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The Third Branch

Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court graduations mark turning point

Arthur Byas, peer mentor, is congratulated by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Ellen R. Brostrom during graduation.
Arthur Byas, peer mentor, is congratulated by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Ellen R. Brostrom during graduation.

By Judge Ellen R. Brostrom, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

On Oct. 10, the Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court graduated eight successful participants. In addition, the drug treatment court team presented an award of appreciation to Arthur Byas, drug treatment court graduate and current peer mentor. The celebration was packed with successful graduates, current participants, family, friends, sponsors, supporters and the entire team.

Here are the highlights: Of the eight graduates, five never tested positive for drugs or alcohol during their entire tenure in the program. This is quite unusual in the experience of the Milwaukee County drug treatment court. Most graduates experience at least one return to use during the program, and often they experience several before they are able to establish a solid sobriety and converted lifestyle.

One of the graduates who never tested positive had previously been given the opportunity to participate in the Dane County drug treatment court on earlier charges. She did not successfully complete that program. This time around, she was ready. She was fully engaged in her recovery and she had the one key ingredient in place: the desire to get and stay clean.

Similarly, another participant had suffered decades of addiction, had been in and out of jail and prison, and he was "sick and tired of being sick and tired." As he poetically and powerfully stated at graduation, "I thought I was livin', but really I was dyin'. That ain't life; it's death! Today, I'm free. I no longer choose to hurt me."

A third graduate with a perfect performance had been clean six months before entering the drug treatment court. Her lawyer advised her against joining the program, believing it was too rigorous and that she could likely resolve her cases in a simpler fashion. She wasn't buying it. She knew that six months clean time was nothing in the face of 14 years of addiction. She knew she needed the structure and accountability of the drug treatment court. At graduation, she expressed her appreciation for her 19 months of sobriety.

The other two graduates with clean tests went through the program with a quiet determination. Their families and friends will be there to continue to support them as they move forward.

By contrast, the other three graduates had significant struggles with relapse and were at the edge of the time limit for the program. The Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court has a time limit of 18 months, with a possible two month extension. All three of these graduates would have failed had they missed a single test or tested positive for any substance as they rounded the corner toward graduation. All three kept their focus, and their testimonies at graduation were remarkable. One noted the power of his faith in his recovery. Another noted that she had become a transformed person inside and out. The third attested to how difficult he had found the structure and requirements of the program, and how grateful he was for his new life.

Of the eight graduates, six have children. Of those six, five care for minors who currently depend on them, for a total of 10 minor children. One had a healthy, drug-free baby during the course of the program. The ripple effects of their sobriety, and their ability to be there for their children rather than being in prison or on the streets or dead, cannot be overestimated.

Finally, Byas ties together the success of all of these graduates. Indeed, each of the graduates spoke and wrote about the role Byas played in their success and recovery. A soft-spoken, kind, and highly insightful man, Byas graduated from the drug treatment court in March 2012. He now serves as a peer mentor for the program. He leads Wellness Recover Action Plan (WRAP) groups. He mentors participants one-on-one. He also leads the Phase V group, which provides a social forum for former drug treatment court participants to stay in touch and continue to focus on their sobriety. At the graduation, the team surprised Byas with a plaque honoring him and his work. It was fitting, given the many graduates who have benefitted from his guidance and counsel.

The Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court, like many drug treatment courts around the state and the nation, struggles to deal with opiate medication and heroin addiction. The graduation of each of these eight individuals is a victory for our whole community.

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