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Area drug court conducts first graduation ceremony

Senior Judge Timothy Connell (left), creator of the MCDC program, and Judge Terry Vajgrt (right), current leader of the program, congratulate Beatriz Espinoza (center). (Sherri Smith/Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON — The Minnesota Cornerstone Drug Court (MCDC), which serves Cottonwood, Rock and Nobles counties, conducted its first graduation ceremony Wednesday morning at Prairie Justice Center.

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Beatriz Espinoza of Rushmore was honored as the first graduate of the drug court program since its fall 2011 inception. Two years ago, Espinoza was facing second- and fourth-degree criminal controlled substance charges in Nobles and Cottonwood counties. Today, she is 830 days sober and has paved the way for the other participants in the program in Nobles County.

T.D. Hostikka, a primary counselor at New Beginnings Treatment Center in Worthington who has counseled Espinoza since 2012, spoke at the ceremony about her progress.

“It was a struggle at first, but over the years I have seen her two children born, and entering college — she’s a totally different person,” Hostikka said.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also sent a letter congratulating Espinoza.

“This is an achievement and testament to the commitment to maintain sobriety,” Minnesota’s senior senator wrote. “As a graduate, you will benefit from a community that wraps arms around you to help you succeed.”

MCDC, a collaboration of the criminal justice and treatment systems, is intended to reduce the incidence of substance abuse and related criminal activity. It is for participants who have been charged or convicted with a felony-level crime as a result of addiction.

MCDC is an 18-to-24 month program with four phases. It is designed for adults having difficulty staying clean and sober.

Each phase has specific requirements that must be completed such as completion of treatment, attending self-improvement or parenting classes and gaining full-time employment or education. Upon completion of all four phases, a graduation ceremony takes place.

There are currently 20 participants in Nobles County and six participants in Cottonwood County.

“It’s so funny because this whole idea for the program started with a graduation, and now here we are at our first one,” said Senior Judge Timothy Connell, who created MCDC for the three regional counties. “I was reading about a ceremony like this in Blue Earth County about two years ago and thought, ‘Why we don’t have something like that around here?’ So here we are about two years later, and it’s great to see the success of people I worked with when I started drug court.”

District Court Judge Terry Vajgrt has now taken the lead in MCDC, but Connell explained that it’s all about consistency.

“When I started this program, I always said that it needs to have a consistent leader and I wouldn’t step down until I was sure someone could be just as consistent,” Connell said. “About a year ago, Judge Vajgrt came to me and said that he has a handle on the program. It’s been great ever since, and I know this is one of many graduation ceremonies to come.”

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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