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DWI Court participants reflect on failures, celebrate success

BEMIDJI – Wayne Loch was a “model participant” in Beltrami County DWI Court.

Despite having accumulated a dozen DWI convictions, he committed to getting sober and maintaining that sobriety. For the first time in 30 years, the Bemidji man had obtained his driver’s license and was able to legally drive.

But after graduating DWI Court in May 2011, Loch, who drank his first beer at age 13, began skipping AA meetings.

The winter of 2011-2012 especially hit him hard. He was building his own business, offering lawn care and snow-removal.

But with no snow, there was no work.

Loch, 50, was again arrested for DWI just after midnight Feb. 11. He since has been sentenced for felony first-degree DWI and will remain in jail until at least April.

“I just started drinking again,” said Loch, speaking from inside Beltrami County Jail. “You tell yourself you can control it. I thought I could. I should have known better.”

‘I’m the real me now’

Loch’s experience is the exception to most DWI Court participants. Of 37 who have graduated from the program, four have been convicted of another DWI – an 11 percent recidivism, below the national average of 50-60 percent.

Marlys Cournoyer, 45, has a more typical story. She graduated in 2009 after 18 months in the program.

“It was something I wanted to do,” she said of sobering up.

She was convicted of felony first-degree DWI after accumulating three other DWI convictions.

Cournoyer said her three children, now 20, 22 and 24, grew up with her drinking, living with relatives when she was serving time in jail.

“I’m able to be with them more,” Cournoyer said, when asked if she is a better mom when sober. “I’m the real me now.”

Cournoyer said she is proud of herself for becoming a better role model for her children.

“I use myself as an example,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You can do better.’ They listen to me now.”

Cournoyer is employed full-time at Palace Casino Hotel as a guest room attendant, a title she herself chuckled at, explaining that she basically cleans rooms.

She said she attends one or two AA meetings a week, needing that constant support to maintain her sobriety.

“It was easier once I got out (of DWI Court) because I wanted to show that I could do it on my own,” she said.

Still, she voluntarily admits to a one-night relapse in April, when she was going through a stressful time in her life.

The next morning, she said, she recommitted to her sobriety.

“I support it 100 percent,” she said of DWI Court. “(The program has) a lot of people who care which direction you take in life, who are there to back you up.”

‘I’m not missing out’

Carl White, charged with felony first-degree DWI, was sitting in jail last fall thinking about his latest DWI offense, his fourth since 2003.

He was offered the chance to enter DWI Court, but only if he truly wanted to get sober.

“I thought about (getting sober) before, but I didn’t have the push,” he said. “DWI Court kind of gave me that push.”

White now is a DWI Court participant. He officially entered the program Oct. 19, 2011.

He relapsed in January but sobered up again.

White, 30, said he now has been sober 10 months, noting that it is the longest he has been sober since he started drinking at age 15.

“I’ve had to cut contact with a few people who aren’t very supportive,” he said. ‘I mean, I DJ at (a local bar) once a month. And while I’m there I see the same people doing the same thing. I just realize I’m not missing out on anything.”

His family has been supportive and he now is working toward obtaining his GED, White said.

“It’s a great program,” he said of DWI Court. “It’s helped me get o the track of turning my life around for the better.”

‘I messed up’

Loch lost his license at age 16 and began drinking regularly when he was about 17.

Through the DWI Court process, he worked to again obtain his license in 2009.

“That was one of my biggest accomplishments,” Loch said. “I didn’t have to look over my shoulder anymore.”

But after graduating, it became easy to skip his AA meetings, Loch said.

“There’s no excuse,” he said, dismissing his own comment that he got busy with life. “I could have found the time.”

After he was arrested in February, Loch pleaded to be let back into DWI Court, saying he is committed to again getting sober.

“I messed up,” he said.

The program never was intended to be open for repeat participants, but the DWI Court team carefully considered Loch’s case, noting that he did well the first time he was enrolled.

“When he got picked up again, it just crushed us,” said Pam Norenberg, DWI Court coordinator for the Ninth Judicial District. “He was a model participant.”

DWI Court ultimately decided to let Loch back in, but he won’t receive any of its benefits, including lower jail times and reduced fines.

“I did so well (in DWI Court),” Loch said. “I didn’t have one relapse.”

When asked how this time will be any different, Loch said he now recognizes he needs help and continual support. He pledged to find another sponsor and try different support groups.

“I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay sober,” he said. “I realize now I can’t do it on my own.”