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January 7, 2006
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The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News); 1/6/2006
Byline: Taryn Brodwater
Jan. 6--With a 20-year history of crime and drug addiction, Erick Nelson has had judges hand down plenty of sentences, but no hugs. But as the 37-year-old became the first graduate of Kootenai County's Mental Health Drug Court on Thursday, that's what 1st District Judge John Mitchell gave him, along with praise and a diploma. Two dozen other participants in the program Co which aims to stop drug abuse and crime by offenders who have a mental illness Co crowded into Courtroom 8 for the ceremony, along with probation officers, therapists and counselors.
Nelson's pregnant wife, Aerie, their three children and his mother watched from the front row. At one point, their 6-year-old son stood up and said, "My dad is the best dad in the whole world." Aerie Nelson said Mental Health Drug Court has been the answer to her prayers. It succeeded where other programs failed to help her husband of eight years, who battled an addiction to methamphetamine and crack, and also suffers from bipolar disorder. "When you're watching your husband struggle with mental illness, drugs and alcohol, you are helpless," she said. "You can't be a responsible husband when you're a mess in your own head." The two have a baby boy on the way, scheduled to arrive in March. Erick Nelson has enrolled at North Idaho College and is studying to be a social worker. "I want to help young adults," he said. "I want to try and help them before they get to be my age. Then it's harder." On Thursday, he offered help and encouragement to others in the program, and he vowed to continue working with Mental Health Drug Court as an alumnus and mentor. "In 15 months I've learned so many new life skills," he said. "It has just really changed my life. Everyone in here can do it." His mother, Kay Nelson, said Thursday was one of the best days of her life. She said she lived with Nelson when he was at his worst. "I just wanted to give up and throw him out," she said. "Dump him in the trash, be done with it and have some peace." On Thursday, she had tears of pride in her eyes as she watched him stand in front of the courtroom, smiling as he held his diploma. Watching Nelson graduate made Sheri Ellars nervous about her own graduation, scheduled for March. She was released from prison nine months early to participate in the program. The 40-year-old said she comes from a family of drug addicts, adding that she herself became addicted in her early teens. She said she has been sober only 15 years out of the 40 she's been alive. She has been in two inpatient treatment programs and an outpatient treatment program, but she said Mental Health Drug Court is the only one that has helped Co addressing both her mental health issues and her addictions. "A lot of addiction stems from mental illness," she said. Mental Health Drug Court was started in fall 2004. Mitchell said that by then, he had begun to realize a connection between mental illness and addiction, after seeing offenders return to his court again and again. Even after jail time and treatment, many would immediately go back to their old ways, he said. The program, which has grown to 25 participants, requires defendants to participate for a minimum of 14 months. During that time, they have to follow strict requirements, including drug tests, and participate in court-supervised treatment and counseling.
During Nelson's 15 months in the program, he was sanctioned only once. He drove without a license, but days later, he confessed the transgression on his own. Mitchell shared an essay that Nelson had written about the slip-up. "Even when the wrong thing happens, the only and best thing you can do is talk about it," Nelson wrote in the essay. Mitchell echoed that sentiment. "Mistakes happen," he said. "It is what we do about them that makes all of the difference."
Copyright (c) 2006, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
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COPYRIGHT 2006 The Spokesman-Review
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Bipolar disorder - as the name implies - involves two distinct set of symptoms. One set throws the individual down into the depths of a massive depression. The other places the individual who suffers with bipolar disorder at the top of a peak manic episode.
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