Judge Marla Parker's voice wavered as she broke the news during Wednesday's Sobriety Court graduation ceremony at .
After a perfect record of success in preventing repeat offenses, the 8-year-old diversion program — offered to people who have been convicted of an alcohol-related driving offense — suffered its first setback: A graduate was recently arrested on a charge of drinking and driving.
"It felt like a punch in the stomach," Parker said. "It made me sad. I wondered, did we miss something? It made me wonder why are doing this."
Indeed, it seems odd that anyone would go through the intensive two-year probation program and reoffend. Participants undergo regular drug and alcohol testing, they're required to be actively involved in a 12-step program, and they meet not only with court officials but also with counselors from Oakland Family Services.
And most of them do it all, Parker pointed out, without a driver's license.
Still, Parker said, she should have expected someone to fall off the wagon sooner or later. These are folks who either have a previous drunken driving conviction, recorded a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 or higher (0.08 is considered drunk), or they've been flagged by an alcohol risk assessment.
But you wouldn't know that to look at the four people who spoke during Wednesday night's event. One is the father of five children, another just welcomed his first. Yet another is a young man with a family history of battles with alcohol, who has a new job and a new lease on life.
All spoke hopefully about their futures and expressed gratitude for the program and the people who kept them on track. The odds are good that most will do well; nationwide, only about 12 percent to 17 percent of sobriety court graduates reoffend.
"Sobriety Court, like treatment, isn't a cure," Parker said. "Sobriety Court is a set of tools. Sobriety Court has to be done like everything else, one day at a time."
It's easy to see she puts her heart and soul into Sobriety Court, as do coordinator Jackie Jones, probation officers Kristina Merkys and Jessica Grzegorzewski, and everyone else who works with the program. So I can kind of understand how that one failure would seem like a setback and would have them questioning whether the program really works.
That's why it was heartwarming to hear one of the graduates give them an answer to that question. He said he was a man who felt the world owed him, a man who was surprised to learn he had anger issues, because he thought it was normal to feel mad at the world and everyone around him.
He knows where he might have ended up without Sobriety Court, and he said, "Nothing against your program, but I don't want to be back here."
"You asked why do you do this," he added. "I, for one, am very grateful that you do this."
How cool is that?