State Justice Kelly addresses alcohol treatment court
JEFFERSON — All journeys have a starting place, and it only is with a clear understanding of where that was that one truly can appreciate how far he’s come, state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly told two graduates of the Jefferson County Alcohol Treatment Court Wednesday.
Kelly, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2016 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice David Prosser, was keynote speaker for the September ceremony recognnizing those who have completed the alcohol treatment court program.
Graduates present for Wednesday’s event, which took place in Jefferson County Circuit Court Branch III courtroom, were Adam Sutton, who completed the program on May 3, and Josh Riedel, who finished on Aug. 17. Both had been convicted of fourth-offense OWIs prior to entering the program.
The Jefferson County Alcohol Treatment Court works to reduce the number of repeat drunken-driving offenses by allowing OWI (operating while intoxicated) offenders to participate in alcohol and other substance abuse treatment. It is overseen by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Dehring.
Participants who have been charged with a third-offense OWI or greater, have no prior violent offenses, are evaluated and considered high-risk and high-need and agree to take part in the program.
After brief introductions by Dehring and Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue, who previously oversaw the alcohol treatment court, Kelly offered his remarks.
He noted that Winston Churchill said that all great things are simple and many can be expressed through words, such as freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy and hope.
He emphasized freedom and hope.
“I’ve heard it said that the darker the night, the more brightly the sun shines come the dawn,” Kelly said. “Now, of course, the sun’s luminosity does not actually change, (but) our appreciation for it deepens the longer and more profoundly we experience its absence. I think the same is true of freedom.”
The past year has been a journey toward freedom, he told Riedel and Sutton. Wednesday was a celebration of their successful completion of part of that journey.
“All journeys have a starting place and it is the nature of that starting place that makes your completion of this phase of your journey so remarkable and sweet and satisfying,” Kelly said. “I want to focus for a moment on the nature of that starting point, so we can more fully celebrate where you are today and where you’re going.
“Each of you is here today because you violated the law and you did it in a way that put your family, your friends, your neighbors and even complete strangers at risk of their lives,” he continued. “You did it not once, but many times. You were caught, punished for it. That didn’t stop you. You continued until you were caught and punished again and still, you didn’t stop. And so the process repeated over and over again.”
In addition, it was a “fundamental breach” of the trust necessary for people to live together in society, Kelly noted.
Humans are comprised of body, mind and spirit, the justice observed.
“Alcohol has the potential of subverting us in each of these very human aspects,” he said. “It can subvert your physical being because it has the capability of actually making your body crave it ever more insistently. The more insistent the demand, the more difficult it is for you to assert your mental mastery over it and say, ‘No.’”
After too long of not denying it, it “creeps into your very spirit” and, once there, it “steals your mind.”
Alcohol robs you of the joy of life, teaches you that hope is a lie, destroys your dignity and, ultimately, takes your freedom, the justice said.
“It becomes your master,” Kelly said.
“That’s where you were about a year ago,” he told the graduates. “A danger to those around you. A disappointment to your family and friends. Undeserving of trust, without hope that things could be different. In a pit with no obvious way of regaining your freedom.”
For some, the story would end there. But not for Riedel and Sutton, he said. For them, it was the beginning.
“You made a choice,” Kelly stressed. “You decided to be done with the old and to prolong the new. Over the past year, you did the hard work of climbing out of that pit to regain your freedom.
“I’m quite certain it wasn’t easy,” he continued. “It required commitment, discipline, a refusal to despair, perseverance — especially when you stumbled — and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to examine yourself with unflinching honesty. In all of this, you demonstrated an irrepressible desire to regain your freedom.”
By completing the alcohol treatment court program, they have achieved partial freedom in no longer being subject to court supervision, the justice said. However, the most important part — the freedom of spirit and mind — still is to come.
“This part of the journey, the most important part, it’s not over today,” Kelly said. “We refer to this gathering as a celebration of your graduation from the alcohol treatment court program, but I like how we describe graduations in academia. We call them commencement exercises. I like this because it speaks of beginnings, not conclusions; hopes, not retrospections. Today, we celebrate the commencement of your freedom and our greatest hope for you is that it will continue for all time, without cease.”
Kelly acknowledged that the next steps in their journey won’t be easy and that they have come this far with a great deal of assistance from educators, counselors and family and support groups.
“Now it is time for you to do what you have learned,” he said. “It is time for you to live in freedom.”
“I can guarantee you that you will face challenges as you continue in your journey,” Kelly added. “You may even stumble as you go, but have courage. … “Don’t shrink from the challenges, don’t fear them. Understand the dangers and confront them with your eyes wide open and be brave. We will be here cheering you on as you go.”
Finally, there is the rift of injunction caused by the breach of trust that must be maintained between people living in a community, Kelly said.
“Participating in the alcohol treatment court program demonstrated that you want to repair that bridge,” he said. “Now that you have completed the program, that rift has been healed.
“So, on behalf of the people of Wisconsin, I formally welcome you back to the fellowship of your community,” Kelly continued. “What is done is done. Let no one try to separate you from us based on what has happened in the past.”
Sutton and Riedel both expressed thanks for the program following Kelly’s speech.
Sutton acknowledged that he had struggled with drinking for years and didn’t know where to turn.
“This time around, I’m thankful for the alcohol court for accepting me,” he said. “It opened up the bigger picture for me. I was pretty much losing everything I had. I struggled a lot with it.
“Going to meetings and meeting new people that are actually my friends, it’s been inspiring,” Sutton continued. “It’s changed me. It’s hard to explain. It’s done great for me. I feel better and my decision-making is a lot sharper. I’ve gotten so much back.”
Riedel said that had he not taken part in the alcohol treatment court, he would have “just been mad at the system” and, “like always,” blame everyone else for his decisions.
He has gotten to know himself, more than anything, he said. Also, he has an improved relationship with his family.
“Everything’s going good,” Riedel said. “I don’t expect the bottom to fall out, but it’s one day at a time. Today is good; we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”