Saturday, July 7, 2001

Elizabeth Brown celebrated her graduation from the Drug
Court program yesterday after its 14th commencement
ceremony, at the state Supreme Court.

Perseverance helps
them rebuild
their lives

Drug Court emphasizes
personal responsibility

By Rosemarie Bernardo

For five years Elizabeth Brown wandered the streets of Chinatown, not sleeping for days and getting into fights while under the influence of crystal methamphetamine and crack.

"All I wanted to do was get high," said Brown.

But after two years of treatment at the 1st Circuit Court's Hawaii Drug Court program, Brown, 33, is now drug-free.

"Life is so much better today," she said.

Brown and 20 other men and women graduated from the 14th Hawaii Drug Court program yesterday at the Supreme Court courtroom. Judge Reynaldo Graulty presented each graduate with a certificate.

"I give them (the graduates) a lot of credit. In many ways, going to drug court is somewhat harder than regular court. You have to deal with your problems straight on," said Judge Steven Alm, former U.S. attorney, at the ceremony.

The Drug Court program was established in 1995 to give drug offenders an alternative to prison. Since 1996 more than 165 participants have graduated from the program, which takes 18 months but may be extended to meet the needs of the client.

Participants spend one week in jail if they fail a urine test. During the drug court program, each client completes the required community service, enters a support group and obtains a full-time job or enrolls in school.

Offenders who enter the program are referred by their private attorneys or public defenders.

The Weed & Seed program collaborated with the Drug Court program in the fall of 1998. Weed & Seed receives federal funds to weed out crime and create relationships between the community and police, social agencies and nonprofit organizations.

With the help of the Drug Court, Brown obtained a full-time job as an administrative assistant and is enrolled in the paralegal program at Kapiolani Community College.

Brown said she started using drugs at the age of 16. She moved to Hawaii from Oregon and started hanging out on Hotel Street.

Rae-Lynn Hee gave her graduation speech yesterday at the
Drug Court program's commencement ceremony at the
Supreme Court, as Judge Reynaldo Graulty listened.
The Drug Court program is affiliated with the Weed
& Seed program.

"I used to do anything to get money for drugs," she said.

When Brown was arrested for drug possession April 1999, she entered a treatment program at the Women's Community Correction Center and later entered the Drug Court program. Brown said she is grateful for those who helped her in her rehabilitation.

"It didn't come overnight," she said. "The classes, support group and counselors played a part in my change," Brown added.

"I'm learning how to love myself."

For Rae-Lynn Hee, the program helped her find a better life for herself and her 2-year-old son. Hee was five months pregnant and still using crystal meth, or "ice," when she was arrested for breaking into a car and for drug possession.

When her son was born seven weeks premature, Hee said, "the impact of my addiction hit me. That's when I hit bottom."

When her son was born, both were sent to Women's Way, a program under the Salvation Army to assist mothers and their children. Her public defender later referred her to the Drug Court program.

After two years of being drug-free, Hee, 37, is now enrolled in a medical assistance job-training program and plans to be more involved with her church, Hope Chapel in Kailua.

"I learned to appreciate myself," said Hee, who lives with her father in Kaneohe. "I never imagined I would be this happy."

During yesterday's ceremony a video was played showing a July 1998 surveillance tape of a man being subdued by three police officers after he tried to buy cocaine from a drug dealer along Pua Lane in Palama.

The man, who asked to be identified only by the alias "Aaron," was among the 20 graduates last night.

"I'm a lot happier. I feel good about myself," he said.

The surveillance tape was part of a sting under the Weed & Seed program that took place in Kalihi, Palama and Chinatown. After he was charged with possession of a drug, Aaron completed the drug treatment program at Hina Mauka and was referred to the Drug Court.

Aaron said he was stubborn and did not follow the program's regulations. He was taken to jail twice after failing urine tests for drugs. The second time he was arrested, he began to realize that he wanted to turn his life around.

"That's when I wanted my life back," said Aaron, 46. He began following the policies of the program and has been drug-free for two years. If not for this program, "I would probably be dead or in jail, one of the two," he said.

Now that he's drug-free, Aaron plans to continue to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and services at his church, New Hope.

Aaron also wants to help other drug offenders to overcome their problems in the Drug Court program.

"I knew what it was like when I first went into Drug Court. I was scared."

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