done it a long time ago. It feels good," said DUI Court graduate Thomas Engebretson.

The James Valley Drug and DUI Court was established in October 2013 to help individuals get beyond their drug and alcohol addictions. South Dakota's first Drug Court was founded in 2007 in the Black Hills, and the first Drug Court in the nation was started in 1989 in Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Joel Amick became the first graduate of Davison County's Drug Court program in May 2015. On Thursday, Engebretson became the DUI Court's first.

By the time he was 26, Engebretson had already been convicted of five DUIs. Instead of going to prison, he applied to be the first participant of the James Valley DUI Court. He started the program on Oct. 30, 2014, and he is now celebrating 575 days of sobriety.

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When he started the program, Engebretson decided to buckle down and "do what (he's) supposed to do," such as attending meetings, taking urinalysis tests and going to work on time.

"That's pretty much all I had to do. It was a lot of work, but it really isn't that difficult compared to what I used to believe," Engebretson said.

Throughout the 18-month program, Engebretson never missed a day of work at Trail King in Mitchell, which Judge Gordon Swanson, master of ceremonies for the event, called "unheard of."

"Thomas had no sanctions. He's had no relapses whatsoever. Thomas put his head down, and he said, 'I'm going to do this.' And he's kept true to his word," Swanson said.

Engebretson had contact with law enforcement or Drug Court personnel 469 times in the past 18 months, including urinalysis tests, random check ups and court appearances. He also attended at least 197 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and all his fines, court costs and treatment fees are paid.

Drug Court graduation

Amy Demaranville and Leah Shields were the two graduates of the Drug Court on Thursday. Demaranville, a mother of three and grandmother of one, also works at Trail King. She is celebrating 577 days of sobriety and had 707 contacts and attended 282 meetings Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or similar meetings. All of her fines and costs have been paid as well.

Demaranville said she had heard bad things about the Drug Court when she was in jail, but she decided to give the program a shot and is still happy with her decision.

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"I would definitely recommend it to anybody who has the decision to make to do this or go to prison," Demaranville said. "It's a very easy program if you show up and be honest and try."

Shields' message was slightly different. She said the program was a challenge, but it was worth it.

"Drug Court is pretty intense," Shields said. "I'm just glad they were here for me. It feels good to wake up every day."

Shields joined the program two years ago. She is employed at Twin City Fan in Mitchell, and she has had 800 contacts and has attended 231 meetings.

The graduates were asked to write a brief biography about themselves, which one person said felt like writing an obituary, Swanson said. He tried to surround it in a different light.

"I hope more than an obituary, it feels like a birth announcement because this is a new beginning of something that leads to a happier life. A healthier life," Swanson said.

South Dakota Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk served as keynote speaker at the event. He said the ceremony would not be the end of disappointments and losses in the graduates' lives, but he urged them to respond to trials in a healthy way.

"These choices are never easy. We will make them more often than not after much agony and struggle. 'Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,' " Kaemingk said, quoting Romans 5. "I see hope in your eyes, and I want to congratulate you on your accomplishment."

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Opportunity for change

Thursday's graduation brings James Valley Drug and DUI Court's graduate total to four people. Far more individuals are convicted each year of drug crimes, but Tim Moon, the program's court services officer, said the low number is because people aren't applying for the program, not because they are turned away.

"It's an opportunity for them to change their lives," Moon said. "Many of them may think prison is the easiest way to go, so that's the choice they make."

Anyone who has pleaded guilty to a drug or DUI crime may apply for the program as long as they are not charged with distribution of drugs or a violent crime.

If accepted, program officials develop a treatment plan, which may include a mental health assessment from Dakota Counseling and a treatment needs assessment from Stepping Stones.

Participants meet in group settings, attend outside treatment programs, take random urinalysis tests, go through random home and employment check ups and attend court hearings.

Moon said each of this year's graduates has taken more than 100 urinalysis tests this year, and they have taken more than 200 throughout the entire 18-month program. Test dates are selected by a computer program, which gives them a 28 percent chance of being tested each day.

Other tactics, like court appearances, occur often at first but become less frequent as the person continues through the program and are designed to provide both accountability and self-motivation, Moon said.

"If we start seeing red flags or high-risk situations or even a positive test, then we can adjust our treatment immediately and get them the services they need," Moon said. "It's definitely not only accountability but also helps us assist them in treatment needs."

James Valley Drug and DUI Court intends to keep in touch with its graduates so they may be a source of encouragement to future participants in the program.

Amy Demaranville, right, celebrates her graduation from the James Valley Drug Court on Thursday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell. (Jake Shama/Republic)
Amy Demaranville, right, celebrates her graduation from the James Valley Drug Court on Thursday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell. (Jake Shama/Republic)

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