2 South Dakota men take unique journeys to finding sobriety

In this May 17 photo, Clinton Reid, left, and Carl Umlauf commemorate their graduation from Drug Court with cake and refreshments shared with family, friends and well-wishers at the Codington County Courthouse in Watertown. (Daniel Crisler/The Public Opinion via AP)

WATERTOWN (AP) – For every school student, graduation is an accomplishment that marks a milestone in life. For Carl Umlauf and Clinton Reid, their recent graduation from Drug Court was perhaps the biggest milestone they have achieved so far.

With friends, family, and well-wishers packed into a Codington County courtroom, Umlauf's and Reid's graduation marked a new chapter in their lives free from the substance abuse demons they've battled, and generally succumbed to, for years. Their addictions have been ones that have alienated their friends and families and left them in a despondent state.

As one of nine members of the Drug Court Team, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Carmen Means has seen the perils of how addiction affects the people who appear before her.

"Addiction is a slog and it's difficult," Means told the Watertown Public Opinion in the minutes after Umlauf's and Reid's graduation.

The Drug Court Team includes those in the legal, law enforcement and counseling communities.

Through the rigorous and voluntary multi-year process of Drug Court, the two men reclaimed their lives and controlled their demons to once again emerge as productive members of society.

Umlauf and Reid became the 18th and 19th Drug Court graduates in the five-year history of the program in Codington County. Both men achieved sobriety in their own way.

For Umlauf, it meant finding strength in his family, which includes his sister and introductory speaker Bridgette Umlauf, and friends. It also meant working a job he loves at Macksteel.

"If it wasn't for everybody, I don't think I could have made it through this program," Umlauf told an emotional crowd. "I will forever be grateful for everything that's happened in Drug Court."

For Reid, it meant finding strength through religion. During his journey to sobriety, Reid met and found a pillar of support in Jared Kemmis, an associate pastor at Jesus Church who served as Reid's introductory speaker. After meeting Kemmis in early 2018, Reid became baptized in Jesus Church.

"When I first got into the program, I didn't think it would be possible for me to get sober," Reid said. "I got connected to a higher power again. He worked to have done a miracle in my life. It's because of God that I'm sober today."

Now that Umlauf and Reid completed the journey to sobriety, they each begin a new journey to maintain that sobriety.

As keynote speaker Dr. Melanie Weiss, a Watertown optometrist who suffered through her own opioid addiction that led to her arrest and subsequent journey to sobriety nearly three years ago, noted, there will be bad days interspersed with the good days.

The important thing, Weiss told Umlauf and Reid, is to "keep fighting every single day."

For Means and everyone on the Drug Court Team, each Drug Court graduation marks the best days in court.

"It means the same to me watching the 18th and 19th graduate as it does the first graduate. You see the changes in them and it's fantastic," Means said. "If you could just bottle this feeling and have it every week in Drug Court, you'd never have burnout. That's for sure.

"It's nice being able to celebrate on these days."