BY MELANIE BUCK –
Dorene Baker, a Polk County native, has a testimony to be told – one that includes darkness but leads to light. Baker, mother of three, grandmother of nine, battled an addiction to methamphetamine for nearly three decades until an offered program through the courts changed her life and showed her that, for those willing, people really can change and live a better life.
Across the state, the Drug Court Program is proving time and again that with guidance, support, and sometimes a little sternness, drug addicted people can be rehabilitated to become good, productive citizens. In April, Governor Asa Hutchinson praised the program stating, “Our drug courts give judges and probation and parole officers the freedom to design punishment that fits the person as well as the crime, but still holds them accountable. We personalize consequences and offer a human touch that increases the chance that a person will defeat addictions to drugs and alcohol.”
In 2015, Baker found herself in legal trouble, due to her addiction, and felt she would land in prison. However, when she began the judicial process, an offer was laid before her that gave her hope and the will to push through and get better. “I am very blessed to have gotten drug court instead of prison. There is a lot more to drug court than passing a test once a week. It’s listening to the stories and understanding how you got there and not wanting to go there again.”
One of the most important steps in walking the rugged path of becoming sober is being surrounded by a good support system. With drug court, you have a system built in place with counselors, probation officers, and other members of the program. “Wanting it” is another important step. Baker said the combination of “wanting to quit” and the “support of drug court” is what has kept her clean and looking forward to a bright future.
She graduated drug court on May 3, 2016, with honors after 18 months in the program. Judge Jerry Ryan, who presides over Polk County Circuit Court, said that Baker only had one slip during her program, failing a test because of alcohol, but never for drugs. “I wanted to kick it since about three days after my arrest, while I was still in jail. I give God all the glory for it and I have prayed a lot. This is not the kind of lifestyle that I want my grandson to be raised up in.”
Another reward of her clean living… of her nine grandchildren, she has had one since his birth, and during her process of drug court and living sober, she has been able to adopt him. “I know I’m not the same person that went in last year. I have had a very good support system… my groups, my church, my mother, brother, sister, and best friend. Going through this has opened doors that would have never been opened otherwise. I adopted my grandson and am now a pre-school teacher at Bethel Christian School.”
Her hope now is that others will be able to look at her life, listen to her story, and know it is possible to get sober. Steven Free is the Drug Court Advisor and takes every step he can to help those in the program. “You have to be honest with yourself and your counselor. Steven [Free] is very understanding, but firm,” she laughed. “And the probation officer and judge, you have to be honest with them as well.”
Baker said she would love to sometimes continue with group sessions to show others that it can be done. “I trusted Steven with everything. I could tell him whatever and he would be firm with the answers. I might not like the answers, but they were the truth.”
Some other perks of her sober life are “being able to do things with a clear mind.” She said the positive things in her life make her not miss the drugs. “It was hard on my body, my family life, my social life… now, I have everything I need,” without the drugs. Feeling better “mentally, physically, and spiritually,” Baker says, “I just hope that at least one person can read my story and learn something from it and get clean. If it saves just one person, it would be great!”
Proving that the system can work, Baker stands as a testament to others. Governor Hutchinson looks forwards to many more success stories through the program. “A drug free Arkansas is a strong Arkansas. I am committed to making Arkansas a better place to live, start a business, or raise a family. I am pleased that Arkansas drug courts are working hard to do the same through providing compassionate and personalized care that provide a way out and a hand up for those in recovery.”
And indeed, Doreen Baker is one of those that was able to grasp the hand up and have the will to stay standing. Smiling, Baker said she is very happy with her life now. “I believe I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!”