For more than a decade, Edmonton’s Drug Treatment Court Program has helped hundreds of people rebuild their lives by replacing jail time with intensive therapy and support.
On Wednesday, Anna Courtoreille, 56, became the latest graduate of the program.
“I’m feeling very confident today that I have a new freedom and a new life,” Courtoreille said on her way into the Edmonton courthouse on Wednesday.
In her 18 months with the program, Courtoreille has completed 175 hours of community volunteering, attended 322 recovery meetings and completed a total of 130 drug screens.
“Anna has been challenged her entire time through this program and she has stepped up and really worked hard,” said Grace Froese, program manager with the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court Service. “It’s been difficult. It’s not without work but Anna stepped up to it.”
Courtoreille grew up in Slave Lake and identifies as Metis. She moved to Edmonton in the late 1980s, studied early childhood education and worked for an Edmonton school board.
In 2012, a boyfriend introduced her to cocaine, which led to a dark and difficult addiction.
“A few weeks into the relationship, a month into the relationship, then all of a sudden he introduces me to them (drugs). I, at that point, was burnt out. I was weak. I was vulnerable. I was lonely. I fell into the trap with him,” she said.
“I thought I lost everything. I thought I’d never stand up for myself again. I thought I’d never get a good job again. I know that that’s not true anymore.”
Eventually, she was arrested for dealing drugs by an undercover police officer. In December 2016, she applied and was accepted into the drug court program.
“If I were to go to jail, I would have walked in there high and would have walked out of there and got high. That’s how weak I was,” Courtoreille said.
“If I wasn’t accepted, I don’t think I would have recovered.”
Courtoreille’s biggest motivation for getting clean was her grandchildren, who are living in foster care. However, thanks to her success with the program, the children are going to be living with her full-time later this month.
“That seriously has lit up my whole life,” she said.
Courtoreille’s graduation was held inside a packed courtroom before two judges, program workers, health professionals, community leaders, friends and family members.
They took turns speaking about how, when Courtoreille first began the program, she seemed broken, lonely and had a darkness about her. They also spoke highly about her dedication and resilience to change her life.
“When I take a look at pictures of myself when I first started the program, I cry today because you can see how sick I was.”
Courtoreille said the program forced her to evaluate her childhood and how abuse she sustained continued to impact her life.
“A lot of my life I’ve lived in shame. I’ve lived in pain and then to see all this and know that I don’t have to be shameful for that.”
Due to limited funding, the Drug Treatment Court Program only accepts 20 people at a time. The program is funded by the provincial and federal governments, as well as money from the Iginla & Company law firm.
“The demand is so high,” Froese said. “I have people calling from custody, from community, who are out on bail saying, ‘I need help. I’m a drug addict. I’m committing crimes.’ We don’t have spots for them because we don’t have the funding.”
Since its inception in 2005, the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court has had more than 355 participants and 125 graduations.
In 2014, a review of graduates found that more than 70 per cent of graduates have not had new convictions.
Courtoreille is certain that without the program, we would have never recovered: “I give thanks every day now. I give thanks.”
WATCH BELOW: The Edmonton drug treatment court service was recognized in 2015 for its work helping drug-addicted offenders.
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