‘I love life right now.’ Special court helps local women overcome addiction

From left, Jessica Lochner, Lyneia Blanken and Alexandria Lewis, celebrate recovery at the new R.IS.E. program at the Montgomery County Pleas Court Wednesday March 6, 2022. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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From left, Jessica Lochner, Lyneia Blanken and Alexandria Lewis, celebrate recovery at the new R.IS.E. program at the Montgomery County Pleas Court Wednesday March 6, 2022. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Court docket’s name change to ‘Recovery Is Empowerment’ reflects women’s work to reclaim their lives

When Alexandria Lewis sat next to Lyneia Blanken and told her about the new home Lewis had moved into and that Lewis will be getting her kids back, the two hugged with big smiles on their faces.

The warm embrace isn’t necessarily the most common scene on a daily basis inside Montgomery County courtrooms, where criminals are sent to prison for years at a time and victims are usually left to pick up the pieces.

But inside a specialty court docket designed to help women overcome alcohol and/or drug addiction and stop committing crimes, achievements like Lewis’ are celebrated.

“That lady, she was in jail with me and we went through the same program together ... and we were in treatment together so she knows a lot about my background ...” Lewis said. “When she saw me, she said ‘I’m so proud of you for still doing the right thing.’ ”

That’s when Lewis shared her good news and the two shared their special moment.

“It was a very comforting feeling to know that people I’ve been through struggles with, we are all rising together,” Lewis said.

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The Montgomery County Women’s Therapeutic Court is getting a new name: R.IS.E. It stands for Recovery Is Empowerment. Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary K. Huffman presides over the court docket and said the name change is designed to remove the stigma and encourage recovery. She said terms like therapeutic and mental health court can be a barrier to recovery.

“Part of the stages of change, there’s this resistance to change if you think you’re being referred to in a derogatory way,” the judge said.

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Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary K. Huffman oversees a drug court designed for women called, R.IS.E: Recovery Is Empowerment. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary K. Huffman oversees a drug court designed for women called, R.IS.E: Recovery Is Empowerment. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary K. Huffman oversees a drug court designed for women called, R.IS.E: Recovery Is Empowerment. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

There are about 120 active participants in the R.IS.E docket right now. The docket started in 2014, and the women involved are on probation and required to meet their probation officers one to five times a week, depending on their situation. They also must meet weekly in court, where they discuss their progress.

Huffman said while women do get sent to jail for violating the terms of the program, the docket is also geared toward helping the women overcome trauma and other factors that are causing the substance abuse.

Huffman said she doesn’t wear her judicial robe during the hearing as a way to connect with the participants better. And she tries to use open-ended questions to help the women come to their own conclusions about how they can help themselves.

It can take the women years before they graduate from the program. The program’s new name was voted on by participants and court staff.

Karla Arnold is the supervisor of specialized dockets in Montgomery County. She said the staff is committed to helping the women through their addictions. She said she’s found that the participants are most successful when they decide to become sober for themselves instead of for others.

“When we see people who are finally taking care of themselves, those are also the people we feel we can (move) towards graduation,” she said.

Jessica Lochner has been in the program since last March and said it has helped change her life.

“I am really grateful that I am in it because I needed something like this,” she said. “I need that accountability and you can tell they are actually trying to help you stay sober and that’s their goal.”

Lochner said she was on meth and was charged a few times in connection to drug possession. But she said she has now been sober for nine months and loving every minute.

“It’s exciting and really cool because it helps you get to know who you are,” she said. “For me, I’m excited every day. I don’t want to go to sleep because I like being sober so much. I love life right now. I never chose to be sober before.”

She said she has chosen sobriety for herself.

“It’s not even the consequences of being locked up; I’ve been locked up a few times,” she said. “I didn’t want to waste my life anymore and I don’t like the person I am on drugs. I know I am worth so much more and the opportunities are endless if you just stay sober.”

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