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March 31, 2020

2/21/2020 11:17:00 AM
Iowa County Drug Court Graduate helps start alumni program
This past Thursday, Erin Van Epps became the most recent Iowa County Drug Court graduate.
Many people, including her father, brother-in-law, her two children, and many friends sat in the courthouse gallery to see her make that big, and very important step.
"I was here,16 months ago, for very different reasons," Van Epps said. "Treatment court has been a huge blessing in my life."
At that time, she stood in front of Judge Margaret Kohler answering to charges that included cocaine possession, THC possession, and bail jumping.
That hearing was where she made the biggest decision of her life. If she didn't say yes to drug treatment court, she would be in jail.
At Van Epps graduation, Iowa County Deputy Mike Peterson said that he remembered that day in October of 2018.
"Her attorney told me that she wasn't going to do drug court," Peterson said. "I said that he was wrong. I called the sheriff's office and got her transported to the courthouse. I knew that it would be the most important three minutes of my career, and I knew it would be the most important decision you would make."
"You said that you couldn't do it," Peterson said to her. "Well, here you are. You did it."
Last September she was one of five panelists speaking at the Iowa County Substance Abuse presentation. The panelists there were people who were actively sharing their story on the path to recovery.
For her, her story began at the age of 13 when she started experimenting with marijuana. By the age of 15, she turned to more dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Erin started with drug court in November of 2018.
Fast forward to today, Van Epps has completed 92 community support meetings, and 172 clean drug tests.
During that time, in order to succeed, she had to attend multiple Treatment Court Sessions, counseling appointments, Coordinator appointments, Probation appointments, and also had to pay off her legal fees.
While she was still continuing with drug treatment court, she and fellow drug court graduate Jamie Merrill (who graduated last month) wanted to find a way to ensure drug court participants had continued support beyond their program.
Their first meeting took place December 28 at the Dodgeville United Methodist Church, and they have been meeting every other week since.
"We wanted something where new participants could come to get comfortable or if they had questions about anything regarding drug court," Merrill said. "If people had issues it would be a safe place for people to come to just air out their frustrations and maybe get their questions answered."
The alumni program is also for people that graduated to keep attending to transition to after they graduate.
"In the past, when people get done they just stopped going to everything," Merrill said. "They wanted to be able to do something, so they can have continuing support in maintaining sobriety, after drug court was over with."
"We're leaving it open for people who have just started, or have completed the drug court program," Van Epps said. "We've known what it's like to first start out, and the newer people we've been able to help and be mentors for."
There have been a few people in the alumni group and that has come with many different personalities. The group has been able to overcome the struggles by using the tools offered in the drug court program, and remembering what it was like for them.
"We have to remember how far along we've come, and we don't remember where our minds were when we were first starting," Van Epps said. "We remember not to take anything personal during the group, because we all realize that we all have different struggles that we were dealing with."
"I know when I first started I felt like I was alone," Merrill said. "As it progressed we've gained close friendships, and that's super important."
"We want people to know that we want to get out there and prove that we can recover," Van Epps said. "If we can do it, we want others to know they can do it too."
Iowa County Drug Court Coordinator Melissa Peterson said that there were hopes to start an alumni based group.
"There was a coordinators conference I went to last fall," Peterson said. "What I learned there I passed along to them and then they started the alumni group. I think everybody realized that they needed something after graduation."
"It's awesome knowing that they're doing this," Peterson added. "We want them to have a place to go other than me, because there may be some things they're not comfortable telling me and that's ok. The support they have for each other is great and that helps them get better."

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