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Pierce County drug court celebrates 25 years of making recovery, change 'possible for anyone'

photo_drug_court_john_harris.jpg
Paula Wissel
/
KNKX
John Harris, center, performs with members of the Greater Works gospel choir at Pierce County Drug Court 25th anniversary celebration.

 

Hundreds of people turned out for a celebration in the Pierce County courthouse for the 25th anniversary of the county’s drug court.

When Pierce County started the drug diversion court, it was a relatively new concept, the idea of treating people for their addiction rather than sending them to jail for a drug crime. Now, drug courts and other therapeutic courts, such as mental health courts, have proliferated around the country.

In a packed courtroom, judges, lawyers, treatment counselors and drug court graduates talked about what the court has meant to the community. 

 

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin, who is currently assigned to drug court, said she gets emotional talking about it. When people first come to court, she said, they are often very desperate.

 

"But, if they make it through and graduate, you really start to understand that recovery and change is possible for anyone,” Martin said.

 

Mike Mohn, who lives in Tacoma, is a drug court graduate. He told the gathering that, before his addiction he had it all: a wife, kids, and a job as a top salesman. He said it was a “white picket fence life.”

Then, a back injury and prescribed pain medications put him on a path to heroin. He lost everything. He ended up homeless living under a bridge. After a criminal charge, he was given the option of going to drug court.

 

"I had to come to a realization that the decisions I was making, they weren't working anymore," he said.

He says the court gave him a blueprint to get his life back on track. He says he's sober now, employed as a foreman for a paint company, and sees his children again, who are now teenagers.

 

Tacoma resident John Harris sang at the drug court anniversary celebration with fellow members of the Greater Works gospel choir, which was a semi-finalist on the TV show "America’s Got Talent."

 

Harris says performing in the Pierce County courtroom was his way of saying thanks. He is one of 2,000 people who have graduated from Pierce County’s drug court since its inception. Drug court, Harris said, was a “second chance at life” for him.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.