OGDEN -- A graduation ceremony Thursday for patrons of the 2nd District DUI Court offered inspirational uplift for anyone struggling with addiction.
The 10 graduates of the two-year-old court started by 2nd District Judge Mike DiReda marked its fourth, and largest, graduation, bringing the total number of graduates to more than 30.
"You've all saved what was a lost soul," said Winston K., who noted he had been in other rehab programs "where it seemed like no one cared who I was and how I ended up."
"The DUI court team showed me I do matter, and there are no words to explain how good that feels."
Graduates were listed on the program Thursday with their first name and last initial only, mirroring the confidential style of Alcoholics Anonymous, a key part of DUI court and its aftercare component through an alumni organization.
"You have great ears," Frankie L. said to April Wood, the Weber Human Services counselor assigned full time to the DUI court.
Before DUI court, he hadn't been able to open up to anyone about his feelings, which led to his drinking problems, he said.
Frankie recited a poem that concluded: "We are who we choose to be. So be careful what you choose."
Jeff S. said something DiReda told him continues to echo as key to avoiding substance abuse triggers, situations such as hanging out with former drinking pals: "You don't have to be strong, just be smart."
DiReda pointed out that piece of wisdom actually came from 2nd District Juvenile Judge Michelle Heward, wife of Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward, the prosecutor assigned to DUI court.
Gustavo B. thanked the DUI court team for helping him "find my own strength, my own powers."
He advised the audience to "share the story with someone else to inspire them and keep it going."
The audience of about 50 in DiReda's courtroom included family members and friends of the graduates, thanked, often tearfully, from the podium for their support.
Graduation means reduction of the charge that brought the graduate to court, usually dropping a third-degree felony DUI down to a class A misdemeanor. DUIs become a felony upon the third offense.
The alternative court is designed for problem drinkers deemed by counselors as candidates for rehabilitation instead of prison. The prolonged therapy and urinalysis monitoring makes for an intensive form of probation under the program, typically 18 months.
Instead of infrequent contacts with a probation officer, centerpiece to the program is patrons standing twice monthly or more before a judge who can jail them on the spot for violations such as a dirty urine test or skipping counseling sessions.
No longer considered experimental, alternative courts have been running throughout all of the state's district and juvenile courts for more than 10 years as an alternative to incarceration for drug and alcohol abuse. Mental health courts are the newest versions.
"When I was using, I didn't care about much," Zach H. said in thanking the DUI court team. "I was living like a rock star instead of standing up and facing my future. It's been a battle, but a good battle."
DiReda opened the ceremony with a Japanese proverb shared with him by the man he called his mentor, retired 2nd District Judge Jon Memmott, who started one of the first drug courts in the state in Davis County.
The tale features a village wise man returning from his travels with specific gifts requested by three villagers -- a rose for its beauty, a lily for its purity and a twig from a large hawthorne tree for its strength.
The recipient of the rose noted it had thorns, the man who requested the lily pointed out dirt on its stalk, and the twig's owner complained it held dead leaves.
The wise man chided them for only seeing the negative in items they desired, which DiReda called typical of human nature in overlooking the positive.
"We all have dead leaves, we all have thorns, we all have mud," he said.
"So, for you graduates, I hope you'll continue to see the good in yourselves, see the great potential you have. This program really is about seeing the good in people."