‘I came in broken and came out whole’: Lawrence man first to complete Drug Court program, sees charges dropped

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Kenneth Reed, right, stands with Douglas County Drug Court Officer Shannon Bruegge, left, during a graduation ceremony on Friday, May 14, 2021, honoring Reed's completion of the Drug Court program. With his completion, three drug-related felony cases against him were dismissed.

The last few years for Kenneth Reed have been much like a biblical parable, Douglas County District Court Judge Kay Huff said Friday during an event honoring Reed.

While many believed Reed’s drug use and associated criminal problems in Douglas County were a lost cause, Huff said Douglas County’s Drug Court had faith in a different outcome. And that faith paid off, as Reed, 45, recently became the first person to finish the county’s Drug Court program.

Noting that Reed is a religious man, Huff said his success appeared to be a miracle to some, but really it was only possible because he put in the hard work.

“You were someone who was wandering who has been found and reconnected with the community,” Huff said to Reed during a graduation ceremony on Friday marking his accomplishment. “You have reconnected with your children and your family. You have a job, and you said you are living your best life.

“I can’t overstate the work that you have done,” she continued. “Congratulations.”

With Reed’s completion of the program, District Attorney Suzanne Valdez formally motioned to have three drug-related cases against Reed dismissed. The action elicited congratulations and applause in the Lawrence Arts Center theater, where Reed was being honored in front of his family and many county leaders. Huff also gave Reed a certificate of graduation, noting that he completed all requirements for the program.

After the ceremony, Reed told the Journal-World he was happy to participate in and finish the program. With that now behind him, he’s excited to live his life the best he can and spend time with his kids. He also plans to be a mentor and a resource for others who come through the program.

“I came in broken and came out whole,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.”

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announces a formal motion to dismiss three drug-related felony cases against Kenneth Reed, right, during a ceremony honoring his completion of the Douglas County Drug Court program. Douglas County District Court Judge Kay Huff, center, presides over the Drug Court.

The Drug Court serves as a diversion program for people who are facing nonviolent drug-related felony charges. If they complete the program, the charges are dropped. It is one of several programs the county has initiated in recent years as alternatives to incarceration.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the program can take up to 14 months to complete and consists of four phases. The first phase starts with the most intense oversight and requires participants to attend several hours of treatment and appear in court each week, among other things. Each subsequent phase decreases in intensity and works toward reintroducing the participants to the community, such as helping them obtain full-time jobs. Additionally, throughout the program, the participants can be subjected to random drug testing to ensure they are remaining sober.

During the ceremony, Huff said many crimes in Douglas County were directly related to drug use. She also said that even when an individual is in the criminal justice system, the individual may continue to use drugs and suffer from related problems. The Drug Court program aims to disrupt that cycle by helping people facing charges receive treatment and lead a clean and sober life, she said.

“It is not easy what we ask them to do, but we have proof of high-risk users who are doing just that,” Huff said, referring to Reed.

The sentiment was echoed by various members of the Drug Court team, who attended the ceremony to congratulate Reed.

Shannon Bruegge, who serves as the Drug Court officer, said Reed took on multiple jobs for months to make sure he could pay his bills, became an active member in the Narcotics Anonymous community and met all of the program requirements at the same time.

She said he put in time to “clean up” his past transgressions and live a better, drug-free life with his family.

“It takes courage to be vulnerable and sit here today, and you did the work,” Bruegge said. “Now you and your beautiful three boys get to enjoy that, and it will never be taken away from you.”

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Kenneth Reed, fourth from left in front row, stands with various members of Douglas County’s Drug Court team during a graduation ceremony on Friday, May 14, 2021. Reed, 45, is the first participant of the program to graduate.

Deputy District Attorney Josh Seiden thanked Reed for participating in the program and setting an example for the community. Seiden, who served as a defense attorney before joining the DA’s office, previously represented Reed and helped him enter the pilot Drug Court program.

Seiden said when Reed entered he was “patient zero” for the program, and they weren’t sure how it would work or whether it would benefit him. They also knew it would be the harder road for him to take compared with other options he could have pursued.

But Reed was determined to do it, and now he has earned the benefits as a graduating member, Seiden said.

“You told me it was God’s plan that you do this, and I saw a conviction in you that I hadn’t seen before,” Seiden said. “Now you’re the first graduate. You are a true story of perseverance and you’ve been a good example for everybody in this program and everybody who will be in this program.”

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