Local drug treatment program is giving vets new life

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published December 19, 2018

  Jeremy Pointer, of Mount Clemens, works on a fleece blanket Dec. 13 at the 41-B District Court. Veterans spent the morning making fleece blankets and scarves for local organizations, including Hope Not Handcuffs and Friends of Foster Kids.

Jeremy Pointer, of Mount Clemens, works on a fleece blanket Dec. 13 at the 41-B District Court. Veterans spent the morning making fleece blankets and scarves for local organizations, including Hope Not Handcuffs and Friends of Foster Kids.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — One small gesture can impact a community’s most vulnerable population. Just ask those involved in the 41-B District Court’s Veterans Treatment Court.

On Dec. 13, the treatment court team, with the aid of numerous vets, made fleece blankets and scarves, which will later be donated to Hope Not Handcuffs and Macomb County Friends of Foster Kids.

The morning endeavor is one of a few events the court attempts to do annually as a way to give veterans in treatment a change of pace, said 41-B District Court Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca, who presides over the treatment court.

The court itself has been up and running since April 2012. The court collaborated with Macomb County Circuit Court years ago, with the county handling most felonies while the district court handles misdemeanor-type cases.

Currently, there are about 35 veterans in the court. Veterans graduate from the program and continue their lives in sobriety. Some return as mentors. Fuca said drunken driving offenses and domestic violence cases “probably make up 90 percent” of the people in the program.

The majority of participants find the entire ordeal life-changing, she said.

“The individual has to be ready for this kind of intense treatment, because sometimes we’re trying harder than they are,” she said. “Sometimes we recognize that people are going through the motions and they’re not necessarily drinking the Kool-Aid. Other times, you can almost see a light switch when people drink the Kool-Aid and they recognize, ‘This is how I want to feel for the rest of my life. This is how I want it to be for the rest of my life.’ And you can always tell who’s who.”

In the future, Fuca sees addiction and the legal system in a different light, predicting that punitive damage — such as jail time — will become less commonplace in exchange for more substance abuse and mental health services.

Theresa Toia, of the nonprofit Friends of Foster Kids, said about 900 children annually are in foster care in the Macomb County — a “stunning” statistic, she noted, especially when many children eventually age out of foster care and are more prone to getting in legal jeopardy and being incarcerated.

“Most of the children that we have are in foster care because their parents are in this program,” Toia said. “It’s a sad note; it all comes full circle. You’ve got to try to break the cycle for the kids who are brought up in the exposure. Hopefully, they get clean and (parents) can get their kids back.”

Hope Not Handcuffs, which has taken multiple counties by storm with an updated method of treating and dealing with addicts, now has more than 2,100 participants in eight different counties — including more than 500 “angels” who help addicts achieve sobriety.

Lisa Boska, a volunteer coordinator for the program, got involved after her two sons struggled with addiction. Now, after two years of volunteering, “The rest is history.

“We still have a whole bunch (of angels) who aren’t even trained yet that still want to be active,” she said. “We get applications on a daily basis. It’s awesome.”

Korrin Krieg, director of operations for the Class ‘A’ Training Center, a vendor that provides substance abuse services, said the veterans court has lived up to a mission of finding nontraditional ways to reach those with substance abuse issues. She donated funds for the purchase of materials from Jo-Ann Fabrics.

“It makes me feel proud,” Krieg said. “What they’ve gone through is so much more than anything anyone else has ever experienced. It’s cool to see that at this point, they’ve gone through so much and sacrificed so much for the country, and they’re here donating for something else.”

Of course, the court would cease to exist without the veterans themselves.

John Brinkerhoff, of Clinton Township, knows firsthand the value of the court. When the U.S. Army vet first entered the program in May 2017, he had a drug problem and was plagued by numerous run-ins with the law, faking his way through probationary periods.

About a year and a half later, he has seven months of Hope Not Handcuffs volunteering under his belt. He said his life has improved “tenfold.”

“I came into this program, and there’s a lot more involved and a lot more to it,” Brinkerhoff said. “The people actually seem to care about you. They got me into contact with Hope Not Handcuffs, sent me to rehab, and just showed interest in my life and wanting me to do better. And it motivated me to do better.”

Bradley Bierwirth, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is concluding his first year in the program. It has provided the Mount Clemens resident with a new perspective.

“It molded me to do some of the things I should have been doing in the first place,” he said. “A lot of the activities I’m involved with now, I sort of left behind and should have been doing them all along.

“What makes this a little different than some of the other programs is that, whatever anybody else is in here for, there is areas where I can relate to them because of active-duty service. There’s camaraderie behind it.”

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