Drunken drivers listen to victimsThey paid $25 a seat for a straight-backed chair and a lecture that likely wasn’t their first choice for an evening’s entertainment. Convicted of driving under the influence, the group now filled a room in the Ward County Courthouse to listen to Mike, a former karate teacher with a history of DUI arrests before he got serious about alcoholism treatment. They listened to Jessica, who has lived with the fear that her father might hurt someone because of his drinking and driving.
By: By Jill Schramm , The Minot Daily News , The Jamestown Sun
MINOT — They paid $25 a seat for a straight-backed chair and a lecture that likely wasn’t their first choice for an evening’s entertainment.
Convicted of driving under the influence, the group now filled a room in the Ward County Courthouse to listen to Mike, a former karate teacher with a history of DUI arrests before he got serious about alcoholism treatment. They listened to Jessica, who has lived with the fear that her father might hurt someone because of his drinking and driving.
Afterward, most participants filed out silently, but a few were drawn to the speakers, wanting to hear a little more.
Joni Anderson, coordinator of the DUI victim impact panel, said the purpose of the panel is to get DUI offenders to think about consequences. The hope is that it will turn life around for at least some. Responses on evaluation forms indicate the DUI victim impact panels might be doing the job.
“If we can reach two or three people, I think we have helped out that way. It’s another avenue we can use as, hopefully, a deterrent,” Anderson said.
The victim impact panels have been a part of DUI sentencing for a number of years. Speakers have included families who have lost loved ones in crashes involving drunken drivers.
Panelists also have included offenders who survived horrible crashes. They have included family members of an offender who survived the crash physically but who will never be the same. The panels have featured the first police officer on the scene of a crash and the probation officer who knows the rules for those who break the rules.
“We are always trying to find somebody with a message,” Anderson said.
Mike’s story was one of accepting that he would never have a normal relationship with alcohol. Once he acknowledged his situation, he was able to begin what has been 29 years of sobriety, he said.
A fellow karate teacher once told him that to get good at the martial art, he needed to give it away through teaching others. The same is true of his recovery from alcoholism, Mike said.
“You never really get it until you give it away,” he said. “I have to share what happened to me in order to maintain my sobriety. I have to let people know there’s an alternative. There’s a choice.”
Jessica Francis told offenders about her father’s motorcycle crash, the resulting brain injury and the weeks of hospitalization and rehabilitation. She told about the toll on her family.
The incident didn’t stop her father’s drinking, though. She had to watch her father self-destruct, drinking away all that he had ever worked for and ending up in institutional care while still in his 50s.
“That’s where he will finish out his life with nothing. His assets gone,” she said.
Recidivism is a concern, although Anderson said faces at the panel events usually are new.
Since October 2003 when Rehab Services took over operation of the program, 2,505 people have attended the panels. Last year, there were 554 participants, of which 73 percent were male. That’s up from 505 people in 2007, 461 in 2006, 420 in 2005 and 405 in 2004.
A crackdown by enforcement accounts for some of the increase, Anderson said, but the numbers also indicate that the need for the panels hasn’t diminished.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving ranked North Dakota first in the nation for its alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2007. That year, 48 percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol. Last year, 46 percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
Besides coordinating the impact panel, Rehab Services offers transitional living for people with chemical dependency. It recently started Recovery Connection, which sets up volunteers to call clients each day at times that they have identified for greatest risk of relapse.
Panelists in the DUI victim impact program also are volunteers, although they receive a stipend.
“Our message is we don’t care if you drink. We don’t care if you drive. But please don’t do both together,” Anderson said. “Just make a better choice, so that way everybody’s safe.”
People interested in volunteering or desiring more information can contact Anderson at 839-4240.