Hard work pays off for Drug Court grads

Margaret Allen
Jessica Kemper, right, and her boyfriend Joel Gibbs, left, visit with Trevor Roa, center, intensive supervision officer with Northwest Kansas Community Corrections. Kemper and five others graduated Thursday from Ellis County Drug Court at the Ellis County Court House.

Jessica Kemper‘s life changed March 26, 2019, with her arrest in Hays for possession of methamphetamine in the parking lot at Walmart.

Kemper was en route with her boyfriend, Joel Gibbs, from Kansas City to Denver. For more than three years, she’d had a daily addiction to meth.

But Kemper on Thursday was in a courtroom at the Ellis County Courthouse, getting congratulated by 23rd Judicial District Chief Judge Glenn Braun for successfully completing the Ellis County Drug Court program.

Kemper was one of six to graduate on Thursday from the groundbreaking program at a casual ceremony in the third-floor courtroom of the Ellis County Court House.

“Honestly, I was on a very bad path,” Kemper said after the official graduation, as well-wishers and the court’s Drug Team mixed and mingled with the graduates and their families.

“Getting stopped here and catching a felony and getting on Drug Court, all of that, I really do believe that it was almost like divine intervention,” she said. “I believe that I was meant to be here at this time, and I believe that if it wasn’t for all that I would have never stopped.”

The six graduates mark the third group to successfully complete Drug Court, a program started in Ellis County in 2018.

“To see people like the graduates we have today, and the accomplishments they’ve achieved, is remarkable,” Braun said, speaking from the bench. “So it is my honor, as an honor, to preside over this graduation.”

Noting that it’s a rare event to see happy, smiling people in the courtroom, Braun in his remarks confessed that sometimes he had his doubts about some of those in the program.

“Something I think about, because I was guilty, at least to a few of you,” Braun said. “How many of you have people tell you, ‘you’ll never make it, you’re not good enough,’ and made you feel like a failure before you even got started with your probation or Drug Court?

Braun told the graduates they have proved the doubters wrong in completing the program.

“For those that aren’t familiar with the rigors of Drug Court, it is not an easy program, is it?” he said. “We interfere in your life and make you go to classes, and treatment, and follow up with AA and NA, and make your payments for fines and court costs … plus beating an addiction.”

Braun said it was longtime Northwest Kansas Community Corrections director John Trembley who pushed for Drug Court, and finally prevailed with Braun to get it started.

Trembley, who retires Dec. 28 after more than 27 years with community corrections, said it’s difficult to leave, but expressed how proud he was of the graduates.

“I want you to realize, you know, that lots of times you’re forced to do something because you’re not ready, and it’s hard, and it’s hard on them,” he said, nodding to the many people on the Drug Court team sitting in the jury box. “Everybody wants you to succeed.”

Trembley singled out Mark Bryant, of Hays, a visitor to the courtroom Thursday but the first person to graduate from the county’s Drug Court. Bryant continues to assist Drug Court, Braun said, including delivering a presentation to a state conference of court clerks and administrators.

“Me and Mark battled, to say the least,” Trembley told the graduates. “It’s typical of that relationship. You’re not going to give up. And to see what he did with his life, with the assistance of Drug Court, and what he continues to do with his life after he left Drug Court, that’s what it’s about. You guys know what to do.”

Everybody deserves to be Mark Bryant, Trembley said.

“You’re worth it,” he told the graduates. “Everybody’s got something to give that’s positive.”

Austin Belben, who graduated Thursday, thanked Trembley.

“You bonded me out and sat with me and had a come-to-Jesus with me,” Belben said. “You led me on the right path.”

Kyle Bartling, intensive supervision officer and parole officer with Community Corrections, was on hand with law enforcement officers, prosecutors and court personnel to congratulate the graduates.

“That’s the gratifying part of this job, you get to see these guys walk out of here clean and sober,” Bartling said after the ceremony. “It makes you feel good.”

As for Kemper, she’s been a co-manager at Sonic in Hays for a little over a year now.

“I lost everything to my addiction,” Kemper said. “I probably never would have stopped if I hadn’t been arrested and put on drug court and given all the structure that they give you in Drug Court.

“I didn’t even know where to start, how to stay clean, until I started on Drug Court,” she said. “All the classes that they make you take, and all the meetings that they make you go to, it’s all for a purpose. I know that there’s more than just one success story that’s come out of this Drug Court, and I feel like I am one of them. I’m a productive member of society, which I hadn’t been for a long time.”

23rd Judicial District Chief Judge Glenn Braun, in robe, and Drug Court Coordinator Teresa Greenwood, far right, prepare to take a photo with the graduates of Ellis County Drug Court on Thursday at the Ellis County Court House.