Twenty years later, [Monroe County Circuit Court] drug court continues to redirect lives

Herald Times on 11/7/2019 by Laura Lane

Danielle Morris entered Monroe County’s two-year drug court program on Dec. 13, 2018. “At first it was really, really hard,” said the Bloomington woman, seen six months after she started the program posing with her jail booking photo.

“Monroe Circuit Court to give new ‘drug court’ a try,” said a June 1999 headline in the Herald-Times.

The story described a pilot project that former Monroe Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Todd and then-Prosecutor Carl Salzmann had proposed to the county council that would redirect resources to a court focused on helping the addicted break free from drugs.

Salzmann, the story reported, was skeptical at first. “I thought, ‘This is one of those soft-on-crime deals coming out of Washington.’” Instead, he said, “I found it’s a smart-on-crime program, because it deals with people the way they are, not the way you think they should be.”

Todd became the first drug court judge, paving the way for a program that for two decades has helped hundreds escape a life of addiction and to start over with hope for the future.

Judge Maryellen Diekhoff has since taken over a court that former White House deputy drug czar Scott Burns described as the best around. He spoke Wednesday morning at a courthouse ceremony celebrating the drug court’s 20 years.

Burns got his White House job in 2007, and was assigned to go out and find a successful drug court program to serve as a nationwide model.

“So I came here,” he said, and discovered a program that works.

But it could not be replicated, he said, because it was the people involved — Diekhoff, drug court coordinator Steve Malone and others — who were at the heart of the success.

“I went back and said the people in Indiana get up early, they work hard, they seek results and they get results,” Burns said. He introduced a drug court graduate he had met in the elevator on his way up to the ceremony and asked how his life changed during his two-year treatment program overseen by the court.

He held up his baby and pointed to his wife to illustrate his path.

Danielle Morris, 25, of Bloomington, is completing her first year in Monroe County’s drug court program.

Danielle Morris has a new life as well. The 25-year-old Bloomington woman entered Monroe County’s two-year drug court program on Dec. 13, 2018. She was scared and apprehensive but decided to try. “At first it was really, really hard,” she said.

Morris had been using heroin and and methamphetamine since she was 19 and her life was hell. Her family tried everything to help her, but nothing worked. “They were anticipating that phone call that I was dead,” she said.

Morris dried out during a 65-day stint in jail. “I guess I needed to be locked in a room so I could start to think clearly,” she said. “I wanted to have joy again. I just wanted to want to want to live again.”

She got accepted into drug court and signed the contract. “At first, it was overwhelming. I knew I had to take all that obsessive thinking about drugs and put the energy into the program,” she said. “I’ve stumbled, but I’ve known all the way through it they’ve had my back.”

Burns told the audience that people who recover from addiction are the best ones to help others struggling with drugs. He said when they get from rock bottom to the front of the line, to turn and help the next person get there, too.

Morris is doing just that, working as a behavioral health technician at the Indiana Center for Recovery, assisting people who are where she was not that long ago.

“There are other ways to deal with life when it tries to knock you down, ways to not use,” she said. “People can see how I got out of that dark cloud and they can, too.”

Wednesday’s 20-year celebration featured a video display of photos taken during drug court graduations through the years. Many showed Diekhoff in her judicial robe, taken from the back, showing arms embracing her with gratitude for offering a way out of their past lives.

Contact Laura Lane at 812-331-4362 or