You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, May 23, 2013 : 6:58 a.m.

Graduates of Ann Arbor's sobriety court program give thanks for fresh start in life

By Ryan J. Stanton


From left to right, Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke, District Judge Elizabeth Hines, City Attorney Stephen Postema and Senior Assistant City Attorney Kristen Larcom listen during speeches at the National Drug Court Month rally on Wednesday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

When he entered Ann Arbor's sobriety court program, Jon G. viewed it as "two years of hell" he would have to fight through and maybe he'd be lucky enough to survive.

Now sober thanks to that same program, which forced him to confront his underlying drinking problem, his outlook has changed.


Jon G. is one of three graduates of the sobriety court who shared their personal stories of getting clean and sober Wednesday at a rally as part of National Drug Court Month.

Ryan J. Stanton |

As he looked out over a crowd of dozens of people — including judges and law enforcement officials — outside Ann Arbor's Justice Center on Wednesday, he couldn't help but think what might have run through his mind two years ago. The words "disdain" and "disregard" came to mind.

"Now I look out at the smiling faces around me, and I see God's creation," he said. "The ability to look at life like that is something sobriety court gave me. I cannot thank sobriety court enough. I owe my life to the team that was patient with me and beat me over the head when necessary."

Jon G. is one of three graduates of the sobriety court in Ann Arbor's 15th District Court who shared their personal stories of getting clean and sober Wednesday at a rally as part of National Drug Court Month.

"I do know that without sobriety court, I wouldn't be here today — certainly not like this," he told the crowd. "Sobriety court provided me with a fresh start in life."

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has decided to celebrate National Drug Court Month with a 3,500-mile tour from California to New York City — with 26 stops along the way — and the rally in front of the 15th District Court served as one of those stops.

The event highlighted both the sobriety court Judge Joe Burke oversees, and the new veterans treatment court Judge Chris Easthope oversees.

Court officials said the two specialized courts, which they call "problem-solving courts," were selected because of their success at transforming the lives of seriously addicted individuals.


Molly W. appeared alongside her daughter Grace and fiance Paul. "When I entered sobriety court, I'm not entirely sure I wanted to get sober, but sobriety court basically made me get sober, and I couldn't be more grateful for that," she said.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Val C., who graduated from sobriety court on her birthday in April, joked it felt strange being surrounded by judges and police at the rally and not having to look over her shoulder.

"Sobriety court has been a blessing for me," she said. "I'm clean and sober today. It's been two years and six months, so it's a blessing, and I like being clean and sober.

"It's something that I needed — I wanted the help," she added. "My family really appreciates it because I'm not laying in the gutter dead somewhere."

Molly W., a new mother and graduate of the University of Michigan, appeared alongside her daughter Grace and fiance Paul. She spoke about her life before sobriety court when she admittedly was "a mean, miserable person."

"I had pretty much been on probation for 10 years — in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, and it had absolutely no impact on my behavior," she said.

Every program she went through before sobriety court involved drug testing and suggested going to meetings, she said, but it wasn't the kind of structure she needed. She wasn't effectively instilled in the AA community before, but sobriety court facilitated that — and that's been crucial.

"When I entered sobriety court, I'm not entirely sure I wanted to get sober, but sobriety court basically made me get sober, and I couldn't be more grateful for that," she said.

She said she finally has graduated from the University of Michigan after nine years, and she now enjoys a "beautiful life" for which she thanks the court.


"Sobriety court has been a blessing for me," said Val C. "I'm clean and sober today. It's been two years and six months, so it's a blessing, and I like being clean and sober.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I wouldn't be the happy, constructive person that I am," she said. "It's a life change."

According to information provided by organizers of the rally, there are more than 2,700 drug courts in the United States, and more than 75 percent of people who go through drug court are never arrested again. They estimate that saves $13,000 for every individual served.

Burke argued drug courts demonstrate how society can reduce drug use, crime and save money at the same time by offering treatment instead of incarceration for those suffering with addiction.

For a long time, Burke said, the country has engaged in a war on drugs. And if the drugs weren't winning the war, he said, they were at least doing a good job of fighting.

"So what do you do in a war when normal means don't work? You find different tactics," he said, suggesting drug courts address both the crime and the individual.

"They hold people accountable, but they also battle the addiction," he said. "They fight crime, they save money, they save jail beds for people who truly have earned them."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Fri, May 24, 2013 : 1:09 a.m.

The war on drugs has failed. Prescription drug abuse must be at record highs, booze is everywhere, even at family events like ballparks. Heroin use is in the suburbs. Weed is legal to buy and use if a doctor OK's it. And we are talking about sobriety court, it has a long-long ways to go.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

While this is a great story about the sobriety court, I am REALLY disappointed in the lack of reporting on the Veteran's Court. I was at this event and I was an event about the Veteran's court. I swear there were at least 40+ veterans there in addition to three judges talking about Veteran's Court. One of which received an award. Ann Arbor finally has a Veteran's Court headed by Judge Easthope and we should celebrate this achievement. I applaud the graduates of the sobriety court, it's such an amazing achievement and should be recognized. But why were the vets ignored, especially at an event that was held in part to recognize the achievements they have made??? Big disappointment Mr. Stanton - regardless of your beliefs, you should support our troops!

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 2:12 a.m.

The veterans treatment court is a great concept, and we've had at least a couple stories on it as it's gotten off the ground. It's been my intention to circle back and do a larger story on it as its first graduates come out of the program. A spokesperson for the VA told me today that'll be in a few months, so perhaps we'll check in then. For this story today, I thought the firsthand testimonies of these graduates of sobriety court was a great way to relay the message promoted at the rally — that drug courts work.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 2:06 a.m.

