Pubdate: Fri, 30 Aug 2002
Source: Norfolk Daily News (NE)
Copyright: 2002 Norfolk Daily News
Author: Lori Pilger
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


GRAND ISLAND -- "Jason, you're looking all smiles this morning. Why don't 
you come up first?" Judge Teresa Luther said, beckoning Jason Derr to approach.

The 23-year-old stood up and walked past two tables of people to the bench 
in the Hall County Courtroom here in a maroon T-shirt and jeans, with his 
hands in his pockets and a big smile across his face.

"Everything got glowing reports for you. We're all proud of you," Luther said.

Jason is one of the first individuals to go through what's known as the 
Central Nebraska Drug Court in Grand Island. He's been out of inpatient 
drug treatment for about a month now.

On a weekly basis, he goes before the judge to talk about how things are 
going. But there's no fudging. The group of about 10 people around the 
table, from law enforcement to treatment workers, had already filled her in 
just before the hearing.

Jason tells Judge Luther he's started taking high school equivalency degree 
classes with his girlfriend, who chimes in from the back of the courtroom 
that their testing is next week.

"She's doing it with you. Good for you," Luther said.

The judge talks about scheduling the start of the education component next 
week and introduces Jason to Jerry Pankoke, a man sitting at one of the 
tables, who he'll be working with.

They also talk about working out a budget. Jason has started a job for the 
first time, but he isn't making what he'd like to, he tells the judge.

More than half of his check is going to child support, and he's worried he 
won't be able to pay for his drug treatment and court costs on time. But he 
definitely will pay his drug court fee, he said.

Luther tells him about self-help classes at the YMCA and asks Michelle 
Oldham with the county attorney's office, who's sitting beside Pankoke, if 
she can talk to someone about lowering his child support.

"That's how it's working out right now," Luther said.

Next week, Jason is set to go on to Phase Two in the drug court program, 
which means he'll start coming to court every two weeks, instead of every 

"Sounds good," Jason said and took a seat to make way for four others to go 
before Judge Luther.

Another young man had to go through an extra week of treatment and had been 
late for an appointment. But things were going better. He was getting 
closer to advancing to the next phase, too.

Nicole Carson, whose white T-shirt hung off her skinny frame, fidgeted with 
an appointment card in her hand as her Health and Human Services caseworker 
told the judge she wasn't cooperating.

She promised to show up two weeks ago for an appointment, but she never 
came. Nicole tried to say it was because she didn't have a car, but her 
caseworker said she was offered a taxi or money for a ride.

"We'll put you in jail if you don't cooperate with us, but she can impose 
financial sanctions if you don't do well," Luther told her in a 
matter-of-fact tone.

The father of two of her three children gets out of prison in November, but 
she's not supposed to see him. Luther tells Nicole that her goal for the 
week is to find child care for her children and look for a job. She'll have 
to turn in 12 job applications for the week.

"You're going to be busy," Luther said.

Two other girls came in with Hall County Public Defender Gerard Piccolo, 
and Luther introduced them to the program.

"I don't want there to be any mistake of what our expectations of you are 
and what your expectations of us are," she said before going through the 
list of requirements.

Luther lets them know it won't be particularly easy.

"We're here to make sure you make it through this. As I've told the others, 
we're going to be all over your case," Luther said.

But not in a bad way, she said. By the end of the 18 months, they should be 
healthy and where they want to be.

As Jason and another young man left the courtroom, a state patrol trooper 
walked up to them and said it was nice to see them staying off drugs and he 
shook their hands.

Outside of the courtroom, Jason said there's no doubt in his mind that drug 
court had changed his life for the better.

"Things just aren't the same. I had a problem and it took me seven years to 
realize it," he said.

Jason said the support of the drug court has helped him through the 
addiction that started when a family member offered him alcohol and started 
him on methamphetamine when he was 16.

"I tried to quit on my own, but the longest I could do it was eight months 
and I always got back," Jason said.

He said by the end, he'd been involved in burglary and forgery, driving 
under suspension and even in a high-speed chase.

"I was doing it all . . . insanity is what it is," he says now of meth.

But he has no plans to go back to it.

"I can walk around with my head up again," Jason said.
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