Melissa Rodgers knows what it means to be in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
The 43-year-old has been sentenced for criminal convictions in Montgomery County 12 times over 20 years.
When the Dayton Daily News first profiled Rodgers in June of 2018, she had marked one year in recovery from drugs and alcohol.
In October, she celebrated another accomplishment that’s been elusive for her — successfully completing probation.
“I’m nervous but I’m excited, too,” she said. “Because it’s the next part of my journey.”
Although she had been ordered into treatment by judges as a condition of her probation before — six different treatment stints in fact — it was the drug court model used by Judge Mary Wiseman in the Montgomery County Women’s Therapeutic Court that finally led to long-term recovery and successful completion of probation.
“I’m very thankful for this court,” Rodgers said on graduation day. She spent 20 months under the court’s supervision on three separate cases. “I had lessons to learn.”
The women’s docket is one of three specialized drug courts in Montgomery County. Wiseman is a big advocate of the model, saying the work her team does saves lives.
‘Involved in all areas of my life’
Once a week when the women’s court convenes, Wiseman and the participants gather for lunch at a church near the courthouse in downtown Dayton.
It’s a more informal time for the judge to chat with them about how they’re doing. Sometimes speakers come in.
After lunch the members of the treatment team — which includes probation officers, treatment providers and social workers — meet with the judge to discuss the cases.
Each woman stands up and hears Wiseman’s ruling on their progress for the week. The women have been convicted of felonies but granted probation instead of prison. They were deemed candidates for the specialized docket due to their substance abuse.
If they had clean drug tests and made all of their required meetings since their last appearance, they might get a reward — they can see their probation officer less often in the future or get a discount on their court fees.
If they tested positive for drugs, missed appointments or aren’t in compliance with other treatment requirements, then punishments are given out, ranging from more frequent check-ins to community service to jail time.
Relapses are common, Wiseman said, so incarceration isn’t the automatic punishment that it might be in a regular court.
“This time, it’s not just a probation officer I see,” Rodgers said. “I’m seeing someone that’s involved in all areas of my life.”
Faced a test
In September, Rodgers was 16 months sober and making positive progress. So Wiseman lowered her level of supervision. Then Rodgers faced a test.
She needed to have knee surgery and didn’t want to be prescribed any opioids, but her surgeon insisted she’d be in pain and sent her home with a prescription.
“(My probation officer) called me the day after my surgery just to see how I was,” Rodgers said. In the end she took five of the prescribed pain pills as directed before disposing of the rest.
Knowing that the court staff was looking out for her well-being — instead of looking to violate her probation — made all the difference, Rodgers said.
With the help of her treatment team, she was awarded full custody of her children in December. She got a grant to help her with a deposit on a rental home in Kettering.
She also completed her GED and classes at Sinclair. Rodgers now is employed as a chemical dependency counselor assistant, working at a local treatment center. She has her sights set on a Master’s degree in social work.
Rodgers was nervous about leaving the supportive environment of treatment and the court, but she said she knows the staff members and Wiseman will remain part of her support network. And she’s looking forward to the perks of being off probation.
“Now I can get a passport,” Rodgers said. Her goal is to go on a trip to Ireland with friends.
At Rodgers’ graduation, Wiseman’s pride was evident.
“To say that Melissa Rodgers has accomplished sustained recovery, turned her life 180 degrees around and is setting the world on fire, would be the understatement of the century,” she said. “We are so proud we had a chance to play a small role in Melissa’s success.”
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