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'I could not find sobriety': Waukesha OWI program helps woman turn life around

Posted at 8:07 AM, May 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 23:22:44-04

Waukesha OWI Treatment Court was the first of its kind in Wisconsin. It's become so popular there's a waiting list. Cassy Rivers said the program saved her life.

"If I was still drinking it would be prison or death," said Rivers.

Rivers' blood alcohol level was .34 when she was arrested for her third OWI.

"I was actually going to visit my husband who was in the hospital," said Rivers.

Her journey to rock bottom started nine years before when she first turned to alcohol

"I never was a drinker," she said. "Maybe an occasional, but never a big drinker. It became self-medicating."

Rivers got her first OWI in 2012.

"Flipped my van, plowed into a field," she said.

She got a ticket and two years later another OWI.

"I could not find sobriety," she said. "I could not achieve it. I could not keep it."

This time she paid a fine, spent five nights behind bars and had a breathalyzer installed in her car.

"It didn't stop me from drinking," said Rivers.

In between OWI's she spent time in nine inpatient facilities.

"I definitely wanted to stop drinking," she said.

In 2017, she got her third OWI.

"As horrible as that third OWI was, it was a blessing," said Rivers.

She spent 30 days in jail and had to attend OWI treatment court when she got out.

Kristy Gusse runs the program and said there are several benefits.

"Sobriety, recovery, life style changes and so they don't re-offend," said Gusse.

Offenders are required to spend some time in jail before starting the year-long program. Each participant meets with case manager every week and they go before a judge every other week. There's a house arrest component and participants are required to get counseling, go to meetings and have a sponsor. Clients have random alcohol testing and they wear a device that monitors alcohol through sweat.

"You relapse and you're honest about it, probably we're going to give you a treatment response," said Gusse. "We're going to have you go back to treatment, get you re-assessed. If you're dishonest about it you're going to go to jail."

Gusse thinks the accountability is one reason the program works for so many people.

"I think the relationship with the judge and having a judge say good job," she said.

Six hundred and five people have been accepted into the program since it started in 2006. Rivers is one of the 442 graduates.

"I felt like I was holding an academy award," said Rivers.

She said the length of the program, the structure and constant accountability is why it worked for her.

"They're really here to help you, not punish you," said Rivers. "It gave me a future, just getting out of the grave of addiction and it's just priceless."

The program has helped Rivers mend relationships. She is now a mentor for participants in drug treatment court.

Waukesha treatment court is paid for by the county and the client. Here is a map of other counties that offer similar programs: