Fishing, freedom and sobriety

Zachery Blanchard smiles during his Zoom graduation from treatment court, Thursday, April 29. 

The Eighth Judicial District Treatment Court program, which covers Wilkin County, Minnesota, has spent nearly seven years helping individuals struggling with substance abuse overcome their addiction and lead better lives.

Since the program began, 46 people have graduated and of those graduates, 68 percent have not been charged with a new crime. The program does not just rehabilitate people struggling with addiction, it has helped participants attain a driver’s license and high school diploma, and secure employment before and after graduation.

The program is about more than just sobriety, it's about recovery, Treatment Court Coordinator Karon White said. 

"We take individuals that have had repeated treatment experiences, who have been living long-term in the drug culture. Some of our participants have been in the drug culture 20 some years. It's all they know."

The treatment program is intense. White describes it as the "bumpers on a bowling lane." At the beginning of the lane, the ball may hit the bumpers a few times before straightening out. 

Breckenridge resident Zachery Blanchard, 29, is a prime example of her metaphor, White said. Blanchard graduated from the program Thursday, April 29.

“Thank you all for giving me another chance. I thought I’d run out of those,” Blanchard said. “It’s a breath of fresh air, and I’ve worked hard in the past two years to do a lot of soul searching. I knew I always wanted to help people, but it’s different. Before, I wanted to help people but I was incapable of helping myself. So, by doing this, l have unburdened myself with that.”

Blanchard’s celebration was held over Zoom, and included fellow treatment court participants, Eighth Judicial District Judge Melissa Listug, Eighth Judicial District Judge Charles Glasrud, White and friends and family.

Judge Listug checked in with each of the program participants before turning the focus on Blanchard’s successful journey. He began the program May 30, 2019. He had been convicted of several felonies and misdemeanors, and had a history of substance abuse.

During the treatment program, he underwent 38 court appearances, 169 urine analyses and 50 hours of service work. By his graduation on Thursday, he had been sober for nearly two years. He recently completed training to be a peer support specialist and plans to take the state test in the next few weeks, so he can use his experience to help coach others.

Judge Listug was elected in 2020, so she was not witness to Blanchard’s full journey. When she met him, she said he was already well on his way to recovery.

“I remember when you started your college courses, and I was really impressed, and I remember thinking each week how many people you are going to help. I have no doubt you are going to help yourself and many others,” Judge Listug said. “... That’s just the remarkable thing that I’ve noticed about you since the very first time I met you, and I’ve grown in that belief that this is the beginning of not just your recovery, but lots of people’s.”

One drug court participant thanked Blanchard for keeping him from “doing a lot of bad things.” The participant said he wanted everyone to acknowledge how much Blanchard had helped other people.

Blanchard said he thrived off the treatment program’s rigorous structure. His time in treatment was stable and steady, White said, and Blanchard adopted an active and involved role in his own recovery.

“Recovery is a journey not a destination, so it’s something I’m going to continue to work on for the rest of my life, but I’d like to help other people with that. And I do not believe at all that I’d be able to do this without you guys, so thank you,” he said to the group.

His proudest moments have been maintaining sobriety and beginning to gain back the trust of his loved ones. As for his life outside of treatment, Blanchard said the three things he is looking most forward to are fishing, freedom and being sober.

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