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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘A legacy of hope and healing’: Five graduate Spokane County drug court

Tyler Severson, left, and Garett Lawson receive their drug court graduation diplomas and the dismissal paperwork for their charges on Thursday at the Spokane County Courthouse.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Garett Lawson donned his suit Thursday afternoon and walked into the Spokane County Courthouse beaming with pride.

The feeling, Lawson said, was the polar opposite of the panic he felt when he bought the suit 15 months ago.

Lawson had just been arrested on charges of possessing a controlled substance. It was rock bottom for the now 31-year-old after battling drug addiction since he was 18.

Then, he was referred to Drug Court, a diversion program that allows participants to have their felony charges dismissed if they can stay sober and complete a rigorous rehabilitation program.

Along with four other men, Lawson graduated the program Thursday.

“It’s like a reset on my life,” he said.

The drug court program is part of the Spokane County Therapeutic Courts, which also offers mental health court.

The free program is voluntary following a referral and evaluation, said Lindsey Lanham, therapeutic courts coordinator.

Participants are required to complete drug treatment, stay sober, work full time, get health insurance and a primary care provider, and earn a GED or high school diploma.

“What we do is try to disrupt that cycle by offering in-depth treatment and a high level of accountability,” Lanham said.

Upon completion of all the program requirements, their felony charges are dismissed.

Deputy Prosecutor Sam Fitterer spoke to the program graduates at this month’s graduation.

“I want to congratulate each and every one of you,” he said. “Dismissals aren’t usually very popular with prosecutors. These ones are very popular with me because you worked so, so hard to get to this point, and you really earned them.”

He went on to address each graduate individually, lingering a bit longer when talking about Tyler Severson.

Severson, 34, was in addiction for 15 years. He was referred to drug court by Fitterer but wasn’t ready to engage with the program.

He got picked up again on a host of charges, including stealing a motor vehicle, eluding police and obstruction.

This time, he was ready, Severson said.

“I figured out that what I was doing wasn’t working,” Severson said. “I wasn’t happy, and I wanted to do something different.”

On Thursday, he thanked the program staff and his family for the numerous second chances they gave him.

“I got 100 second chances, and I probably didn’t deserve it,” Severson said.

Severson is living and working at the Reclaim Project. His next goal is to save enough money to travel.

Retired Spokane County Superior Court Judge Harold Clarke III encouraged the graduates to take pride in their accomplishment.

“You completed this program. You achieved something. Nobody can take it from you,” Clarke said. “And you have to jealously guard that. And that means, yes, you’re done with drug court, but obviously you need to continue with your work here.”

He also tasked the group with giving back to those still in need.

Bobby Hartman, 40, has been doing drugs for as long as he can remember.

He was ready for a change but entering the drug court program came with mixed feelings.

“It was a struggle at first, and it just seemed kind of drawn out and impossible,” Hartman said. “As it goes on, I think it becomes easier, and you start to kind of figure out what it’s all about.”

Hartman sat Thursday with his three roommates at Oxford House, a sober living facility, who whooped as he got his diploma and dismissal paperwork.

“It’s important to have a support system to get through this program,” he said. “Without the support system, I don’t know if I could have made it.”

The ceremony closed out with Luc Jasmine III, who works at Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, reading a letter from the governor.

“You should each be proud of your dedication to improving your lives, the lives of your family, friends, and ultimately, your communities,” Inslee wrote. “Thank you for coming to today’s event to honor these five individuals. They are leaving a legacy of hope and healing for future generations.”