FAIRMONT - Three young men joined the ranks of drug court graduates Tuesday afternoon.
Bruce Baxter of Fairmont, Tony Phillips of Jackson and Trent DeRuyter of Okabena all faced issues related to drugs and alcohol that landed them in courtrooms. But as they stood in front of the judges one last time, it was for congratulations.
Judge Douglas Richards spoke of Baxter, who entered the drug court program while living in Faribault County.
Bruce Baxter, center, is recognized during drug court graduation.
Tony Phillips, left, and Trent DeRuyter, right, received help and guidance from Rich Odom, a counselor at Fountain Center, during their time in drug court.
"He had 44 open files when he started," Richards said. "Going from 44 to zero today is a great accomplishment."
"It's been two years, two months and four days," Baxter said of when he began drug court. "It's been a very long road, I've had a lot of success but also a lot of problems ... I've held a job for two and a half years, and that's a record. I've kept sober for two and a half years; that's also a record. I now have a driver's license, which I hadn't held in seven years."
While Baxter was grateful to family and friends and to drug court personnel, he also was grateful to those who doubted him.
"I have a special thank you to them for getting to prove them wrong," he said.
Phillips had a tougher challenge than most while completing drug court. About a year into the program, his father passed away.
"It would have been so easy for you to fall back, but you chose not to," his mother said. "I know it wasn't easy ... But I love seeing you smile and hearing you laugh again. I have my son back instead of the shell you had become. Your father would be proud of you."
Phillips admits it was the support of the people in drug court that helped him through the toughest times.
"There were times I wanted to go back, just to numb myself from it," he admitted. "But with the support from everyone in the program, I realized I had to do it for my dad too. I know he'd be disappointed if I failed."
DeRuyter was the third success story of the day.
"(Drug court) has taught me to be more responsible; it's more than just staying sober," DeRuyter said. "I'm now finishing college and I'm graduating in May. I don't know if I would've done that without drug court. It's taught me how to maintain my life and how to handing some of the situations that come along."
"They are all beyond amazing," said Bev Snow, coordinator for the drug court program in Martin, Faribault and Jackson counties. "You have to remember that the first time I meet the participants, they're usually in jail. Now, today, this makes 29 graduates we have."
As pointed out during graduation ceremonies, the minimum 18-month program is about more than staying clean and sober. Participants need to find and maintain employment. They get visits and drug tests at any given time of the day or night. Any personal struggles, be it work-related stress or personal problems that come up during counseling sessions, are addressed.
"I think it's speaks volumes that in an economy that's downward and work is hard to find, but all the participants find jobs," Snow said.
Plus, those who graduate usually end up coming back to support others who are still in the program. Deputy Brandon Haley of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office pointed out that Phillips had been considered a leader in his group.
"I think they are an asset to this community," he said. "Both (Phillips and DeRuyter) are great examples of the success of drug court."
"I think they will be actively involved with the alumni program," Snow added.