Decorah begins new life with Family Wellness Court’s support

By Ken Luchterhand

It is a long, rocky struggle to begin a journey down a different path. Sometimes that alternative path is the only pathway that will save a person from himself or herself.
Karie Decorah has succeeded in changing that course in her life, and now she has a much better future, not only for herself, but also for her children.
Karie graduated from the Ho-Chunk Nation Family Wellness Court in a special celebration on Wednesday, Aug. 30, at the Wa Ehi Hoci.
Her children, Cassady, 9, Talina, 6, and Camilla, 4, were her special guests for the event, happy to be reunited with their mother.
The Family Wellness Court is a multiphase program that guides them to a new lifestyle, free from substance abuse and the bad influences that led them down the wrong path.
“There are goals and rules to guide them in structure,” said Ho-Chunk Nation Family Wellness Court director Shelley Wilkinson. “I’m told it’s like eating an apple from the bottom up. They’re used to a certain lifestyle and we’re turning it upside down.”
The process is fulfilled by means of a team consisting of professionals to deal with each aspect of their struggle to remain free from drugs and alcohol.
Each participant has his or her own role clinician, defense advocate, prosecution, probation and parole, social services, Vocational Rehabilitation for Native Americans (VRNA).
“We’re teaching them to be responsible adults and parents,” she said.
The team meets once a week and the enrolled participants meet with them biweekly until they get further in the program.
The people enrolled in the Family Wellness Court are there because of substance abuse and a Children in Need of Protection (CHIPS) petition, which means their children were taken away. It is completely voluntary, but it does help the parent to get his or her children back faster.
The referral can come from anywhere, family or friend, court or officer, Wilkinson said.
Karie knew it was going to be difficult to change her ways, leaving the influences that had made her life difficult but, at the same time, had become accustomed.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t very compliant,” Karie said. “I knew I wanted to change, but it was a difficult process.”
What sparked her enrollment in the Family Wellness Court was an incident that nearly ended her life.
That incident will forever etched on Karie’s memory, May 8, 2015, the day she overdosed on heroin.
She happened to be out of town when the overdose happened and soon after she awoke in the hospital, she was placed under arrest. Besides being charged with possession of an illegal substance, she had two outstanding warrants in her name. As soon as she was released, she was taken into custody.
Because of the CHIPS petition issued, her three children were taken away from her at that time.
“In the beginning it was hard for me because I knew what was expected, that I would have to go to AODA meetings and have assessments done. It put me off for a little bit.”
On Oct. 28, 2015, she started the process of being enrolled in the Family Wellness Court.
"I had been without my kids since May, for five months," she said.
Although she first started with some resistance, in December she was ready to do what they wanted.
She was sent to treatment for 45 days, then went to a halfway house for a 90 day program. She experienced a relapse and went back to treatment for another six weeks, then to a transitional living arrangement for another six weeks.
It was during her first treatment center that she realized that she needed change in her life. Feeling guilty and bad about herself, Karie came to an epiphany that began the change in her life that she needed.
“I broke down and got on my knees. I didn’t want to live that way anymore,” she said.
Karie was able to come back to Black River Falls in July 2016 to go through the Family Wellness Court’s five-phase program.
“I realized that you can’t hide from God. That gave me something to hang onto,” she said.
She had a few stumbles along the way, making the path difficult. Her last relapse was April 18, 2016.
“That was the last time I used drugs,” she said.
She began to comply with the treatment with a commitment to free herself from any addictions.
“In the beginning, it felt intimidating because I didn’t know what was expected of me. It was a lot of work, including finding frequent rides to court. I was looking forward to being done,” she said.
Overall, she said the Family Wellness Court was a good experience. She was required to call to check in at certain times and was part of a random drug testing routine.
She used to hear people tell her, “you got to do it for yourself,” but she didn’t understand at the time. Now she understands it to mean that, to take care of her kids, she first has to take care of herself so that she is able to take care of the kids.
Her motivation for completing the program was getting her children back and providing a good life, but she believes she got much more than that.
“I didn’t know I could feel this good without using drugs,” Karie said. “I wake up in the morning and I don’t have to think about getting high.”
She got her children back the same day as her graduation from the Family Wellness Court.
“I’m happy,” she said. “So many programs helped me. We have our own place, I have a car, a driver’s license, and a job.”
Her children are very happy she succeeded in going through the course.
 “It feels good that my family, my parents and children can depend on me,” she said.  “I couldn’t have done it without my family. My mom has been my rock and my dad, sister and two brothers have been very supportive.
She also credits her co-workers in the Education Department for being very helpful in making her goals.
“They’ve been cheering me on,” Karie said.