Graduation day

Three earn Mental Health Drug Court program diplomas

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Rebecca Harris hugs her grandson Randsome Harris, 4, as she sits with her daughter Cathryn Harris outside a courtroom Thursday following her graduation ceremony from the Kootenai County Mental Health Drug Court. Harris and two other participants graduated from the program which started in 2004.

COEUR d'ALENE - The problem has haunted Rebecca Harris all her life, she said.

She didn't always know that her lashing out at family and strangers was a defense mechanism, one linked to mental health issues.

"I remember as a kid, being extremely lonely. I got really good at not keeping friends," Rebecca said, speaking of her borderline personality disorder. "I just got to where I got angry when I didn't want to talk to people. And it worked. When you act mean and crazy, people stay away from you."

But Rebecca looked nothing like that description on Thursday morning. Clad in a maroon cap and gown in a Kootenai County courtroom, the Post Falls woman was beaming, her arms welcoming her 4-year-old grandson Randsome as he scurried up her.

She attributed her transformation to the Kootenai County Mental Health Drug Court, from which she was graduating after 19 taxing months.

"You've helped me learn a lot, about borderline personality disorder and how frustrating that must be," said Judge John Mitchell as he handed Rebecca her diploma.

"You've taught me a lot, too," she said, tearful when the courtroom gave her a standing ovation.

Three graduates of the Mental Health Drug Court on Thursday, Rebecca among them, made a total 60 individuals who have completed the program since its creation in 2004.

"This program taught me there's other people in this world who can support you," Rebecca said, reflecting on classes that addressed her mental issues and incidents with alcohol and meth. "You don't have to fend off everyone who walks the Earth."

Friends and family in the courtroom stood to describe how she had changed from a sour, angry woman into a loving and supporting individual.

"She's learned how to cope with her disability and move on with her life," said her daughter, Cathryn. "It's a big change."

After accepting her program diploma on Thursday, Sarah Murray said she had questioned if she would make it through.

The 26-year-old recalled participating in eight support groups, on top of meeting with psychosocial rehabilitation workers and pursing her GED.

"Fourteen months later, I'm a whole other person," she said, adding that she had landed in the program by getting "mixed up in the wrong crowd."

Murray had been spiraling, she said, after several close family members and friends died.

Her aunt, Pamela Joslin, said the family had worried for her life.

"At one point, she was down to 78 pounds. There was no getting through to her," Joslin said. "Through this program, the things they teach is behaving, learning to take care of yourself in the real world. She studied so hard, I thought she was studying to get her doctorate."

Now at a healthy weight with diploma in hand, Murray said she plans to complete her GED and go to college for nursing, to help others.

"When I came into the program, it gave me hope." Murray said.

With an 80 percent success rate, the Mental Health Drug Court is an option for offenders with mental issues who would otherwise go to prison. The focus is on improving their mental health, addressing their addictions and changing their behaviors.

Currently 47 are enrolled, over the 40 capacity. The program takes a minimum of 14 months to complete, and includes treatment like individual and group therapies, financial and education classes and case management.

"The number of people who have been helped has been overwhelming," Mitchell said. "We started with five, and I knew if we affected one life, it would be worth it. You can tell from folks it really is affecting their lives, changing behaviors."

After hugging his tearful mother, Darren Crawford said the program helped him get a handle on his schizoaffective disorder.

"I was drinking alcohol instead of taking my medication," the Post Falls man said. "It only worked as long as I stayed drunk."

Now he's stable, back on the meds and planning to maintain a support system, he said.

"I never knew I could live without alcohol," Crawford said. "It feels good to make it through."

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Darren Crawford stands at the front of the courtroom as he listens to peers and support staff talk about his progress and success in the Kootenai County Mental Health Drug Court.

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