NESPELEM - In a celebration tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Colville tribal member Brenda Sijohn graduated from the Colville Tribal Healing to Wellness Court, Aug. 7, becoming the ninth tribal member to finish the diversionary drug program.
As the ninth graduate, Sijohn was an exemplary participant in the program, said Colville Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Administrator Jon Hamilton during a small ceremony at the Colville Tribal Court building.
“I remember when Brenda was arraigned, sitting right in this courtroom,” said Hamilton. “To go from there, that day, to today, it has been an amazing transformation to watch. This is a wonderful opportunity for anybody to be able to turn over a new leaf. All it takes is work. Brenda has put in the work and for her the sky is the limit.
“There are ways to do things and there are ways not to do things. Brenda Sijohn will be the template for everybody else, she should be, for everybody else for any drug court, any healing to wellness court. Through all my training, all my experiences through Healing to Wellness Court, we have seen different routes to take, different avenues to explore, but I think Brenda has done it right. She made it really easy for us. She wanted to change. She wanted to have the program work. Low and behold, here she is, graduated. I couldn’t be prouder.”
With only court administration and a few others in the room, Colville Tribal Prosecutor Office’s Jackie Finley presented the dismissal of charges to Judge Sophie Nomee as the final action in the voluntary program.
“Brenda knew she wanted to change,” said the court’s supervision officer Viteolee Marconi. “From the beginning, the things she said she missed because of her addiction were time with her kids and time with her family. During the process of all this, we got to watch her grow, not just away from her addiction but with her family. We got to watch her rebuild those bridges that were broken, tattered, because of her addiction. We got to see her rebuild her family.”
Sijohn received a certificate of completion from the program and a 7th Generation blanket from the court administration. She also received a gift from the Colville Tribal Peacemakers’ Darlene Wilder.
“She came in and was actually mentoring right away with a lot of our other clients,” said Marconi. “Some were younger than her, and she helped guide them. Some already graduated, but she still acted like a mama-bear to help them. This is a family. The Healing to Wellness community that we have, the court, the court staff, this is a family. We always try to help each other out, and even more so because of COVID. It is harder, to get to the things we need to do, to get through the steps, to get to the meetings, to get to the UAs, to keep everybody in line, and just keep reaching out in those times when you want to try to go back to your old world, you want to go use, the family is here to help each other along through this whole process.”
Sijohn is currently enrolled in college with the goal of becoming a chemical dependency counselor, she told those gathered.
“I’m glad that she came up to be part of our family,” said Nomee. “You were a big help to everyone. It was a joy to watch her grow and change. That’s what this is about, having people who want to be in this program, want to be part of this family, to change their life and grow from the history that they have because that’s what leads them here … I’m glad that we have a such good family members in our team, in our community. You are part of our community and we want to help you succeed and that trickles down to other family members of yours. Hopefully a lot of our community members look and say, ‘Wow. If she can do it, so can I.’ Thank you for being a part of this.”
The Healing to Wellness Court is offered as a diversionary program for non-violent drug and alcohol offenders in Colville Tribal Courts through an agreement between the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office.
Structurally, the program is broken into four progressive 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. Participants also work with community resources such as the Colville Tribal Peacemaker’s Circle.
Participants apply to move to the next phase of the program after 90 to 120 days in each phase. In the final phase, most participants are given the reins after having completed chemical dependency and outpatient programs.
“When I started, I knew I wanted to straighten my life up,” said Sijohn. “I missed my family so much, especially my daughters. I now have an awesome relationship with my whole family. They all supported me through this trip, and they’ll continue to support me. My lease is coming up and I will be moving back to my house. I am so excited about that. I want to start fixing things that I have let deteriorate. I have been saving money for that. My girls are already concerned about people stopping by once they see that I am home. I’ve told them I’ve thought about that already. I want to stop them right at the door and tell them that is not my lifestyle anymore. You can’t bring drugs into my house anymore. If it is somebody that wants my help, I can help them now. I can tell them where they need to go, what they need to do.”
The Colville Tribal Healing to Wellness Court follows best practices established by the National Drug Court Institute and Tribal Law and Policy Institute.