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First two graduate Beltrami County's DWI Court

Justin Lindgren, left, is recognized by Beltrami County District Judge Shari Schluchter Wednesday during a graduation ceremony at the Beltrami County Courthouse. Lindgren was among two men who were the first graduates of Beltrami County DWI Court. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Gordon Jones, one of two men honored Wednesday as the first graduates of Beltrami County's DWI Court, said the program has completely changed his life.

"In a major way," said Jones, 24. "I regret the DWI, but I don't regret DWI Court."

Jones was stopped for driving while intoxicated after midnight on April 28, 2007. He was presented with the option of entering a new program, DWI Court, a collaborative effort among the court, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, probation and chemical dependency treatment to reduce repeat DWI offenses.

Jones and Justin Lindgren, 28, were honored at Beltrami County Courthouse as the first two graduates of the program.

"This is a very exciting day for us in DWI Court," said Judge Shari Schluchter on behalf of the program's team. "These are two who have worked very hard."

DWI Court is an option available to third- and fourth-time DWI offenders.

The intense program is said to last about two years, although both Jones and Lindberg completed it in roughly 18 months.

Broken into three phases, it requires an initial commitment of biweekly court appearances, weekly probation visits and weekly meetings. Participants also must undergo either inpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on the recommendations from the court and follow any aftercare prescribed.

"Day one was the hardest, to say 'I will commit to two years of intense supervision,'" Lindgren said. "But then it gets easier. It's just one more day."

The allure of the program is reduced fines and jail sentences.

"It was the best decision I ever made - and the easiest," Lindgren said.

Jones said the program has changed his life.

"I was just roaming around before," he said, noting that he was just living with a family member before he entered the program.

Now, Jones is working at Northern Lights Casino. He is attending and planning to graduate from Northwest Technical College in auto mechanics.

"It has changed my whole life," Jones said.

While undergoing training in anticipation of the Beltrami County DWI Court, Schluchter said, the court team heard from retired Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson, whose words were engraved upon the medallions presented to Jones and Lindgren for their graduation:

"If you fall down seven times, you need to get up eight."