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Former meth addict finds new life with help from Webster County drug treatment court

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 8:13 PM CDT|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 10:34 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Webster County Drug Treatment Court joins more than 4,000 treatment court programs nationwide to celebrate National Drug Court Month.

The premise is simple.

Rather than allow people with years of addiction problems and criminal records to keep cycling through the justice system and be put back in jail, how about starting a drug treatment court where the individuals get a chance to get supervised treatment, repair their lives, reconnect with their families and find long-term recovery?

It’s an important concept considering most criminal acts in some way can be traced back to drugs.

“I would say of all the crimes I prosecute every day, drugs are a major component in 95 percent of every single thing that’s charged,” said Webster County Prosecutor Ben Berkstresser.

Webster County’s Drug Treatment Court started in 2004 and currently has 16 people enrolled.

Not everybody who goes in successfully beats their addiction.

“The success rate across the state is approximately 50 percent, and I think we’re right at that average as far as completing the program,” Berkstresser said. “I wish it were higher, but I see it as giving 50 percent of those people a chance at a new life, and even the 50 percent who fail are generally impacted by the program anyway. Law enforcement will tell you they are easier to work with and know we are not there to hurt them or punish them all the time. We care about them and want to protect them.”

Berkstresser is very familiar with one of Webster County’s success stories.

Amanda Brake, 39, is a mother of two teenage girls and a CNA at a nursing home. But on her Facebook page, she recently posted before-and-after photos of how her meth addiction turned her into a different person, which you can see in the accompanying video.

Now a resident of Buffalo, Missouri, Amanda grew up in Marshfield and started using meth at age 17.

“I was just hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she said. “I was trying to be cool.”

But meth is a highly addictive drug, and Amanda would add Xanax pills to her abuse. She would be arrested over 20 times with four separate trips to prison, not just for drugs but for supporting her habit by stealing.

“I would go to Walmart and just take whatever the dope man wanted that day,” Amanda recalled. “He’d give me a list like a $500 shampooer, trampolines, and a lot of tools. I’d just put them in the cart and walk out. I’d have an old receipt from before in my hand and just walk out with that.”

On Wednesday, Amanda revisited the old Webster County jail in the courthouse’s basement, which she once called home for five months. Now that there’s a new jail across the street in the modern Judicial Center, the old jail has been stripped of its beds, bathroom, and security apparatus, leaving just exposed pipes and cleaning equipment lying around.

But Amanda remembers it well.

“Awful memories,” she said. “Just being down here feeling hopeless that there was nothing for my life after this. Just defeated.”

A nearby elevator that takes inmates to the jail also brought memories as Amanda successfully escaped from the jail in 2018.

“I had been arrested and was high on drugs when they were bringing me down to the cell,” Amanda recalled. “I had been dressed out and booked in, but before they got me down here in the elevator, I used my elbow to hit the ground-floor button. When the door opened, I threw my mat and everything at the jailer and took off running. I was out for two days before they apprehended me. They were not happy at all, and the lady who was working when I took off running was brought back to help arrest me when they caught up with me. It wasn’t a good decision, but I would have never made that choice had I been in my right mind.”

Berkstresser knew Amanda well because he had once been her defense attorney before becoming the county’s prosecutor. So he had been dealing with her from both sides of the aisle.

“Amanda had been a client before I became prosecutor, and I found her to be charming with a personality that’s infectious,” he said. “But after I became prosecutor and saw some of the things she was involved in? It was frightening. She was a very scary person to me because I was listening to conversations on jail phone calls and talking to individuals who had been a part of the criminal endeavors she was involved in. After her last charge, I had told Amanda and her attorney that we’d done all we could and the only place we could all be safe, including her, would be in the Department of Corrections.”

So what was the turning point?

“I was incarcerated in Webster County, and my two little sisters came in after being arrested,” Amanda explained. “I had been in for a month at that time, and when I saw them and what they looked like, it was an eye-opener for me because I knew I had to be a better example for them and the rest of my family. I wrote the prosecutor a letter and begged for help.”

“And with great reluctance, I allowed her to have an application,” Berkstresser said.

Even though the drug treatment court is not easy, that decision was a lifesaver for Amanda. The intense rehabilitation program takes about two years to complete.

“The physical side is actually easier to do,” Berkstresser said of weaning someone off a drug. “Because you remove them from having access to the substance. Then you try to instill in them the ability to make decisions to make sobriety choices instead of relapse choices. So they really have to dig in and do the hard work, which involves a lot of counseling and therapy.”

“It’s about figuring out why you are like this and what caused it,” Amanda said. “Then they teach you how to not be that person anymore.”

And had it not been for the drug treatment court?

“I’d probably be dead,” Amanda answered. “Or in prison. And prison doesn’t help a drug addict. The prosecutor saw something in me that I didn’t see myself for several months, and I’m just thankful that he did. And the rest of the team has become like family. I’ll love them all forever.”

“She has been a shining light both for the treatment court but also in the community,” Berkstresser added. “She did all the work to pull herself up and be an example to those who are in those circumstances. She gives strength to me to keep doing my job some days because when I see folks coming through the system over and over again, she gives me hope that you can succeed.”

As to why she wanted to share her story?

“I think everybody should know there is help out there,” she replied. “And as addicts, we’re all not just lost causes.”

And as to any concerns about relapsing after four years of sobriety?

“It doesn’t cross my mind,” Amanda said. “I’ve got joy from the inside out. I don’t feel defeated. I feel like there’s hope, and I’ve got a purpose with a great support system with my drug court team and my church family, mom, and girls. I’ve made a better life for myself, and I intend on keeping it.”

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