Drug Court produces class of grateful grads

Sarah Wooldridge thanks her mother and others who supported her as 2nd Circuit Drug Court Judge Joseph Cardoza and Judges Rhonda Loo and Adrianne Heely look on during the 59th Maui/Molokai Drug Court graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon in 2nd Circuit Court. “I grew up in this courtroom,” said Wooldridge, who was the youngest participant when she entered the program at age 19 four years ago. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — Nine men and women had their felony charges dismissed and probation terms ended early when they graduated Thursday from the Maui/Molokai Drug Court.

The 59th graduation, occurring during National Drug Court month, brought the total number of graduates to 582 since 2000, when the program began. It provides intensive treatment and supervision as an alternative to incarceration for some nonviolent drug-related offenders.

“The impact of that can be significant because those 582 graduates obviously have a whole lot of children,” said 2nd Circuit Drug Court Judge Joseph Cardoza. “And those children are the next generation in this community. And the reach and impact of that can be staggering.”

The Maui Police Department has increased its involvement in the program, Cardoza said. Assistant Chief John Jakubczak and Crime Reduction Unit officers attended Thursday’s graduation ceremony.

Some children of the graduates’ children were in the packed courtroom gallery for the ceremony.

After being given “a second, third, fourth, fifth chance” through Drug Court, Herbert Santos III said he traveled to the Mainland to see his son play on the Maui team that won the Little League Intermediate World Series championship last year.

Laurie Robertson said her daughter was back with her after six years. “It’s hard to believe 18 months ago I was a homeless drug addict,” she said.

She said her daughter has motivated her to continue on.

Graduation speaker David Lawson, who graduated Nov. 3 from the program, recounted how he was in his camp in the bush one Friday morning when he heard someone calling his name.

When he asked who it was, “they said, ‘Maui police,’ “ Lawson said.

“I thought that was the absolute worst day of my life,” he said. “It turns out it was the best day of my life. I’ve actually got my life back today.”

Facing 20 years in prison for drug-related crimes, he saw Drug Court “as a get-out-of-jail card,” Lawson said.

After spending about eight months in the program’s first phase that usually takes 12 weeks, Lawson said he completed the program in about two years.

He celebrated three years of sobriety Wednesday.

“Drug Court, this program, these people saved my life, and I will be forever grateful for that,” he said.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.