In Depth Report: Hidalgo County Drug Court
POSTED: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 4:30pm
UPDATED: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 9:23am
HIDALGO COUNTY - Every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. the 92nd District Court is home to the Hidalgo County Drug Court. One by one, people come in through the doors and completely fill the long bench seats.
“I always had people tell me come, I will help you, I just never really wanted to listen to them. It was just, all I cared about was the stuff (marijuana),” said Stephanie Yeoman, Drug Court Participant.
Marijuana, cocaine, the list goes on for the type of drugs many of the participants used. And if it hadn't been for their arrest, some admit they probably wouldn't have stopped using.
“No I probably would have continued the same path, doing the drugs, saying that I don’t have a problem, and that life is pretty sweet and everything, when I am just, like I said, I’m just blind,” said Salvador Regalado, Drug Court Participant.
Each person is here because of a felony drug arrest. But everyone is trying to make a change.
“When you are under the influence, you think differently, you think everyone is out to get you, no one will understand," said Yeoman.
After being arrested, each person was give a one time opportunity. An opportunity to go through the Hidalgo County Drug Court, in hopes of dropping their case.
“Drug court is a problem solving court that actually serves the offenders that we have identified that need treatment," said Rodolfo Perez, Adult Probation Deputy Director.
“At the end of the day we try our hardest to make sure that we prepare this individual, we get them help, we get them sober," said Judge Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., 92nd District Court.
Made up of a judge, parole officers and a counselor, the drug court staff guides these offenders through a four phase program.
“I mean in the beginning I really didn’t think much about the program. But as time went on I actually felt that I needed some help, so I turned to the people from the drug court so they could help me out," said Guadalupe Montez, Drug Court Graduate.
Participants meet in group sessions and in one-on-one session with counselors. It's a strict program, but it's designed to make a real cognitive change in ever person.
“You have to go meet with your parole officer twice a week, and every time you go in you get a UA test," said Yeoman. "It's a urine test."
“They do get drug tested quite a bit. For example in the last fiscal year, a total of 2,004 drug tests were conducted, and I believe 97% of those were negative," said Faustino Lopez, Supervisory Probation Officer.
It's a hand up not a hand out motto. And because of that, not everyone makes it through.
“With the staff, we decide who stays on, who doesn’t, who needs more help, who needs inpatient," said Judge Rodriguez.
The court creates a whole new world of structure and discipline. Many times participants find this new way of living hard to adjust to.
“Just with the counselors and the individual sessions, it has been helping me understand that I have a problem, I have something in my past that I am putting away," said Regalado.
“Education is important. Knowing the consequences that you do to yourself as a person, that you do to your body internally, at the same time the people you affect around you," said an anonymous participant.
Most of the people are young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.
“The population that we are dealing with are teenagers. And they are facing adolescent changes. So they are very immature, so when they take drugs they take it in a way that is very impulsive," said Adrianna Solis, Substance Abuse Counselor.
“It was very difficult, because I didn’t want to admit that I was addicted, I was like every other person whose done it saying 'Oh, it’s not addictive,' but it is, and it is hard," said Yeoman.
Each parole officer leans the habits, behaviors and life style of every person they oversee. No one is a number in this court. Every person is known on a first name basis.
And after 18 months, most people graduate. Guadalupe Montez was one of those graduates on Tuesday.
Montez said he knows he was lucky to get this option.
“I'm very thankful. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I never thought this would happen to me, I never thought I would be able to get even a dismissal on my case, so I am very thankful," said Montez.
People who complete the program get their case dropped from court.
“They have their case dismissed. So now automatically if they are asked, have you ever been convicted of a felony, of course no. And they can go on and say it was actually dismissed and I have a document to show it was dismissed. They have to go an extra step and expunge their record," said Judge Rodriguez.
“If it weren’t for the drug court, I would have a felony on my record for the rest of my life. This is my first ever offense, I have never been in trouble other than this. And so to be able to go through this program, and not only have the charges dismissed and have the ability to have it expunged and never seen again is kind of like having a do over button," said Yeoman.
And it's a chance they only have once. So to make sure they don't forget, many participants wear a pink and blue bracelet. Each bracelet is engraved with encouraging words of hope.
Yeoman reads her pink bracelet aloud,“Defeat is temporary, giving up makes it permanent. And to me that one actually means the most."
Because it's this bracelet that reminds Yeoman of her past.
“I let myself be defeated because I stopped trying, so this just kind of reminds me on my hard days not to give up,” said Yeoman.
Hard days each person is aiming to put behind them.