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A Cass Co. drug court success story: Life after addiction

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FARGO N.D.—There's a success story quietly revealing itself, inside the courtrooms of Cass County.

For the past 15 years, hundreds of men and women who battle addiction have been able to stay out of prison, and chosen a tough love program called "drug court."

51-year-old Keith Dobler has been working construction for years.

He's a hard worker, reliable.

But addiction has been that curse Keith has fought for years, it even meant prison time.

"I don't believe in my case that methamphetamine will never let go of me," Keith, a recovering addict says, "And it is getting better, there is still alway that ghost and shadow pulling you in."

But now Keith's life has turned around, thanks to what is happening inside the Cass County Courthouse.

For the past year, the North Dakota Parole and Probation office and judges like Tom Olson have welcomed and worked with this soon to graduate class of drug court candidates.

Some will make it, some, who don't abide by the strict rules of finding a job, mentor and group therapy, will be dismissed, and possibly go to prison.

30-year-old Andrew Dalberg has a made for tv addiction story.

Andrew's father battled addiction, and as an only child, Andrew struggled with drugs across the board.

"Addiction covers everybody, not just one face," said Andrew.

Homeless, living out of his car, he did drugs, he sold them.

Andrew says if it wasn't for drug court, he would be rotting in prison.

"I have to stay clean, for myself and family. Not only did drug court save my life, but it changed how I live," said Andrew.

With drug court's accountability and support, Andrew has made the turnaround.

Andrew says now he feels happy, free and hopeful, something he hasn't felt in his adult life.

For Andrew, Keith and the others the goal is simple.

"We stay clean by any means possible," said Andrew.

This class will graduate in just days, most of them have jobs now and sponsors.

But more than that, they have their life back.

"When I put my tool pouch on, everything works," said Keith.

With health, family and confidence they will move forward clean.

"I have never felt better in my life," said Keith.

There are usually about 100 students in North Dakota going through the five drug courts every year.

Supporters say it is a win-win for the state.

Fewer people in North Dakota prisons and that saves the taxpayer money.

Those in the drug court program are required to work.

And after drug court, there are now statistics that say there are fewer repeat offenders with those graduating from the program, now in its 15th year.

"You cannot incarcerate the addiction problem away," Mark Hendrickson, North Dakota Parole Officer says, "You cannot build enough prisons to deal with the problem so we are trying to find ways in the community to live productive lives in society."

The County will host two graduations of drug court students, later this month.

The total number of graduates since 2003 in Fargo is 322.

Kevin Wallevand

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia and the Middle East. He is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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