Federal Way Community Court saved Bridie Clevenger’s life in more ways than one.
“If it wasn’t for community court, I probably wouldn’t have my life,” said the 46-year-old recovering addict who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for her battle with breast cancer.
Clevenger found out about her tumor after going to a doctor’s appointment she scheduled with assistance from community court leaders.
“If it wasn’t from dying from an overdose, the cancer would’ve got me because I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor, I wouldn’t have been compliant with anything. I wouldn’t have even known.”
Federal Way Municipal Court hosted its third community court graduation to celebrate Clevenger’s completion of the program and to honor Antonia Dennis’s milestone achievement on Aug. 8.
Community court is a therapeutic court option designed to address the underlying causes of criminal behavior of repeat offenders in the Federal Way Municipal Court system, said Karama Hawkins, head of the public defender’s office.
Breaking the criminal behavior cycle is a result of providing wrap-around services to ensure people who get into the system are able to get out and, hopefully in the long run, stay out, Hawkins told the Mirror.
Dennis, a milestone honoree, helped Judge Dave Larson face his own addiction to carbs and sugar, he half-joked at the Aug. 8 graduation.
“You’re in that category of why it feels fulfilling to do this job … You’ve been one of those people that has made us feel like everything we do is worthwhile,” Larson told Dennis.
Milestone honorees are recognized for their demonstrated commitment to their progress in the program, Hawkins said, by overcoming an obstacle using the tools they have learned or gained in the program, engaging in or making substantial progress in engaging in their affirmative conditions, or being supportive of other participants or giving back to the Federal Way Therapeutic Community Court program.
In April, Clevenger was recognized as a milestone honoree and in early August, she became a graduate of the program.
Community court graduation requirements are specific to each person depending on their ability to comply with the terms and conditions of the program, Hawkins said.
“We have incentives to allow people to graduate early depending on their needs, criminal history and ability to fully engage in conditions of the sentence imposed by the court,” she added.
There are currently 25 participants in Federal Way’s Community Court program; most individuals are required to participate in treatments for mental health or substance use disorder, and sometimes both, Hawkins said.
“We are beginning to incorporate other affirmative conditions that are geared toward helping people gain life skills, education and employment opportunities,” she added.
For more than 35 years, Clevenger struggled with drug addiction. Substance abuse became a coping mechanism for the sexual assault she suffered throughout her childhood, she said.
When a series of arrests and warrants landed her back in a Federal Way courtroom in July 2018, Clevenger said she chose community court instead of jail.
Over the first few weeks, Clevenger said she couldn’t believe the judge was sitting by her side, calling her by her first name, and “talking to me like a real person.”
She didn’t know how to make a doctor appointment or how to stay clean, but community court provided her the accountability she needed.
Clevenger has never been eligible to participate in programs like this due to her criminal history, and said she completely villainized the court system “for no other reason than the things that I had done; they’re the bad guy, I’m not,” she said. “Which I know better than that today.”
Clevenger said she didn’t think she’d go through with the program — in fact, the thought hardly crossed her mind.
“I didn’t think that far actually,” she said. “I never finish anything. Never. And I did.”
Thirteen months after opting-in, Clevenger stands in Courtroom 2 with her husband, Trevor, as she receives her community court certificate of completion.
The ongoing battle of choosing sobriety is not simply day-by-day, Judge Larson said, “It’s second-by-second … None of us did anything other than encourage you, and you’ve done it all.”
Hawkins urged Clevenger, and others in her position, to participate in the Valley Cities peer mentoring program and show that success is possible because, “We need you.”
“The journey you’ve been on has been the most incredible thing I’ve seen in over 20 years of doing criminal law,” Judge Rebecca Robertson told Clevenger at the graduation. “I’m so proud of you. I admire you and I don’t think I could’ve done [what you have].”
While one step of her journey comes to an end, Clevenger recognized “this is where the trust test begins.”
“I am enough,” Clevenger said. “That was the biggest thing I needed to learn.”