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Court volunteer views her job as important as ever

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2003

Ignoring Diana Kreick won't make her go away.

Anyone who thought she would stop working with the defendants in Juneau District Court Judge Peter B. Froehlich's Wellness Court when she stopped getting her a paycheck was mistaken.

Kreick has been the case agent since May 1, 2002, in the Wellness Court, a program to help people who get into trouble because of chemical dependency. The money for her job, a grant from the National Council on Alcoholism, ran out at the end of June 2003.

"I think it's a good program," she said.

"I do a lot of supervision on a personal level," she said. "Sometimes some of the people keep me hopping."

The people she works with are often used to having people do things for them, she said.

Much of her job is being there, even at odd hours and on weekends. She said she even gets calls from people she knows who aren't in the program. "Addiction has no holidays."

Froehlich said he was "very pleasantly surprised" that she kept doing her job after the funding ran out. "It's pretty amazing. We wouldn't be able to have a Wellness Court without her."

The program is modeled after drug courts and other similar alternatives around the country. Froehlich said alcohol is the most visible drug in his court and gets the most attention.

State law allows a defendant to substitute 18 months of treatment in such a court program for three-fourths of a sentence. City and state prosecutors have agreed to opening it up to people who have already been put on probation.

Although there were no defendants for the November Wellness Court session, Kreick has met with people who have been considered.

For Froehlich, Wellness Court is a session on the bench once a month. For Kreick, it has been a full-time job. She must stay informed about participants' employment, housing and treatment.

Robert Hall, who completed the Wellness Court program in October, said he got in trouble because of his drinking. He credited the program and Kreick with helping him turn things around.

"She helped me sober up," Hall said, adding that he has no desire to drink anymore.

He said he had tried many times to stop drinking. Through Wellness Court, he was prescribed naltrexone, a non-addictive prescription drug shown to block people's craving for alcohol. He also went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and Kreick kept in contact with him a couple of times a week.

"You have to want to change," Kreick said.

When people are successful at turning around, Kreick think they better about their lives. But she also has seen people get excited about beating addiction, then resume using.

"Maybe something happened in the past they don't want to face," she said. Finding out why people drink or use substances can be a slow process, she added.

Still, she said she is certain that helping them with their problems is better for the community than punishing them for what they are doing.

"I've seen alcohol and drugs destroy lives and kill," she said. For some people, abuse has led to health issues and suicide.

While people know they can call her around the clock for help, they also know that they don't share a lot of common experiences.

Kreick said the things that led her to become certified as a chemical dependency counselor are too personal to discuss.

She described her life experience as "a little bit of everything." She has been an accountant and tax preparer and done building maintenance and construction work.

She grew up in Oregon. Her parents lived in Juneau in 1988 when she moved here from Eureka, Calif., looking for a safe place to raise her two children.

Her Lemon Creek neighborhood is darker since the Kmart closed, and the most identifiable feature is the Lemon Creek Correctional Center - the state prison.

As someone who has done some accounting, she said she knows it costs money to lock people up in Lemon Creek. She believes it's more than it would cost for the state to do something to help the community.

"They're not going to jail. They're keeping their jobs." Kreick pointed out that Wellness Court participants even pay for their own treatment.

Kreick said she is certain the principles of the program could be carried out less expensively than by locking people up.

She believes the program could save the state money, even if politicians don't consider her work important enough for a salary.

"I just think they need to pay more attention to the people," she said.

Helping substance abusers, mental health patients and the elderly, "is more important than a new state capitol."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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