Tricounty News

Bootstraps

In Junior High I had a cool pair of black engineer boots with chrome studs in the heels and a little loop at the top of the back of the boot used to pull on the boot. No matter how hard I pulled on that strap, I could never pull myself up. My feet remained stubbornly on the ground. These days many folks admonish those in our society who have been unsuccessful to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." That does not work. Successful people usually start with a leg up: • parents who love them • a school system that educates them • a neighborhood that protects them • a culture that accepts them • friends who respect them • a diet that nourishes them These advantages pave the road to success. Those devotees of bootstraps sometimes attribute their success to their own efforts forgetting the parents, teachers, neighbors, relatives and friends upon whose shoulders they stand. They also sometimes forget the tax payers of previous generations who built and paid for the schools, the roads, the parks, the hospitals, indeed the very freedoms that give the next generation a leg up. Some in our society have not had all of these advantages. As a citizen member of the Stearns County Community Corrections Advisory Board I recently visited the Drug Court. For reasons unknown to me, the clients of this court have struggled with addiction. The judge does not admonish them with bootstraps but he does offer them a leg up. Prior to convening the court, the judge meets with the Drug Court team consisting of a case coordinator, a probation officer, social workers, a public defender, a county attorney, a surveillance staff person, and staff members of different treatment programs. They objectively discuss each case coming before the court and they subjectively express their opinion regarding the progress of each client. The discussion is frank and open, but never deprecating. The focus remains on the welfare of the client. When court opens, the judge individually calls to the bench some clients who have not successfully completed their assignments which may include drug tests, counseling sessions, community service work. Occasionally, clients attribute their behavior to the failure of other people. They fail to impress. The judge explains that while other people are not perfect, the client is always responsible. These people are asked to sit in the Jury Box and write an explanation of their behavior. Then others are called to the bench. The judge reviews the clients' records of behavior which he received from the pre-trial meeting. He offers encouragement, praise, and understanding. When the jury box clients return to the bench, the judge reads their explanations. His demeanor remains empathetic and the clients accept that his sanctions are intended for their own benefit. Who knew that a courtroom could offer encouragement instead of punishment, that a young woman would see a night in jail as a lesson, that a probation agent who requires a client to submit to the embarrassment of a urine analysis would be viewed as "a good man, a great friend," that a staff charged with tracking a client's behavior would be "missed and held in the heart?" Who knew? Not me. Now, however, I understand: drug court gives its clients a leg up. Those who successfully graduate from drug court leave standing tall in their rightful place on the shoulders of those they encountered. Those of us outside the criminal justice system who are familiar with crime statistics often support efforts to get tough with crime touting a philosophy of "trail 'em, nail 'em, jail 'em." This leads to more jails. Some of us view criminal reformation as a bunch of happy hogwash. And sometimes it is. But in Stearns County we have a group of people collaborating in the difficult work of Community Corrections who are dedicated to protecting society by offering a leg up to those who need to change their behavior. The Drug Court is an amazing example of the salutary impact of optimism toward the human spirit. Roland Froyen South Haven