NESPELEM - Colville tribal member Thomas Lezard completed the Colville Tribal Healing to Wellness Court, receiving a dismissal with prejudice of his charges from the Colville Tribal Prosecutor’s Office in a ceremonial event, Oct. 15 at the tribal court.
“I don’t have much to say,” said Lezard, upon receiving a Pendleton blanket and certificate of completion from the program. “I just want to thank the committee and the Healing to Wellness Court for giving me the opportunity to be in this program and for having patience with me and for mentoring me down this long road of sobriety. Thank you, guys. Thank you for believing in me.”
Lezard is the fifth tribal member to successfully complete the Healing to Wellness Court since the voluntary sobriety program began in 2017.
Colville tribal elder Dorothy Burke spoke at the event of her own road to sobriety, providing Lezard with advice and encouraging him to reach out to program administrators and others if he struggled.
“I’m very proud of you,” said Burke. “I don’t know you, but I am proud of you … I want to thank you for what you accomplished today, and I want to wish you the best for what is down the road for you. I ask you always take care of you. Take care of you.”
The program’s Viteolee Marconi further encouraged Lezard to contact staff as past graduates have.
Burke and Marconi both noted the program creates a healthier community with each graduate.
“It’s a ripple effect,” said Marconi. “It affects not just [the Healing to Wellness Court participants], but their family, the reservation they grew up on, everybody they affected by their drug use. It’s a change they’ve made.”
Lezard’s father, also named Thomas Lezard, stood during the event to express his pride in his son for successfully finishing the program.
The program, which is offered as a diversionary program for non-violent drug and alcohol offenders in tribal courts through an agreement between the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office, is broken into four phases.
In the first phase, the participants have three to five random urinary analyses weekly. They are required to attend self-help meetings, and they were required to be in services based on a chemical dependency evaluation’s recommendations.
Also in the first phase, participants have weekly court dates and they must check in with Healing to Wellness administrators daily. As the phases progress the participants attend court less frequently and have less contact with the court’s administrators.
In the final phase, most participants are given the reins.
“In phase four, the majority of the time, they’re already done with their chemical dependency,” explained Judge Sophie Nomee, who runs the court. “They’re done with outpatient. They’re usually just on their own to see if they can start to make it on their own, becoming independent on their own choices. They check in less. They get UA’d less, possibly once per month. We start them off day-by-day at the start, and they learn to become independent and make their own choices. That’s where Thomas is now.”
Participants apply to move to the next phase of the program after 90 to 120 days in each phase.
“Our last resort is jail, and we think of other sanctions if they fall or if they have a bump in their road. You don’t punish them by jail,” said Judge Nomee. “We think of having them write an essay or going to sweat or chopping wood for elders or picking up garbage or even just presenting something on what led them, what triggered them, to have a bump in the road. We pick them up and dust them off to tell them, ‘Okay. Let’s go again.’ Many people fail on this road. Many people fail. It’s not our job to judge them. It’s their job to judge themselves and learn from their mistakes. This is a choice that Thomas made, and I’m glad he made this choice.”
The Colville Tribal Healing and Wellness Court follows best practices established by the National Drug Court Institute and the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.
“I’m proud of all you guys making this choice, because we can’t make it for you,” Judge Nomee said, speaking to the participants. “We have people that reoffend and reoffend and jail isn’t helping them. We have to start coming up with different ways to help our own people, and this program allows that. This program allows our traditions and culture to play a part of it. I’m thankful for this program, and I’m thankful for all the participants who make this program.”