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8 Recognized for Completion of Big Island Drug Court

By Tiffany DeMasters
May 25, 2021, 7:30 AM HST
* Updated May 25, 11:27 AM
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Eight participants of Big Island Drug Court graduated from the program Monday, May 24, 2021. (PC: Big Island Now/Tiffany DeMasters

Seven men and one woman were celebrated Monday, May 24, in Kona’s 3rd Circuit Court for their completion of the Big Island Drug Court program.

Masked and socially distanced, the graduates sat in the jury box in Judge Wendy DeWeese’s courtroom while each was recognized for their achievement in finishing the program. Individuals recognized were Richard Clevenger, Kai Galante, Brandon Harrison, Tawnee Lee, Alan Minamishin, Jedidiah Punch, Joshua White and Luke Wong.

“I know the path that has led you to this point has not been easy,” DeWeese said in her opening remarks to the graduates. “It’s likely been an uphill battle at times, and you’ve had good days and you’ve had bad days.”

DeWeese said the program represented an opportunity for the drug court participants to challenge themselves as well as be honest with themselves, family and friends.

“The fact that you’re here this morning is a testament to your strength — strength that defines every individual who enters treatment, dedicates his or herself to transformative change and summons the courage and resolve to start down the road to recovery and sobriety,” the judge stated.

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All graduates were recognized individually and given a chance to speak. When Lee was recognized, she recalled she initially wasn’t interested in drug court.

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“I didn’t want to get better. I thought prison was where I wanted to be,” Lee said. “The judge and my PO saw things in me that I couldn’t see in myself.”

Lee told Big Island Now after the ceremony that right before she was admitted into the program in July 2017, she was living in an environment of “complete toxicity.”

“I was living on the streets,” she said.

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Lee had nothing to eat and was stealing to survive.

“I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes multiple times,” Lee said.

Completing drug court, Lee said, has been one of the hardest things she’s done as she learned to be a responsible adult.

“Life is much more manageable,” she said. “I can experience being alive, not surviving.”

Harrison was admitted into drug court in July 2019. He expressed to the audience in the court how grateful he was to be where he now is.

“When I didn’t believe in myself, they believed in me,” Harrison said of the drug court team.

Prior to entering the program, Harrison was facing a 10-year prison sentence. He was selling drugs and got busted repeatedly.

“Once I gave myself a chance, my life just kept getting better,” Harrison said.

Harrison is working and continues to go to meetings. He has plans to move to Montana to be with his mother.

Several people attended the graduation via Zoom, including members of Hawai‘i Island’s delegation. Senator Dru Kanuha told the graduates he was proud of each of them.

“Today, you have an invaluable opportunity to rewrite your story with the tools you’ve learned throughout this experience,” Kanuha said. “Mahalo for all your hard work and determination. I’m excited to share this moment. I look forward to all the contributions you will make in the future.”

DeWeese closed the ceremony again offering her congratulations.

“In these COVID times, it’s easy to offer excuses for why you didn’t succeed,” DeWeese said. “Today, all of you are shining stars.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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