Shavon Hodges

Shavon Hodges proudly displays her GED diploma alongside her plaque from the Steele Waseca Drug Court as the entire courtroom cheered at her graduation ceremony on Tuesday. Hodges is the 44th graduate form the program, logging in 1,323 days sober. (Annie Granlund/People’s Press)

OWATONNA — There was much to celebrate at the weekly drug court session on Wednesday. Between two stage 4 presentations, a GED recipient, and someone on the eve of their first full year sober, the applause continuously filled the courtroom.

Despite those impressive and important milestones, however, all eyes remained on the young woman sitting in front just to the side of Judge Joseph Bueltel. Though there may have been days in Shavon Hodges’ past where being in that position would mean trouble, that day Hodges wore a smile that perfectly coordinated with her cap and gown.

As she listened to the accomplishments of her peers, Hodges waved, blew kisses, and fussed over her small child who had more bounce in him than the mop of curls on his head.

“When Shavon first came to us she was pregnant,” said Drug Court Coordinator Nicole Grams, motioning towards the little boy who has since become a well-known face in the program. “This is a perfect of example of someone who is here who would have been gone and out of her child’s life if it wasn’t for her hard work and working the program.”

Surrounded by her peers, friends, and family, Hodges became the 44th graduate of the Steele Waseca Drug Court.

Hodges first entered into the program in 2016 after she was charged with second-degree possession of a controlled substance, something that carried an automatic prison sentence of 78 months. Instead of serving time, Hodges was accepted to partake in drug court, a voluntary program that allows eligible defendants a chance to reduce their prison or jail sentences in exchange for completing substance-abuse treatment and other conditions. The program uses a team approach to deliver evidence-based practices including rigorous treatment, intensive supervision, random and frequent drug and alcohol testing, frequent court appearances, licensed mental-health service providers, and educational programming to participants.

After 42 months in the program and an excess of 420 drug tests, Hodges officially left the program with 1,323 days of sobriety under her belt. As Grams announced her total, Hodges beamed cheered right along with the rest of the courtroom.

“Without drug court, I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have my child,” an emotional Hodges said to the crowd before turning to the remaining participants. “You guys can do it. If I can do this, you guys can do this. And I did it!”

Among her many milestones, Hodges is especially proud of receiving her GED, joking with the staff from the Adult Learning Center about the many times she believed she would never accomplish that goal. Her instructors, however, asserted that Hodges was not only dedicated to receiving her GED, but ended up teaching them a lot about life and having a positive attitude throughout the journey.

“Getting a GED is one of those positive, self-esteem building things that is so important in this process,” said David Wright, the program director of Dual Recovery that works hand-in-hand with drug court. “This is something that will never be taken away from you. You earned this.”

As Hodges’ wife, mother, and various friends expressed gratitude for all drug court has done in turning her life around, they also thanked the program for being such a positive influence in the entire community. Since the inception of the Steele Waseca Drug Court, there have been 175 participants. Currently, 51 people are enrolled in the program with a combined total of 12,302 days sober — equivalent to more than 33 years.

As Judge Bueltel congratulated Hodges, presenting her with a letter from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a graduate plaque, and a ceremonial coin, he expressed how much they would be missing her in the program.

“I won’t miss you,” Hodges coyly said, before cracking up with the rest of the room in a fit of laughter.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 444-2378 or Follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie.

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