HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Have you heard of Harris County S.O.B.E.R. (Saving Ourselves by Education and Recovery) Court? It's a treatment option for non-felony DWI offenders.
Today a number of Houstonians are graduating from the program. Some are speaking out to keep others from making the same mistake, particularly at this time of year. December is packed with parties and unfortunately more people celebrating means more people driving drunk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the holidays there's an increase in DWIs and fatal drunk-driving crashes.
Today’s S.O.B.E.R. court graduation was quite a celebration in Downtown Houston, but this bash wasn't with alcohol, it's to celebrate being without it.
"I have about five months left to complete probation,” explains 65-year-old Angele Creuzot who found herself somewhere she never thought she would be, in jail for driving while intoxicated.
About a year ago, she was returning to Houston from a road trip, drinking alcohol while driving and about a mile from her home she slammed into a guard rail on I-45. Instead of jail time, Creuzot was given treatment in Harris County S.O.B.E.R. Court where she learned she's an alcoholic.
“It made me look at myself. It just seemed like that was a way to have fun. What I discovered is you can have fun without alcohol. That was the amazing part,” explains Creuzot.
Creuzot is graduating from S.O.B.E.R. Court with dozens of others. There are 3,500 people in Texas prisons charged with DWI, so these graduates are fortunate.
”They have a real opportunity to turn their life around, support their family and not have this DWI conviction if they do everything they've been challenged to do,” says Texas Senator John Whittier, who was instrumental in implementing the program in 2008. He also spoke at the graduation.
"We know from studies that programs that are doing everything right have a 65 percent to 75 percent reduction in recidivism,” adds S.O.B.E.R. Court Judge Diane Bull.
”What I used to do to deal with my problems was drink alcohol,” says Nathan Kucharski who’s graduating the program after his second DWI. Kucharski says he finally realizes he had a drinking problem that was causing issues, not only legally, but also with his wife and kids. "I'd get off work and the first thing I'd think about was going to get something to drink. We were in the same house. I was physically there but not emotionally,” explains Kucharski.
Judge Bull says the program actually saves money. Whereas taxpayers foot the bill for incarceration she says this way DWI offenders are still employed, paying taxes and paying for their supervision fees.
“To incarcerate somebody that is a tremendous cost. Our people are employed. They are still also contributing to society socially, helping their children with homework. The longer we keep a client engaged in treatment the more successful they will be and the less likely they will be to go back through the court system and re-offend,” explains Judge Bull.
Kucharski says S.O.B.E.R. Court actually saved his life. He was one DWI away from a felony.
"I had been watching sports, ran out of beer and I went back out to the store to get more and got pulled over in my sub-division and was mad that they stopped me because I didn't stop at the stop sign. Now I realize I do have a problem. It's not worth it. You can hurt people and yourself. Thank God I was able to keep my job but I did miss some time because of the arrest. It effects you for a long time,” explains Kucharski.
Creuzot says this will be the first time in 10 years that she'll be sober for Christmas. She says she also now realizes the need for transitional living for women over 50 years old, and Creuzot has made it her goal to put that type of housing in place.
If you plan to drink and drive this holiday Creuzot has a message for you. "You can lose your life, kill someone else and ruin your family and their family. It’s time to get help. You can choose to stay the same or you can quit. It's not worth it, your reputation, a lot of things are at stake, your family. It's a lot to consider. It's a big consequence behind drinking and driving,” Creuzot says.
These graduates say not only was experiencing it difficult but publicly talking about it is tough.
"I really didn't ever want to talk about it but I knew I had to,” says Creuzot.
Both Creuzot and Kucharski say they are only speaking out to try to help save someone else from making the mistake of drinking and driving. They are urging you, this holiday season and always, to get a taxi, Uber, a ride from someone else or take public transportation if you plan to consume alcohol.