Clallam Drug Court celebrates 250th graduate
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Clallam County Drug Court graduate Michele Talbot of Sequim, left receives flowers and a hug from friend Christine Easton of Port Angeles a “graduation” ceremony on Thursday in Port Angeles. Talbot’s daughter, Gracie Fahley, 7, looks on from behind.
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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After years of drug and alcohol abuse, the 41-year-old Sequim woman has completely reinvented herself, thanks in part to Clallam County Drug Court.
Talbot and two others, identified by first names only, who satisfied the stringent requirements of the therapeutic court were recognized last week in a special ceremony commemorating the 250th graduation in adult drug court.
“One of the misconceptions the world has about people who do drugs is that they're bad people, and they're not bad people,” said Clallam County Superior Court Judge Ken Williams, who brought the juvenile and adults drug courts to Clallam County in the late 1990s.
“They are people with a disease. Get the drugs out of them and you get marvelous, talented, wonderful people that contribute to society.”
Williams has presided over every adult Drug Court graduation since its inception in 1999.
Talbot's graduation Thursday likely was his last, since he retires from the bench at the end of this month.
Drug Court is a diversion program aimed at curbing recidivism by helping non-violent offenders break the deadly cycle of addiction. The idea is to treat the problem rather than punish the symptoms of the problem.
Offenders who qualify for Drug Court have the opportunity to have their charges dismissed.
But first, they must stay sober for at least one year — it usually takes 18 months or so — while attending group therapy meetings and weekly court hearings.
Less than half of the people who enroll in adult Drug Court complete the program. Those who don't finish are convicted and sentenced on their original charges.
Proponents say the program saves taxpayers $2.50 for every $1 spent on drug court.
Talbot hit rock bottom shortly after midnight on Nov. 19, 2010.
Authorities found her passed out in a Port Angeles phone booth with oxycodone, methadone and alprazolam pills in her coat pocket, charging papers said.
Those three possession charges, all of which are Class C felonies, were dismissed amid a round of applause Thursday.
More important, Talbot has been clean and sober for more than two years.
“I've never actually felt my feelings because I've always covered them up with drugs and alcohol,” said Talbot, who earned a bachelor's degree before succumbing to a heroin addiction that left her homeless on the streets of Philadelphia.
“And so this is the first time in my life I'm actually feeling things. Even if it's good, it's difficult.”
Talbot fought tears of joy as she hugged her two young girls, Gracie and Lily, and members of the Drug Court team.
She was publicly congratulated by her mother and others who have helped in her recovery.
“When I got here, I was what was referred to as a late-stage chronic alcoholic,” Talbot said.
“I surely did not think there was much hope for me, but Drug Court treatment, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and my sponsor have helped me see it differently.”
Talbot thanked Drug Court Coordinator Preston Kayes “for directing me to a safe place to live with my kids and for going above and beyond the call of duty with my family court issues.”
“Thank you for letting me cry in your office and being so strict and honest,” she said.
Kayes has been Clallam County's Drug Court coordinator since 1999.
He received the 2011 Drug Court Practitioner of the Year Award from the Washington State Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Kayes, 65, planned to retire earlier this year, but his replacement decided not to take the job after a one-month transition period.
The county continues to seek a new drug court coordinator.
“This is a big day, and I'm thrilled for you,” Kayes told Talbot.
Williams led a local effort to procure a $600,000 federal grant to start a juvenile drug court in Clallam County in 1997, which became the first in the Pacific Northwest, the 12th in the nation and the second in a rural U.S. county.
He presided over both drug courts until his fellow Superior Court judge, George L. Wood, took on the youth drug court in 2003.
Williams, who received the state drug court association's first lifetime achievement award in October, congratulated each graduate and spoke of their recovery like a proud father.
Talbot thanked her own parents for taking care of her daughters when she was sick and for “never giving up on me.”
“I'm so glad that they get to see my today alive and sober and happy,” she said.
Talbot also thanked drug court attorney John Hayden “for his honesty and his sense of humor” and drug court attorney Stormy Howell “for always asking me about how my girls were doing, because they are so important to me.”
“Most of all, I want to thank my higher power, Jesus Christ, who is my friend and who has pulled me out of the pit of hell to where I am today,” Talbot said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: December 02. 2012 6:26PM