ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hardly anybody goes around seeking out people with five or even six DWI offenses.
Anthony Rodulfo does. So does Jacqueline Flores.
Rodulfo is the Pretrial Services coordinator for DWI court and its treatment program in Bernalillo County; Flores is the 2nd Judicial District judge sponsoring it. The court is a 2013 innovation even among DWI courts in New Mexico, because this one deals with folks whose behavior has landed them in felony territory.
That means they have incentive – once accepted – to succeed, though sometimes it takes more than one try. And if they fail, they can be sent to jail. But the court claims 75 percent who finish won’t see the inside of a jail again.
The program has graduated 17 former offenders, among them five new grads who stood at the lectern Wednesday to thank their peers, their families, God, the judge, Rodulfo, Dr. Lester Brasher (the Ph.D. psychologist who provides therapy), the District Attorney’s Office and the Law Office of the Public Defender.
“Our everyday business isn’t always so happy or triumphant,” Flores, a criminal division judge, told those assembled in the courtroom for the ceremony. “The primary goal is to turn an offender into a sober, productive member of society.”
It aims to protect the public by helping offenders achieve and maintain sobriety, coupling a strict structure with intensive treatment.
There are daily breath tests, urinalysis four times a week and therapy sessions – individual, group and family counseling – at least three times a week. There are weekly reviews with peers and an advisory board, meetings with the judge and requirements to write out goals that are presented to other participants.
It takes 18 months to two years to complete.
After that, they still must complete a period in the Community Custody Project and aftercare.
City Councilor Ken Sanchez congratulated graduates Wednesday, telling them they had given themselves “a great Christmas present.”
Trinidad Rosales, a 36-year-old electrician, told the group he probably wouldn’t have participated in the program but for his daughter, Shantel, 10, who was with him in the courtroom.
“This was a long ride,” he said. “It’s time to move on to my new life.”
Rosales said Shantel told him drinking was no good for him. He spent three months in jail in 2006 for his fourth DWI and four months in jail before being accepted into the program for his fifth DWI. Now, he’s been sober two years and 18 days.
Another graduate, Samuel Martinez, said Rodulfo had been a great motivator and helped him to finally understand the definition of DWI. Martinez has been sober 221 days.
Ruben Baldonado, 41, graduated from the program in February but was there to give moral support to others – along with his two sons and his new wife, Della, whom he met on the second anniversary of his sobriety.
“I’ve been in a few programs in the past,” he said. “This is the one that really helped, because it’s intense. There’s no time to mess up.”
Baldonado, who has been on his new path for two years, five months and 23 days as of Wednesday, had six DWIs when he joined. He’s working and recently purchased land and a home and a vehicle.
Brasher, the therapist, says the counseling uses only evidence-based treatment that helps offenders look at morality and conscience, and then look deeper into themselves.
Although the program started on a shoestring, Flores said, its success recently earned a boost from the U.S. Department of Justice, which has awarded a $279,919 grant that will expand operations. The number of clients can go from the current 30 participants to 60.