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Three graduate from Beltrami DWI Court

Beltrami County District Judge Shari Schluchter congratulates Chuck Hagen, 59, of Bemidji as he graduates from Beltrami County DWI Court Wednesday afternoon. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Scott Landgren approached the bench in the Beltrami County Courthouse wearing a blue T-shirt with the Superman emblem on its front.

It was fitting, said Judge Shari Schluchter.

"You just took this to task and never complained - and we gave you some high hurdles," she said.

Landgren, 29, was one of three graduates who took part in the second graduation for the Beltrami County DWI Court, a collaborative effort between the court, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, probation and chemical dependency treatment providers to reduce repeat driving while intoxicated offenses.

Also graduating Wednesday were Chuck Hagen, 59, and Marlys Cournoyer, 42.

All three said the program has changed their lives.

"I think this is the missing link for recovery for a majority of people," Hagen said.

The program, which began in June 2007, has now graduated five participants; the first two graduated in February.

DWI Court is an intense, two-year program, although recent graduates have completed it in about 18 months.

Offered to third- and fourth-time DWI offenders, it requires an initial commitment of biweekly court appearances, weekly probation visits and weekly meetings. Participants also must undergo either in-patient or out-patient treatment, depending on the recommendations from the court and follow any aftercare prescribed.

The program now is limited to 20-25 participants, due to the supervision required. The Beltrami County Attorney office screens for possible participants, which must be evaluated to determine whether they are chemically dependent.

"Having the three branches working together is what it took for me," said Hagen, who has been sober now for 21 months. "I couldn't beat this. I had to come here (to DWI Court) to surrender to it."

For Cournoyer, she said it has been a pretty tough road, but she is focusing on the positive changes that the program has brought.

"It's had a big impact on my life," she said, saying that she has been sober now since Aug. 12, 2007.

Sheila Nesbitt, who works with the program, said participants know the program is demanding, but come in committed toward making positive changes in their lives.

"The effectiveness of the program is the people are willing to change and are given the support to do it with the support of the program and the accountability of the program," she said.

The two-week check-ins with Schluchter, in particular, hold participants accountable, she said.

Few have dropped from the program, Nesbitt said. One, in fact, opted out, and then returned and is now doing well.

"This isn't about catching people, but about supporting people in making changes with their lives," Nesbitt said.

One of the oft-used sayings in DWI Court comes from retired Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson, whose words are engraved upon the medallions presented to graduates: "Fall down seven times, get up eight."

"I think that's a great way of looking at life for all of us," Schluchter said while presenting the graduates.