What kind of jerk would vote this down!?! Oh yeah.....tiny heart syndrome.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

Just to clarify: some comments refer to a "choice". Addiction is a medically recognized disease. People do not "choose" to be drunks or addicts. It may be hard for many to believe, but it is so:

Chris Doemer

Sat, May 25, 2013 : 9:52 a.m.

Actually, If you dig a little deeper under all the pseudo science, It's not medically recognized.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

Yeah, that is what we are told, its not your fault if you lack self control and maybe rightfully so but then again it does take effort to stay sober for some folks. I used to believe this all its in your body chemistry but now not so sure. Its more like not to blame yourself if you need to reach out and get some help for your problem. But who knows, maybe it was that drink your mother had when she was 7 months pregnant with you and that is why now you need to drink everyday. I am a firm believer in diets and how you feel. If you eat unhealthy all of the time, it will catch up to you but then a happy pill or a drink will make you feel better, lol

Larry Eiler

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

Great to see this nice recognition for people who have dealt with the devil and won.

you can't handle the truth

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

I am glad to hear that it is helping some people and having a positive impact. I just wonder how many stories are out there of a person without a true problem who just happened to make a bad decision and have bad luck. And they get tossed into this program because the judge wants to shake them down for every last cent possible. While these same judges let home invaders, car breaking people, etc off with slap on the wrist probation sentences.

Matt Cooper

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

ffej440, While I can't remember the exact number, studies have shown that something like roughly 80% of all traffic accidents involve alcohol either alone or in combination with some other drug. This is an outrage! When people violate the public trust by getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol and/or consuming other drugs, they also accept the consequences of their actions. If that means they go to sobriety court, pay tremendous fines, attend AA meetings and whatever other sanctions come with a DUI conviction, so be it. I think the defining factor that differentiates alcohol/drug crimes while driving from other kinds of crimes that may or may not involve driving is the frequency with which these types of crimes happen (also, for every one time that a drunk driver gets caught, you can bet there's another 100 times they drove drunk and didn't get caught), and the public safety risks involved with drunken drivers getting behind the wheel. It is an extremely serious crime/health hazard/public safety issue, and it demands an equally serious response. In short, if people don't want to go to sobriety court, and suffer the consequences for their choices, they shouldn't be driving drunk.

Matt Cooper

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

"... shake them down for every last cent possible" To imply that these judges are in this to generate money, which is what you seem to be implying, ychtt, displays a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the character of both the drug/sobriety court and the judges involved.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

Oh ychtt....this program is known to help and be beneficial to veterans. In many cases, save their lives. A little too deep to go into, but this program helps them solve the underlying issues. Those who make a bad decision and get caught get appropriate sentences. They can not be compared to a program that deals with people who have several considerations to their case.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 5:16 p.m.

Basic Bob- I think you are missing the point. Remember when Mr.West from the 15th court got a DUI. He was in 14A-3 court and was allowed to plea down and I think he didn't get any jail. At the 15th you are not allowed a plea deal, you do the program or go to jail. Quote from his attorney "We're all human and we make mistakes," Consider that your not from Ann Arbor and get a DUI. How are you going to get to all these court ordered classes ? We don't have AATA in the burbs. Then you read about all the people doing other crimes that get probation. I think the point is that to give deals for everything but DUI/Drugs is a little out of whack with the other courts in Michigan.

Basic Bob

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

any of these people could have ended up in prison. there are three outcomes. 1. they don't have a problem, avoid prison, graduate and move on. 2. they have a problem, avoid prison, get help, and stay out of trouble. 3. they have a problem, mess up again, and finish their sentence in prison.

Geoff Larcom

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

Wonderful, life-changing program. Very rigorous, with a powerful level of accountability required of participants. My wife, Kristen Larcom, is proud to be involved in her capacity as a senior assistant city attorney for Ann Arbor. Very pleased that would cover this, as yet another slice of what our courts and city government does.

Jack Gladney

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

Great story, Ryan. It's good to see these people taking ownership of their problems, moving beyond them and doing well. One criticism or question for How did I miss all of the pre-event hype for this rally? You always seem very eager to promote the rally in April that celebrates drug use.

Paula Gardner

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:12 p.m.

I'm going to jump in here and say that I really appreciate the positive feedback on this story. We were on a press release distribution list about it, and it was hard to tell from what I read that the event would generate a meaningful story for this community. Ryan pushed to go, and I'm glad he did.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

Thanks for the feedback! I guess I would say the rally in April you're referring to is a major annual event that's been going for over 40 years, and whether one likes it or not, it brings thousands of people to Ann Arbor and kind of takes over the downtown the day it happens, and it's good to remind/warn people (both those who want to go, and those who want to avoid it) when events that big are happening. I wrote one very short preview of it this year. There are a lot of much smaller rallies and events like this that happen all around Ann Arbor throughout the year and we try to preview them when we can, and cover some when it makes sense, but we can't preview and cover every single one of them (a lot of times they will be featured on our calendar at In any case, I'm really glad I was able to attend this event and relay these great personal stories that were shared.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : noon

Can't help note the irony, BUT right next to this story is a story about Grizzly Peak expanding and opening up a NEW bar in their basement. Too funny. You could have at least put some space between these 2


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 1:20 a.m.

Its really not funny, for every one "save" how many more are slipping away ?

Susan Montgomery

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

Great story, Ryan. PS In Molly's story, where it says "absolution no impact" I think you meant to write "absolutely no impact"

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

Thanks. I caught that even before you posted this; the change just hadn't registered yet!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

Great article and great stories from recovering addicts. I always like hearing about these kinds of successes because even though I don't suffer from addiction I have known some throughout my life and wish they could have benefited from something like this.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

I'm grateful that this program allows people who have made a bad choice, are remorseful and willing to do what it takes to turn their lives around, is in our community.