— It was another celebratory day July 13 at Robbins Island as two additional men reached a long sought goal of graduating from the Eighth Judicial District Drug Treatment Court Program.
Joseph Schaeffer, 50, and Tyler Norstedt, 27, both of Spicer, were recognized for their accomplishments during an outdoor court hearing.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Stephen Wentzell commended the men on the "outstanding changes" they made, which benefited themselves as well as others in the community, restoring them within the community.
"Tyler brought it upon himself to go to Hope for our City, volunteering there numerous times," Wentzell said. "Joseph, through your work at Recovery Church, as well, you've really played a major part in your community and restored yourself in the community. So, my pleasure to announce both of you as our next graduates."
Drug courts serve non-violent offenders who suffer from addiction. Through collaboration among the courts, law enforcement, treatment providers and others, a defendant's progress toward sobriety is monitored and encouraged through the use of incentives and sanctions.
Both men acknowledged that the progress they have made would not have been possible without the drug treatment court program.
Norstedt stated the program saved his life, and was a top priority in his life, along with family, during the last couple of years. He told those still in the program to not be embarrassed about being in the program, and to let everyone in their lives know about their participation.
"I'd be in prison right now if it wasn't for the drug court program, and, if I went to prison, there was no coming back from that life," Norstedt stated.
He thanked his parents for standing by his side during the last couple of years, noting that he was currently living with his parents.
Schaeffer agreed that he would not have been able to accomplish by himself what he accomplished through drug court, noting the support of his family, his church and his community. He has been very active with Recovery Church during his time in the program.
"I am grateful to this program," he said.
Schaeffer entered the drug court program Dec. 9, 2020, facing his eighth felony charge for a fifth-degree controlled substance crime, according to Wentzell.
Schaeffer had seven prior felony convictions, five misdemeanors, and 13 traffic violations. He was in jail and unemployed.
"At the time of his graduation, he will have successfully completed treatment, found full-time employment, and is enjoying positive relationships with his family," Wentzell said, noting Schaeffer took 143 urinalysis tests, appeared in court 43 times, and completed 50 hours of community service during the program.
He had also marked more than 650 days of sobriety.
Norstedt began the program Aug. 19, 2020, facing five pending criminal files, including a felony controlled substance crime in the second degree, controlled substance crime in the fifth degree, and other misdemeanors, according to Wentzell.
Norstedt's criminal history includes two prior felonies, four prior misdemeanors and one prior traffic offense. He was also in jail, unemployed and estranged from his family.
"After completing treatment, he found employment at the local Dairy Queen. More recently, he obtained employment at Dooley's," Wentzell said, noting Norstedt took 180 urinalysis tests and appeared in court 41 times throughout the program.
"Tyler notes his new employment will provide more opportunity and he has made a career out of it. He's developed a positive relationship co-parenting his child. He's looking forward to a future as a homeowner, and will graduate from the program with over 725 days (of sobriety)."
"I'm just very proud of my husband," said Schaeffer's wife, Sheryl Schaeffer. "He has gotten so strong and he's come a long way and I love him."
She and Schaeffer have been married since 2008, and been together since 2004. Between the two of them, they have six grown children.
"Since he's been in drug court and stuff, and the kids have been seeing the changes in him, they're all really close now," she continued. "They've come together and trust is rebuilding and love is growing."
Norstedt had his parents in attendance for support. His dad, David Norstedt, acknowledged that he is proud of what Norstedt has accomplished.
However, he also said, "I'm still really worried. He's been doing this since he was 12 — that's 15 years of letdowns. It's tough to trust fully."
In response to his dad's fears of falling back into substance use, Norstedt said, "He just tells it how it is. He's not wrong when he says I should be in prison — I should be. This program is the only reason I'm not in prison."
Norstedt had five years hanging over his head. He said he had been through treatment seven times
"Now is when the good test starts. Now is when I can really prove to (my dad) that this is an actual life decision that I've made."
Norstedt's mom, Carmen Norstedt, thanked Norstedt for participating in the program, not only for him, but for his family. Norstedt is their oldest of three boys, and the other boys wanted to be close to him.
"It's hard on parents to have to put rules on them from seeing their own brother. 'No, you don't take rides from him. No, you don't go anywhere with him,'" she added, noting the younger siblings are now 19 and 16.
She said they were hard on him while he was using — calling the cops on him, not picking him up from jail.
"It was the hardest thing we've ever been through, but I think it was for the best for him," she said.