Six receive second chance in Winnebago County drug court graduation

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Many of those battling addiction are no stranger to the legal system, often bouncing in and out of jail.

A Winnebago County program gives those ready for a change the opportunity to turn their lives around.

Six people get that second chance as they graduate from the county’s Adult Drug Court, bringing a total number of graduates to 682 since drug court began in 1996.

The voluntary program targets those in the criminal justice system struggling with addiction.

The honorable Judge Janet Holmgren says for many drug court is their personal evolution.

“To see the progress that they make, the changes that they’re making in their life, the positive things that start to get put into place, it’s hard to put into place because its really meaningful,” said Holmgren.

Among the graduates was Mechelle Sweet.

“I’m not ashamed of my story,” shared Sweet. “Today, I am proof life after heroin addiction is possible.”

After being in and out of the court system for seven years, Sweet said she was ready for something different.

“Drug court is one of the hardest probations I’ve ever done in my entire life,” said Sweet. “I’ve had regular probation. It’s very strict.”

A team of clinical and justice professionals closely supervise each participant’s treatment for two years. Judge Holmgren believes it’s important to have alternatives to time behind bars.

“The whole idea of rehabilitation holistically looking at an offender, instead of like a black and white thing,” said Holmgren. “It makes such a difference.”

Mark Heeren graduated from Adult Drug Court three years ago. Wednesday, he was invited to share some advice.

“You can’t just graduate and expect to be clean and not do anything else,” said Heeren. “It’s a continuing thing you have to do for the rest of your life.”

Sweet feels lucky to have been offered drug court and wanted to make sure she didn’t waste her opportunity.

“Its been a very long road but a very rewarding journey,” said Sweet.

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