FAIRMONT - Juan "Johnny" Rodriguez has come a long way from the guy who would try anything once you got a few drinks into him.
"Once I had that alcohol, I would take anything you put in front of me," he recalled. "It was game over."
But Rodriguez had no desire to celebrate with a drink when he graduated from the Faribault, Martin, Jackson counties drug court this week, with 575 days of sobriety under his belt.
A?WHOLE?NEW?LIFE?— Johnny Rodriguez was all smiles earlier this week following his graduation ceremony from drug court at the Martin County Courthouse in Fairmont. At right is fellow graduate Kandi Widger.
"It's really as hard as you make it," Rodriguez said to his drug court peers during his graduation ceremony. "Recovery is something you can't do alone. I love the life I'm living now."
Rodriguez knows better than most. He is one of the few who had a second chance at drug court.
"I had three felonies, all drug charges. I was in and out of jail," he recalled. "My kids didn't have a father figure in their lives. I grew up without a father, and I didn't want to do that to them. During my time in jail, I noticed my girlfriend stopped bringing the kids up to see me. I couldn't hug them or hold them; all they could do was see me through glass. How many years had I done that to them? Once drug court was approved, I knew something had to change, and it had to be me. I had to grow up, stop living the life I used to live."
It took some deep convincing of officials, but once Rodriguez got his second chance at drug court, he gave it his all.
"The first month and a half is a struggle," he said. "That's the case for most participants, and some want to give up. But I took it as a positive. I tell the new ones that it's better doing this than going to prison and then doing the same things once you're out. It's about change, and a chance to succeed. The people at drug court are not out to get you; they honestly want to give you the tools and chance to change."
Rodriguez ended up becoming a role model for what drug court can do.
"Drug court helps you give back, and you want to do that," he said. "I know when I was using I gave people a lot of stress just so I'd get my way. Law enforcement, the courts, everyone around me was affected by my using and my behaviors. That's not happening anymore."
By his last phase of drug court, Rodriguez was in charge of running Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and helping organize events for drug court, such as the Sober Fest event at Hands Park on Saturday. He also plans to be an active alumni participant for drug court, and mentor some of the new drug court participants.
Rodriguez views his graduation from drug court as just the beginning.
"Drug court has done so much for me, I can't thank them enough," he said. "Right now is the best. I'm sober, and people can trust me. People aren't crossing the street just to get away from me anymore. I got a lot of that. Now I'm more outgoing, and my life is just amazing. I love this life."