Tara Paiano, left, talks during the Elkhart County Drug Court team meeting as Judge Gretchen Lund, right, and others listen. Photo by Marshall V. King
Tara Paiano, left, talks during the Elkhart County Drug Court team meeting as Judge Gretchen Lund, right, and others listen. Photo by Marshall V. King
GOSHEN — The conversation in the cramped courtroom in the basement of the Elkhart County Courthouse is full of honesty between those awaiting the start of court.

“You fishbowl eligible?”

“I owe Oaklawn so much money.”

“I started the 24-day self care challenge. I did it once before, but since my relapse I figured I’d do it again.”

There are smiles, fistbumps and waves as people enter the courtroom prior to the start of Elkhart County Drug Court on a recent Monday afternoon.

This is a different kind of court proceeding. It’s about affirmation, support and even forgiveness for non-violent offenders battling addiction.

One by one, the people seated rise and go forward to stand in front of Judge Gretchen Lund on the bench and between the attorneys and others who are part of the program’s team.

Lund, who with a team works with the 25 people in the program, told two men entering Phase II that they’ve been an inspiration to others.

“We’re all extremely proud of what you’ve both done,” she said.

When a woman tells Lund that she’s been going to treatment, going to meetings, working, caring for her kids and painting their house, Lund tells her she’s been doing a good job.

“Stay strong,” Lund added compassionately. “Stay focused.”

The court has much affirmation and applause. Tara Paiano, the Elkhart County Drug Court coordinator, said most of the clients have never had positive affirmation and are succeeding at life for the first time.
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