‘A brand new life’: Graduate from McLennan County DWI Drug Court reflects on life-changing treatment during National Recovery Month
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - McLennan County Specialty Courts recognize students and graduates of recovery treatment programs, especially during the month of September, National Recovery Month.
“We recognize that there are individuals in our community that need assistance with their mental health and their addiction issues,” McLennan County Court of Law Judge Vik Deivanayagam , who presides the DWI Drug Court, said. “We’re attuned to that, and we care about those people. Not only do we say it out loud, but we also provide services within this community.”
Those services include three treatment programs---DWI Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veteran Treatment Court.
Judges preside over each treatment program to motivate and help people recover from addictions or cope with mental illnesses in a healthy way.
One graduate from DWI Drug Court, Gayle “Lynn” Perez, said she attended DWI Drug Court after going through a rough time in her life.
“It’s still emotional for me,” Perez said. “I was drinking a lot, hanging out with the wrong people, and I crashed my car into a tree and drove home, and, then, they came and arrested me. I was out shortly after that, and, then, not even a month-and-a-half later, I got my second DWI.”
However, her lawyer did not bail her out that time. She was in jail for two months.
“If he wouldn’t have done that for me, I probably would have had my third DWI, and I probably would have stayed a felon for the rest of my life.”
Her lawyer bailed her out of jail whenever she agreed to attend the DWI Drug Court. It is a year-long, four-phase program that offers counseling and education to help people recover from alcohol or drug addictions.
Perez said she met with her probation officer, went to counseling, classes and group meetings once a week for the first phase. She also met Judge Vik who helped guide her through the challenging process.
“Judge Vik wanted me to explain my life and about why I ended up where I was,” she said. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘me and my story are fascinating,’ so it just made me happy from the moment I talked to Judge Vik.”
However, Perez said it was an exhausting process, especially at first, but she knows it was needed to change her life in a positive way.
“They were throwing different meetings, different classes at me,” she said. “It was hard. It was super hard, but, at the end of it, it gets easier and easier. Judge Vik always remains, like, the sweetest kind of man and always had faith in me and always believed in me.”
She said the process got easier, but COVID-19 struck during her treatment process, causing her to do sessions and counseling alone. She said it was a lot harder not going through the process with a group of people also going through similar struggles; however, she did not give up.
“The easiest part, but the most emotional part was graduation,” Perez said. “I have a lot to thank Judge Vic for. He’s been the biggest rock for me.”
She said the emotions hit her when her name was called at DWI Drug Court graduation.
“I think, whenever Judge Vik called my name and he started crying, it was the most emotional part of my life,” Perez said.
Now, she has a full-time job and said she is living a much happier life.
“I would say it was more than a second chance,” she said. “It was like a brand new life being presented to me because I didn’t know a life without drinking, really. I started super young, and this whole life starting from DWI Drug Court, it was like a brand new life.”
Judge Vik said many people could also start this brand new life with the treatment courts, but there’s something holding them back.
“A lot of people either don’t want to admit something’s wrong with them, or they’ve got a problem or something that they can’t handle,” he said. “It’s coming to that realization that you set your ego aside and accept the help that’s given and then do better.”
However, even though he recognizes that it is a challenging process, he encourages anyone struggling to look into the treatment process offered by the county.
“As an individual, you are a better person, you’re a better parent, you’re a better child, you’re a better worker,” Judge Vik said. “You’re not draining money from the community by being in jail or prison or on probation. Instead, you are a contributing taxpayer to the community.”
He said that he helps students through the process to fully recover to change the rest of their lives. He said the chance of graduates going back to jail after the treatment is about 12%. Judge Vik said McLennan County’s chance of convicted criminals going back to jail after being released is 30%.
“We’re doing pretty well,” he said. “We’re beating the numbers, definitely.”
He encourages loved ones to support those who may be struggling to apply for the program so that they can live more fulfilling lives.
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