- Associated Press - Saturday, October 21, 2017

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - For Brandon Oreskovich, heading into drug court was the only option after his second DWI arrest.

“For some people, I would say going to jail is the easier, softer way for people who don’t want to get better and who don’t want to try to improve,” Oreskovich said. “It’s a lot easier to just decide, ‘You know I’m just going to sit, I’m not going to do all of those things that they want me to do. I’m going to sit my time and get out and get back to my old way of life.’”

But for Oreskovich, 31, of Owatonna, this wasn’t an option. Every day away from his wife Dakota and their three children, Cafourek, Iyoney and Trieghten, was one day too many.

After years of struggling with addiction and going to numerous treatment programs, Oreskovich became part of the new DWI specific track of the Waseca and Steele County Drug Court program.

He’s now just over five months sober. There are 15 people currently enrolled in the track, which has room for 20.

The DWI track was started in January this year after the counties applied for a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety-Community Reinvestment to cover the cost of the program.

The Mankato Free Press reports that the track allows people who are at high risk of drinking and driving again to get treatment, work on getting their license back, stay sober and build healthy, safe habits, said Nicole Grams, Drug Court coordinator for both counties. She said it’s been going great in its first year.

The program is far from easy. Every night Oreskovich has to call to hear if he’s up for a drug screening the next morning. He goes to multiple recovery meetings every week and can have compliance checks at his house at any given time. Oreskovich has to balance all of this on top of completing community service hours, working full time and helping take care of his family, and getting to court dates.

“Until I was ready in my mind and my heart to accept help, it didn’t matter going to 100 treatments or one treatment,” Oreskovich said. “I’m grateful for the program because I feel like they genuinely want you to succeed.”

Oreskovich got a job at the Salvation Army in Owatonna after completing a lot of his community service hours there and is working to pay off court fines and get his license back. He said what once felt like overwhelming obstacles - the curfews, community service hours and meetings - now feel like challenges he can and is tackling.

The two counties are in the process of applying for a grant to fund the 18-month-long program for the next two years to be able to continue to serve DWI offenders, Grams said. South-Central Minnesota has higher DWI conviction rates than other parts of the state, according to the Department of Public Safety.

“DWI offenders have had in history a cookie cutter approach used,” Grams said. “They come to court and they have a set time for jail and a set time for sobriety checks, but this program works with helping them get through treatment and this helps them change the behavior patterns that got them behind the wheel in the first place.”

The DWI track uses resources differently to serve DWI offenders by having more home checks and working on getting their license back while also keeping them from getting behind the wheel of a car under the influence again, Grams said.

There are about seven DWI Drug Courts in the state, Grams said. Some counties offer just the DWI, and some have a Drug Court as well. Other counties have a drug court that serves both types of offenders. The Waseca and Steele program is the only Drug Court with a specially designed track that she knows of, Grams said.

All felony DWI offenders and repeat or very high blood alcohol level gross misdemeanor DWI offenders are screened to see if the DWI Drug Court track would be a good fit.

A study funded by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration found that DWI offenders who were a part of DWI specific drug court programs were 65 percent less likely to be re-arrested for another DWI than those who didn’t participate in a DWI court program.

Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh said there has been great community support for the program and employers have been willing to work with offenders to help them get to meetings and still work. He said the program is a matter of shifting resources to better treat DWI offenders.

“They’ve been a stable group, and they’ve been willing to get into the fold of the program,” McIntosh said of the group in the track right now. “We haven’t had any repeat DWIs, which is great because we can’t go back and undo acts, but we can do everything possible to prevent them.”

For Cedric Dow, 32, of Waseca, staying sober and getting through the program is his ticket to the life he wants to lead. A trained carpenter and granite worker, he has dreams of opening his own business. He has had two DWIs.

“I want to get somewhere in my life, I want to get some things done,” Dow said.

Dow is about to enter the third phase of the program. He said he wants his children to know him for who he is, not for his past drinking.

“I want to be able to leave something if anything were to happen because we aren’t promised tomorrow,” Dow said.

Dow’s been sober since his birthday on March 20. He works long days at Elegant Creations Granite, Marble and More before heading to recovery meetings in the evenings. He started working out, too.

Dow said that people must be willing to put in the hard work. He said that before, he wasn’t paying attention to his life or notice friends who may also have substance abuse problems, but now it’s like a light has come on.

“It makes me feel good and then the next day. It keeps me active. I have a whole bunch of things scheduled, and my days are planned out,” Dow said. “The program does work. If I would have gone to jail, I would have still been drinking.”

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Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com

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