Jeffrey Cote, left and Kaitlyn Millette, right, graduated on Wednesday from the Drug Recovery Program. With them are Jacqui Abikoff director of the Horizons Counseling Center, who helped Cote and Millette through the program, and Laconia District Court Judge James Carroll. (Ginger Kozlowski photo/Laconia Daily Sun)
By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — It was a milestone moment yesterday for the two graduates of Recovery Court as they stood before their family and friends in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, both clean and sober for what might be the longest time in their adult lives.
Jeffrey Cote and Kaitlyn Millette fought back tears as they chronicled their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction and how grateful they both were to the Judge James Carroll and all of the rest of the team lead by Horizons Counseling Services Director Jacqui Abikoff.
Cote and Millette both set records during their recovery – Cote for being the one who graduated the fastest from the year-long program and Millette for taking the longest.
Abikoff said Cote came to the program in March of 2015. Addicted to heroin, she said he got into some legal trouble and came to the recovery program determined to get clean.
"You are an example to all of your peers," she told him.
Abikoff said Millette is a "testament to perseverance." Noting that Millette had been allowed to come to the program once before but lapsed in November of 2014, the recovery team had given her another chance.
"You got that second chance and you wanted to make it happen," she said to her.
Recovery Court is an all-volunteer effort with Judge Carroll, Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa Guldbrandsen, Abikoff of Horizons, the Laconia Division of Parole and Probation, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, the Public Defender's Office lead by attorney Jesse Friedman, the Restorative Justice Program, the Belknap County Jail, Genesis Behavior Health and Laconia Drug Prevention, Education and Treatment Officer Eric Adams all working together to pull together a "drug court" using their lunch hours weekly for meetings and sessions.
The program has a number of components, including payment, which is allowed over time; counseling sessions, which can be as many as five a week; AA or NA meetings, a minimum of 250 community service hours; random and regular drug testing; and no unlawful interactions with the police. Participants can be eliminated from the program for lying and deception in their groups and/or bad attitudes. The program is in lieu of incarceration, so if a person fails to meet the expectations set by the team, he or she is returned to jail to complete an otherwise suspended sentence. Acceptance into the program requires a guilty plea to the offense that brought the individual to the program in the first place.
Cote, or "JJ," said for most of his life he had a hard time fitting in. He said as he got older and his addictions grew, he built more walls and became more remote. By the time he came to recovery, he said he was jobless, homeless, carless and was stealing things to support his habit.
"I was of no use to my community," he said.
For him, he said it's a day-by-day thing, just like he learned through the 12-step process. Cote is working, has performed hundreds of hours in community service which he continues to do today, is the parent of an honor student and said Recovery Court helped him become the "son and parent he should be."
Millette said she believes in second chances.
"I'm a soldier at war fighting for my life," she said.
The new mother of a little boy, she chose to stay in the program beyond her graduation date to make sure that she stayed clean and sober and was surrounded by people who cared so much as her son was born. She has been clean for two years now.
She thanked Judge Carroll for being such an amazing person. "I can stand before you with dignity and respect," she said.
Carroll told her she looked like the reverse of one of those sequential pictures that show how people age when they are doing drugs.
"Kaitlyn is so healthy and beautiful," Carroll said, referring to both her and Cote as "two of my children."
District 7 Sen. Andrew Hosmer spoke to the full courtroom and thanked both Cote and Millette for their strength.
"You're part of a revolution in this country," Hosmer said, thanking them for putting "a face on recovery."
He said both of them serve as a powerful example of human potential. "Thank you for helping me understand addiction so I can better serve you," Hosmer said.
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