Thursday, Oct. 25 — Driving down the road, ready for a night on the town, you’re suddenly struck by another vehicle. As the other driver staggers out of their car, a Budweiser can falls from the seat.
This, a drunken driving incident, has happened before — the driver is no stranger to the bottle. Instead of receiving jail time, though, the driver is given the chance to enter into a 32-month rehabilitation program where he will be tested for alcohol every day and have to attend Alcohol Anonymous meetings four times a week.
The driver’s name is Bobby. Bobby’s AA sponsor, who has had his own struggles with alcohol, takes him under his wing. He helps Bobby turn his life around and gets him a job working on cars. Years later, the sponsor needs an organ transplant and it just so happens that his old friend and sponsee is a perfect match. Bobby gladly donates his now alcohol-free organ.
This is not a hypothetical story. Bobby is a graduate of the Ingham County Sobriety Court, a program that offers those with two or more drunken driving offenses intensive rehabilitation as opposed to up to five years of jail time — as long as they don’t have violent tendencies.
The program is used by the 54A and 55th District Courts and the 30th Circuit Court.
Instead of the “rehabilitation” they would receive from behind bars, perhaps pondering how to climb barbed wire, the program offers people things like time management skills and fitness classes.
“If we send them to jail, they aren’t getting any recovery, treatment or support. They are just sitting in jail and that doesn’t help anyone,” says Jerre Cory, member of the Ingham County Sobriety Court Foundation. “There are a lot of people who think, ‘Oh, they screwed up so throw them in jail.’ — and sometimes rightfully so. If they killed someone while driving drunk, then they obviously don’t deserve to participate in this program.”
Bobby is one of the most touching cases 55th District Judge Donald Allen, who relayed this story in an interview, can remember.
“The ripple effect this sort of thing can have in a person’s life is great. I’ve seen situations where children who were at risk of dropping out of high school are now going to college because their mother or father is no longer addicted to alcohol and is able to be a better role model,” Allen said.
Graduates with success stories similar to Bobby, along with probation officers and others, will gather Friday morning at the Country Club of Lansing amongst pancakes and coffee to share their experiences and raise funds for the program.
Normally, the program is reserved for those who have repeat offenses, unless someone is convicted under the state’s “super drunk” law, meaning they had more than twice the legal limit in their system and it’s their first DUI offense.
With a success rate of 88 percent, there has to be something special setting this program apart from similar sobriety-or-you’re-going-to-jail opportunities.
Allen contributes this to the intensity of the program compared to other forms of probation. Here participants are required to meet with their probation officer once a week, meet with a judge every two weeks and keep a journal and a calendar.
The judges “don’t choose everyone who comes before them; they choose people who are highly motivated and want to get their children back — or their job back — and want to rebuild their lives. It takes a lot of commitment, time, and follow-through on their part,” Cory said.
The breakfast fundraiser will be Friday morning from 7:30 to 8:30.