A Diamond in Coal Country
In 2019, County 17 is embarking on a new endeavor to spotlight those in our community who go above and beyond to make a difference; those shining stars, or diamonds in the rough that aren’t just surviving, but working to help themselves and others thrive in Campbell County.
Each month, we will bring you one of these stories. If you know someone who stands out in a crowd, feel free to send us their name and contact information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Were it not for Chad Beeman and Drug Court, Marty Lemke doubts he would be here today. Last Thursday morning, Lemke stopped by Chad’s office as he periodically does to say hi and check in. And to give him a big hug, which Chad accepted begrudgingly.
“I’m a hugger,” Lemke said with a laugh, “but he’s not so much into it.”
Lemke is doing well, he told Chad. After years of heroin and meth abuse, Lemke has managed to stay clean and out of trouble two years after finishing the court’s year-long program.
It saved his life, Lemke said bluntly, and now Chad and the rest of the staff are like family. They’ve helped him in ways that belie explanation and go well above what one might expect from a traditional probation officer.
This is what compels Chad to do this work; stories like Lemke’s.
As coordinator of the two-track Campbell County Adult Treatment court, Chad oversees both the DWI and Felony programs. As far as programs like these go, Campbell County’s is one of the strictest. It’s also one of the most effective when it comes to success rates, which currently sits around 93 percent versus the national average of 60 percent.
To hear all the things that Chad and his staff did – and still do – to help Lemke and others, underscores why they have such a high success rate. When Lemke found out he had cancer, Chad was there to talk him off the ledge. When money was tight, Chad and crew help raise funds to get the family through the rough patch, and even came up with a bike for Lemke, so he could ride with his kids.
Lemke doesn’t take this help lightly and feels an obligation to help others to try to turn their lives around and be a mentor to those like him.
It’s this ripple effect that Chad believes makes this such a good program. Kids proudly watching their parents attend drug court graduation. Siblings and relatives in the audience who might be in the same boat. That participant’s success resonates far beyond just themselves. These are the stats that can’t be tracked, he noted, but he sees it all the time. This is why he loves his job, being witness to that change.
“I feel good being part of something that’s been so successful,” Chad said. “I like being able to see people transform and become productive and engaged citizens.”
He’s worked in the probation and parole field for the past 12 years, starting with his first job as a surveillance officer in the intensive juvenile program in Phoenix, Arizona. He hadn’t necessarily felt a calling for such work, but he was fresh out of the Army National Guard after six years of service and going to school full-time. The job in probation paid better than his work for an underground utility company, so he applied. He was studying psychology, and it seemed like a good fit. It was. Eventually, he would go on to get his master’s degree in criminal justice and was one of four of the 900 probation officers in Phoenix to be selected to head up a new probation program specifically for veterans.
Originally from Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Chad and his wife, who is from the Gillette area, decided to move closer to home. The work was becoming increasingly more dangerous in Phoenix, and they wanted to raise their two kids in a safer environment.
When Chad accepted the position with Campbell County Adult Treatment court just over five years ago, drug court was already a success and the county wanted to add a second track for DUIs, which eventually morphed into a program for high-risk felons. Now, they’re looking into creating a third track that focuses on second-time possession offenders.
On average, they have about 28 participants enrolled between both programs with a typical waitlist of two to three months to get in. Once in the program, along with mandatory employment and treatment, whether mental health or other, participants also wear monitoring devices, turn in a weekly schedule with limited hours of free time, and are subject to breathalyzer tests and random drug tests, among other requirements. It’s a three-tier program with specific requirements for ascending each level, marked by penalties and incentives for missing or meeting goals and/or behavior.
Many of the components are two-fold. Along with being punitive, things like creating a schedule also helps participants create some structure in their lives where previously there had been none. They also have to pay to be in the program, which gives them literal buy-in, an ingredient Chad finds pivotal for making them accountable.
It’s also a lot cheaper than putting people in jail, Chad noted. On average, they save about $7,500 per participant, per year. In total, since starting the drug court program in 2002, they’ve saved the county about $21 million with a total of 191 graduates. This doesn’t even include the cost of would-be perpetual felons who do not reoffend.
These days, since being promoted into the coordinator position, Chad spends a lot of time creating budgets and monitoring stats and much less time working one-on-one with participants, which he misses.
He’s got a real soft spot for all of them, he admitted, and can’t help checking around to see how they’re doing. He gets a lot of visits from past participants and even runs into some occasionally when out and about doing things in town with his family.
Recently, he ran into one of the graduates at an art fair, where they both there attending with their families. Seeing a past participant out in the community engaging productively encapsulates the pride that Chad and his team have for what they’re doing.
“We get to help change lives,” he said, “and see that transformation. I feel proud being a part of something that is working.”
Where traditional programs frequently go wrong, he noted, is in the way they treat the offenders. Namely, they forget that despite their crimes, ultimately, they’re human.
“We try to treat each person as a human,” he said, “and that makes a big difference.”